PERUGIA, Italy — “All of my interests have culminated for me here in this program,” said Hannah Norwood, a student at Wake Forest University where she is pursuing an Art History Major with Minors in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. Hannah is currently studying abroad through the Food & Sustainability Studies Program at the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad provider in Perugia, Italy, where her primary courses are related to the anthropology and history of food and sustainability.
“Looking at how people interact with their environment through culture is what the Food & Sustainability Studies Program is about,” said Hannah. Her favorite class is ANFS 370: Anthropology of Food, a course with the objective of understanding cultural differences and how individual food behaviors are shaped by the foodways of society through an unbiased framework. The course also touches on recognizing the cultural, political, and economic value of food. Hannah shares that part of her interest in cross disciplinary connections between Anthropology and Environmental Studies was inspired by the fact that, “Food is always mentioned as a part of culture but it is fascinating to really examine food and how much it means to groups of people, especially in Italy where food is the national pride.” She went on to share that her connection to food was greatly influenced by her grandmother and she recognizes that food memories can often affect an individual’s perspective of an environment, local or foreign.
Through HSIT 350: The History and Culture of Food, Hannah will participate in a number of field trips to visit local producers, including her recent trip to Città di Castello, a small city near Perugia. During this trip, she met with a local truffle producer and learned the art of truffle hunting. She learned how spores are spread on the land in order to cultivate truffles, but she also learned about the land rights in Italy that allow any hunter to hunt wild truffles on anyone’s property, yet prohibit hunters from trespassing on cultivated land. “It is interesting to see that dynamic. This was a family that really opened up their business for people to come in and view the way that they function,” said Hannah who enjoys “learning and interacting with these small families that really love what they do and want to preserve this historical way of life for future generations.”
In addition to studying the social aspects of food, Hannah is enrolled in STFS 330: Sustainability and Food Production in Italy. The course considers the complex interplay of social and political factors in food policies while analyzing various elements of food systems and alternative food movements in Italy and the United States. To this end, she has frequently visited local markets and producers, discovering the pros and cons of things such as organic certification. “Some producers express that they are not organic-certified because they prefer to use small amounts of some chemicals, rather than unlimited amounts of more natural chemicals,” explained Hannah. The class, committed to engaging with the local community, is regularly assisting in the care and cultivation of a local, therapeutic synergistic garden. At the garden, students view a direct interaction between food and society through the practice of horticulture therapy. They work side by side with not only classmates, but also with individuals with mental health challenges, using the cultivation of the garden as a technique to enhance their quality of life and generate positive emotions and social interactions. Hannah enjoys working with these patients at the synergistic garden and dirtying her hands in a garden can actually make a difference in people’s lives. “I was our Greeks Go Green representative for my sorority, in the Sustainability Department back home,” said Hannah. “It felt like we were doing something good, but after this program, I want to refocus my efforts on more extracurricular activities and bring my experiences back to the States.”
In addition to the Food & Sustainability Studies curriculum, Hannah is enrolled in AHIR 310: Italian Renaissance Masters: Art, Invention, and Culture. This course has allowed her to learn the theoretical side of Art History, but also to visit local museums in Perugia to stand face to face with the works of Raffaello and Perugino, among others. The class has brought her to Assisi and Florence to experience the expression of art beyond a book or screen, and again deepen her interest in interactive learning techniques.