Slow Food and the University of Gastronomic Sciences
The Slow Food movement wants to go beyond the narrow idea of gastronomy and to bridge the gap between the hedonistic and ethical part of food culture to create a “responsible gastronomy”. To shape the future gastronomes is a goal for Slow Food´s University, University of Gastronomic Sciences, founded in the north of Italy in 2004.
Sara Nässén, MA in Communication studies, Wine teller and WGI Advisory Member Sweden.
Background of the Slow Food movement
The Slow Food movement was founded in Italy the 80´s as a response to the homogenization of the food industry. A central idea within the Slow Food movement - driven by the motto “Good, Clean and Fair” is the concept of eco-gastronomy. In Slow Food Revolution: A New Culture for Eating and Living (2006) the founder of the movement Carlo Petrini said that: “An environmentalist who is not a gastronomist is sad; a gastronomist who is not an environmentalist is silly. We changed our point of view with the idea of defending good food in a healthy environment. This move ratified our transformation into an eco-gastronomic movement. From this perspective, we are trying to keep the concept of pleasure alive: we set it in a wider context, which includes the environment where food is created. This has allowed us to overcome the real taboo of every gastronomist: hunger”.
The core question of the Slow Food movement has evolved from a defence of gastronomic pleasure and a slower pace of life to an embracement of global issues regarding environmental and social sustainability, reflected in projects such as Terra Madre, an international network of food producers and professionals around the world, many in developing countries. The focus has gradually moved from eno-gastronomy (wine and food) to eco-gastronomy (gastronomy and environmental awareness), into neo-gastronomy. Neo-gastronomy, the “new gastronomy” is a multidisciplinary approach to food that focuses on life quality as well as a responsible use of resources, working for the good for consumers, producers and the planet.
University of Gastronomic Sciences
With a new gastronomy a new professional role is born - this is where the Slow Food University comes into the picture. In the countryside of Piedmont, in the middle of the wine region Langhe, 6 km outside of Bra (the birthplace of Slow Food) and 60 km from Turin, the UNESCO castles of Pollenzo host the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) since 2004. The university runs graduate, undergraduate and master programs in food and wine culture. All of the programs are all strongly interdisciplinary with subjects deriving from science as well as humanities. There is a practical approach to the didactics, with lots of tastings, visits and study trips. Students from all over the world come together in this former Roman settlement in the north of Italy, with a passion for food and wine in common. According to the Slow Food University, the new gastronomes (also the name of the online magazine produced by the university), will need to have knowledge of the whole food production chain from agriculture to processing to distribution, competence in areas such as economy, communication and marketing, a strong engagement in environmental and sustainability issues and a wide cultural knowledge and ability to promote regional food traditions.
The future gastronomes
According to students at the Master program ”Food Culture, Communication and Management” at UNISG, the role of gastronomy in the future is very much focused on sustainability in a broad sense. For Viola Bärwald, the role of the future gastronome is to ”share, question and transfer knowledge of current food systems and to find edible solutions for future nutrition issues”. Hsiao Tsung Jung underlines that the future gastronome should “stay grounded and perceive sustainability, which includes environment, culture, craft, economic and aesthetic perspectives, a as a core question”. To Carlo Alberto Bosio interdependence is a key word, since ”every human activity (economic, social, cultural, political, religious, etc.) and the space in which it operates is in symbiosis with other spheres”. Carlo believes that the focus on sustainability should have two priorities: “the space in which we act (the earth) and its survival, and the concept of the ’absolute good’ (unbound from all religious morals) for humanity and the ecosystem”. Another student, Marie Haahr Jensen, emphasizes the importance of traditions rooted in different cultures: “The goal of gastronomy is to communicate traditions as well as to learn from other cultures, working together and inspire each other - focusing on quality, minimum waste and sustainability, both from a social, environmental and economic point of view”. The students believe that the gastronome is the professional figure who will be able to communicate this vision in different areas of society, such as education, politics, social, cultural and economic fields.
New approaches in a challenging field
The new gastronomes will have the complex task of promoting high quality products combined with ethical awareness and cultural sensibility. Needless to say that to foster this new vision of food culture, a holistic and open-minded approach is necessary. Other than the possibility to work in a dynamic and constantly changing field, this task also implies a big responsibility and dedication to the vision of improving food systems for the future. In an age of globalization, environmental problems and emergent food crises, the gastronome will carry out the difficult task of linking together plate, planet, people and culture. An important and ambitious goal that probably needs to start in many places at the same time, and Pollenzo could be one of them.