Article about the EcoGastronomy Porgram courtesy of Sam Burch, UNH Journalism Major
Each and every person relies on food daily, and yet few of us know where our food comes from, what it’s made of, and the effects it has on our body. Well enough is enough, The University of New Hampshire now has a program called EcoGastronomy that educates students on the sustainable and healthy way to grow, cook and eat food. In only its fourth year, the program is a collaboration of courses, integrating elements of sustainable agriculture, hospitality management, and nutrition all into one.
The major was first established after a visit from Carlo Petrini, the founder of an international movement that promotes local, healthy food called Slow Food. UNH became the first university in the United States to sign the organization’s Slow Food Agreements of Intentions and Collaborations , a set of principles aimed at connecting “institutions that defend biodiversity and sustainable food production” (Mofga). Subsequently in 2008, the Board of Trustees approved EcoGastronomy as a dual-major, making UNH the first university in the country to provide such a program.
Offered only as a dual-major, students must accompany another major with EcoGastronomy; however, this was no issue for Amanda Parks, a senior at UNH majoring in both Nutrition and EcoGastronomy, “At first I wanted it to be its own major, but there are definitely benefits of having it as a dual-major. The curriculum can easily be intertwined with different majors, giving people from the history department, to art, and beyond a chance to connect with principles of sustainable food systems and food communities.” Electing to study EcoGastronomy as a dual-major provides students with a unique perspective that they may not get focusing on one field only. As Parks made it clear, “Not only am I learning about the science and health of food, but I can tie all the sustainable production, food procurement, and tasteful enjoyment aspects of EcoG into my primary major.”
The diversity of the program results in an assorted course load and possible professions after graduation. Some students enroll in the program to learn how to cook, others want to make changes in food policies, and many want to work with farms or help community food production.
Students see the value in this, Parks who plans on promoting local seafood campaigns after graduation said, “While graduates of the program may not pursue a related field, studying EcoG gives everyone the opportunity to learn and be a knowledgeable consumer with potential to change the current food system.” A food system that is struggling to accommodate for such a large population, as publically scrutinized corporations like Monsanto Company increase production of genetically modified organisms.
Colleen Schriefer, the program assistant of EcoGastronomy at UNH, echoed this sentiment saying, “Most people should care about where their food comes from, and it can be startling when you find out. We should know what food does to our bodies and whether it helps or it hurts. We should know how to stay healthy.”
Thus, to fight the rise in unhealthy eating options, the EcoGastronomy program connects classes from 13 different majors and proposes students take such courses as the Culture of Vegetable Crops, Crop Production Technologies, Community Nutrition, and Systems Thinking for Sustainable Living. So from soil health to cooking and culture, the program gives a list of selections designed to assess the current means of farming and food productions.
In these courses, students learn through field and lab work, from farm to kitchen use, in addition to a mandatory semester abroad at either the UNH-in-Italy EcoGastronomy program in Ascoli Piceno, Italy or the Burgundy School of Business in Dijon, France. Both options give students the opportunity to learn about food aesthetics and see the farm to fork method of cuisine first hand.
The semester in Italy focuses on the creation and appreciation of food, food technology processes, the language and cross-cultural courses. Students stay in the small city of Ascoli Piceno, and get to take part in Terra Madre, a conference of food communities which program director Dan Winans described as “the food Olympics”.
For the semester in France, students stay in Dijon, in “the heart of the best wine region on the planet” according to Winans. This option stresses the art of French living with wine product and tasting classes in addition to food and wine tourism.
Both abroad programs study permaculture and the development of self-sustaining agricultural systems. Moreover, there is an emphasis on the sociology of food and wine and how production and consumption of each leads to connections among communities. These trips offer students an opportunity to increase their understanding of food systems and as Schriefer put it, “gain confidence in their field and expand their perspective”.
Christina Wolf, a graduate of UNH who studied EcoGastronomy in Durham and abroad in Ascoli Piceno, Italy had only positive things to say about the experience, “The trip was unforgettable. We studied food science and aesthetics as well as cooking authentic meals that were a staple of the Ascoli Piceno culture. The time spent was essential to our EcoGastronomy studies, it was very hands-on and helped familiarize us with the differences between the United States and Italian food systems.”
The potential for Ecogastronomy is immense, formed on the foundation of growing and raising healthy eating options and carving a deep connection between food and community. Such a system could build a productive and well-nourished network of people, a key component in the fight against fast food. The motive behind the UNH program is simple and deserves consideration: grow and prepare food with care, using nutritious, quality ingredients while promoting a more sustainable world.
Daniel Winans: Director of UNH Ecogastronomy Program
- Dan.Winans@unh.edu 603-862-3327
Colleen Schriefer: Program Assistant for Ecogastronomy Program
- Colleen.Schriefer@unh.edu 603-862-2316
Amanda Parks: Senior studying Ecogastronomy and works in food service
Christina Wolf: Alumni of UNH who studied Ecogastronomy and abroad in Italy