So you want to study gastronomy? Here is some helpful information on the subject itself and more specifically, the program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG for short) in Italy. Shortly after returning to the United States, I wrote a blog post defining gastronomy- “What is Gastronomy?” And thereafter, I penned “A Day in the Life of a Gastronomy Student” for Honest Cooking, which serves as a great primer. Disclaimer: Although, the program and Colorno campus (the campus located inside of an old palazzo is still home to the culinary academy ALMA) no longer exist, the following information is still beneficial.
I spent the majority of 2009 living in Colorno, at the Emilia-Romagna campus of UNISG. There, I completed the first edition of the brand new English-language master program, focusing on food products and cultural heritage titled the Master of Italian Gastronomy and Tourism.
A press release by the school explained the program as follows:
“The program offers a wide mix of in-class lessons, exercises, guided tastings, and study trips in Italy, and abroad to provide a multi-experiential understanding of both high-quality artisanal and industrial food products, as well as the necessary knowledge and expertise for work in the food communications field. Instructors include university professors and scholars working in the sector at both national and international levels, journalists, and other visiting gastronomy experts.”
“Through an approach that merges the anthropology, history, and economics of food consumptions, students acquire the tools for developing new communications, promotional, and sales strategies within the realm of high-quality gastronomy. Graduates emerge ready for careers in marketing and public relations, education, and project management.”
- Italian Language and Culture
- History of Local Specialty Products
- Food History and Anthropology
- Food Technology
- Social Appraisal
- Sociology of Tourism
- Interaction and Organization of Modern Societies
- Communication Ecology
- Communication and Semiotics
- Visual Communication and Multimedia Languages
- Food Geography
- Food Ethics
- Internship & Thesis: 2 1/2 month internship and thesis defense.
The above is the official transcript of classes taken, but the topics varied greatly. The program provided a small taste of each field of study and then it was your job to learn more about the topic, with appropriate resources provided to you. To further elaborate on class topics, a sample day of class could include olive oil tasting in the morning and foraging in the afternoon. Classes ended right in time for aperitivo hour, which furthered our lessons in Italian culture and way of life. We also touched upon the topics of nutrition, food cost, and how to write an op-ed, with esteemed professionals that included Carole Counihan, Eric Holt-Gimenez, and Corby Kummer.
STAGES (pronounced stahge)
- The program included stages or study trips to learn more about a specific region’s culture and foodways. This was accomplished via a variety of different activities including food factory tours, cheese making classes, and dinners.
- Tevere (Rome and outskirts)
- International trip to the region of Andalusia in Spain
Beginning in 2000 (some would argue as far back as the 1980s), the world of food began to change drastically, and the study of gastronomy began to form. Founded in 1986 by Carlo Petrini and friends, after a demonstration against the building of a McDonald’s near Rome’s Spanish Steps, Slow Food‘s aim was to “defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life.” And while the organization grew exponentially over the decades, their founding of UNISG in 2004 was the catalyst to explosive success- one that has made Slow Food a household name. Since returning to Miami in late 2009, many diverse degree programs have popped up around the country and beyond, both in the undergraduate and graduate realms.
In case you want to explore further, here is a shortlist:
- Sterling College: Sustainable Food Systems, BA
- The New School: Food Studies, BA/BS
- Bologna Business School: MBA Food and Wine
- Boston University: Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy
- Chatham University: Master of Arts in Food Studies
- Green Mountain College: Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems
- NYU: MA in Food Studies
- The Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) features the most robust list of programs that I’ve seen.
Overall, my experience was extraordinary, one that truly changed my life. However, it was not without its hiccups. Crystal Cun of adventures of an omnomnomnivore in NYC from another year and campus wrote about her own experience in “A Brutally Honest Review of the University of Gastronomic Sciences“. Some points I agree with- Organization, Library and others not so much- Classes (We rarely had days and/or time off.), Professors (All of our professors were highly regarded experts in their field and cared greatly about our success in the non-traditional program.), Career Counseling (Worldwide career connections are still available to alumni years later. Additionally, they are varied enough to include many areas of the program’s study.). Many of the complaints, not just from Cun, but other students throughout the years, such as lack of organization and timeliness and language barriers, are the very same matters that transplants to Miami find infuriating. Italy is not the United States! The experience will, at times, be frustrating, daily life in Italy will be a culture shock, and some days you will cry on your apartment floor, 2 bottles deep in Malvasia (which, by the way, is a very underrated grape varietal) for no apparent reason. But, most days, you’ll be thankful that you took the risk- you’re learning something different, and living in another country where you’re traveling and getting insider access to things you normally wouldn’t. Like anything else in life, it is what you put into it. No one is going to baby you. No one is going to force you to do anything. The program is very interdisciplinary and liberal in that you learn a little bit about a diverse set of topics; then it is up to you to figure out what subject(s) to dive into wholeheartedly. Don’t worry, the staff and professors will give you the resources. Plus, technology is making this easier, too. If you have the time and money, do it. If anything, you’ll leave with lifelong friends, amazing experiences, and tons of funny stories about navigating life in a foreign country.
My only regret is not writing a blog while I was there to highlight such memories as visiting Antica Corte Pallavicina, having Massimo Bottura not only do a presentation at the school, but then invite us for a private lunch at his award-winning restaurant – Osteria Francescana – prepared exclusively by him, a reading by Wendell Berry (“To be interested in food, but not in food production is clearly absurd.” is one of his quotes), visiting the original Eataly, and inside access to places like Donnafugata Winery, Lavazza, Barilla, and so many others, including not-open-to-the-public farms.
If you decide to take the plunge, Good Food Jobs, a website started by two UNISG alums — Taylor Cocalis and Dorothy Neagle — is a great amuse bouche into the types of jobs you could expect to land once you’ve completed a degree in gastronomy.
Recently, I met with colleagues in the industry, one of them recently completed the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy at Boston University and is interested in gastronomic tourism. The other colleague is more interested in tracking the origins of tropical fruit and flora and fauna. There are so many areas of specialization, and it can get very niche, very quickly. For example, one of the main themes in the course Italian Language and Culture was food themes throughout Italian literature. We studied the food parallels present in Dante’s Divine Comedy. So, the field of gastronomy truly is what you make of it and can change drastically by the area of the world in which you are located. It is imperative to go into this experience having an entrepreneurial mindset. A motto of the school is “get into the future of food”. Your fantastic food ideas may not yet exist, and it may be your responsibility to create it, which goes hand in hand with the fact that the biggest and most important component of gastronomy (at least for now) is education.