On Thursday I had my first meeting at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, which is my primary affiliation for my Fulbright grant. Arriving in Colorno, I was struck with the beauty of the campus – the University is housed in a palace first built in the 13th century. After so much dreaming about being at UNISG, I couldn’t believe I was finally there. I met with my advisor, Simone Cinotto, who is a food historian and the director of the Masters programs. We discussed possibilities for my research project, in which I hope to integrate the worlds of preventive medicine and gastronomy with a focus on nutrition in youth. In addition to doing independent research, I will also have the chance to audit a Food Culture class in May which is part of the Masters program in Food Culture and Communications. I am excited about studying similar themes I have focused on researching over the last 4 years from the perspective of a different discipline.
As I nice coincidence, while at the University I saw that there was a book signing with Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, the following night. I wasn’t sure that I would have the chance to hear him speak while in Italy, none the less during one of my first weeks here, so needless to say I was thrilled. Set in one of the historic rooms of the University, the talk was very intimate, and Mr. Petrini gave an inspiring talk about his recent book, Terra Madre. One of the main themes revolved around how cheaply produced food is really expensive when you consider the harmful effects to our health and the earth. He mentioned that when we are first born and rely on our mother’s milk, we naturally have a very close relationship with our food source, and that we should strive to continue to be connected to where our food comes from, by either farming ourselves or by building friendships with the farmers who grow our food. Mr. Petrini ended with saying that when albatross walk, they are clumsy, but when they fly, they are beautiful and graceful. He encouraged all of us to “fly high” and create a better way of life now and for the generations that follow.
The talk was followed by a tasting of local artisanal food products including prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, and Lambrusco wine. I had the chance to speak with Mr. Petrini, in my limted Italian (!), and he was very welcoming and gracious to both Paul and I, and was enthusiastic about my research interests.
Not sure how we missed it last Saturday, but this morning we walked one street over from our apartment and ran into a great little farmers’ market. Now we know where we will be doing our weekend shopping! We bought lettuce, pears, a few types of local cheese including Parmigiano, wine (a white called Malvasia dell’Emilia and a red blend from nearby Piacenza), honey, eggs, and a crumbly almond/honey torta from Mantova called sbrisolona. Everything was of excellent quality and sold at a price that seems more reasonable than the local shops, which helps our student budget – and we got to meet the people that produced it. I couldn’t believe that an enormous piece of top quality formaggio Parmigiano, approximately 8x6x1 inches was 4.50 euro. I am looking forward to getting to know the farmers more each week and seeing what comes to the market as the seasons change.