Food Science and Italian Studies: An Exploration of Food, Culture, and Language in Italy

For the second year in a row, Food Science and Italian Studies at Chapman University collaborated on a travel course based in the beautiful city of Perugia, located in the heart of the Italian peninsula. The course, FSN 309/509: Topics in Food, Diet, and Culture, is one of the many interdisciplinary expressions of the newly created Ferrucci Institute for Italian Experience and Research. This summer, the course was led by Dr. Anuradha Prakash (Food Science) and Dr. Sara Mattavelli (Italian Studies) in collaboration with the staff of Umbra’s Program in Food, Sustainability & the Environment. Twenty students, both graduate and undergraduate, had the opportunity to explore the rich food culture of Italy. The participants embarked on a journey to experience the Italian farm-to-fork system and visit some producers of Italy’s most important and renowned products, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, balsamic vinegar, and wine. There they had the privilege of observing the processes involved in creating iconic Italian products and learning about the impact of global pressures on different food sectors.

The travel course also included visiting the cities of Bologna and Modena, in the region of Emilia Romagna. In Bologna, the group met with representatives from Forno Brisa, “an independent and rebel bakery” founded on the core values of community and sustainability. Below is our group with Marella, our chaperone (bottom right), and the iconic BrisNonna in the background.

During the entire trip, all course participants were encouraged to immerse themselves in Italy’s cultures and learn about food and food production by interacting with locals. The students really embraced the challenge and even spoke a little bit of Italian with food producers, restaurant workers, and our bus drivers! Most participants did not know any Italian before leaving, but they all challenged themselves and practiced some basic sentences to communicate while in the country. Obviously, no food course in Italy would be complete without a hands-on experience in the kitchen! Pictured below, you can see a group of students learning how to prepare two traditional Italian pasta dishes from scratch (ravioli and fettuccine) under the guidance of an expert chef in Umbra’s didactic kitchen.

Rachel Berns (B.S. Health Sciences ’24 | Nutrition & Honors Minors) summarizes the travel course experience very well:

“My time in Italy, while short, was stuffed to the brim with enriching educational experiences. Food is so integral to the human experience, and the FSN 309/509: Topics in Food, Diet, and Culture class illuminated refreshing perspectives connecting the geographic origins, scientific processing, and cultural celebration of many ingredients and meals that we all know and love. Whether it be exploring Perugia’s beautiful city center, enjoying a traditional balsamic vinegar tasting, or conducting our own field research on a topic meaningful to us, there was always an opportunity to engage with a new aspect of Italy’s past and present, and to do so in a delicious way. I highly recommend that anyone with a love for food or Italian culture consider taking this wonderful class!”

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