PERUGIA, Italy — “My coursework is focused on where I am as opposed to a theoretical topic; it is a very holistic way to go abroad,” shared Rosie Steinberg, a UVM Mathematics and Economics double Major. Steinberg is currently participating in the Food & Sustainability Studies Program at the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad provider in Perugia, Italy. Rosie recently met with Umbra staff to talk about how her classes are directly linked to her life abroad and passion for food, “I leave my Italian class and I speak Italian to the person at the café; I leave my sustainability class and I go to a Slow Food restaurant.”
Rosie’s business interests intersect well with BSFS 380: Business of Wine, a course that explores the business and marketing of wine. Rosie is particularly interested in the economic side of the many levels of food production and distribution. “I am realizing how many people are involved in getting a bottle of wine from the grape to the table,” she said. A significant aspect of her experience abroad has been immersing herself in the culture of food production so that she can find a way to combine her degree with her passion for food as she looks forward to her future career.
Through HSIT 350: The History and Culture of Food, Rosie is able to take a number of field trips to visit local producers, including her recent trip to Città di Castello, a small city near Perugia. During the trip, she met with a local truffle producer and learned the art of truffle hunting. She learned about the challenges facing truffle hunters, how the foraging experience is directly linked to the ability of the forager to train the family dog. “It was very touching to see how much passion is there and to learn about how the industry is so competitive that your entire livelihood can depend on a single dog,” shared Rosie. She also learned how spores are spread on the land in order to cultivate truffles, and 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.
Rosie is also enrolled in STFS 330: Sustainability and Food Production in Italy, a course that 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 and the many ways that the community is involved in the local food system. “We are working in a synergistic garden at the mental health facility, learning about how important it is for therapy but also how it can be intertwined into a local economy,” said Rosie, when commenting on her class’ service learning project. The class is regularly assisting in the care and cultivation of a local, therapeutic synergistic garden, where they 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 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. Rosie enjoys working with patients at the synergistic garden and seeing how getting her hands dirty in a garden can not only help her learn sustainable habits, but also make a difference in people’s lives.
Rosie hopes to one day have a career that allows her to blend her talents in mathematics and economics with her passion for food and sustainability. With this in mind, Rosie will submit a food paper at the end of the semester that she hopes will help her with her future senior thesis. “I have found more material for my Economics thesis than I thought I would,” said Rosie. By the end of her time at Umbra, she hopes to “find a thesis that compares Italian cheese and Vermont cheese, considering the markets within them or the context that led to the economy of cheese.”