Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reflection: EcoGastronomy Experience

                                                 December 2011, Shannon Jasie
I find myself sitting here at the end of my college experience, with a stress level through the roof, excitement of graduation on the not-so-distant horizon (next week!!), a large class of organic Frey wine, and a flashing cursor on a blank white page.  What could I possibly write as a reflection on my years and experiences with the EcoGastronomy program at the University of New Hampshire??  Could I write anything that would do it justice?  Perhaps I should strive for some philosophical and profound conclusion.  Something novel.  A radical insight into the secret world of EcoGastronomy… But I don’t think that would be congruent with the underlying purpose of this program.  EcoGastronomy is simple.  It’s all about getting back to basics, the fundamentals, clarity.  Cutting out all the crap, the bullshit, the clutter, the brainwashing.  Restoring the core values that should be the framework for our food system.  Instead of making a fancy conclusion, I will speak to you from the heart, like a friend.  As one of us Eco-Geeko’s, as Ryan Millian likes to call us.  I will weave you my Slow Food story, starting where any proper story should commence… way back at the very beginning.  The day that EcoGastronomy entered my life.

I remember where I was sitting.  I was in one of my weekly Student Nutrition Association (SNA) meetings, in a conference room on the third floor of the MUB.  At the conclusion of the meeting, we allowed for peer announcements to share events, speakers, or University news.  One girl, who I now cannot remember, made an announcement about a new program in development called EcoGastronomy—something I could barely pronounce.  She explained the premise of the program, and I was immediately intrigued.  However, to my dismay, the program had not yet launched, and as a Dietetics student, I had very little flexibility in my schedule for electives.  Never mind studying abroad!  I dismissed the idea of enrolling in the dual major when it came to fruition.  As the weeks passed and I delved deeper into my nutrition courses, I found myself frustrated and irritated quite frequently while sitting in my lectures or doing homework exercises. Why should a person, by choice, consume fat-free cheese?  Doesn’t that violate everything that cheese stands for?  Why the hell would I recommend for someone to eat mass-produced canned peas as a viable vegetable source?  Shouldn’t we focus on PREVENTING occurrences of diseases of excess, rather than memorizing drug-nutrient interactions for diabetic patients?  As I sat in class, rejecting 50% of the ideas that came from my professors’ mouths, I found that EcoGastronomy was slowly creeping back to the forefront of my mind.  EcoGastronomy addressed some of the issues that I had within the Nutrition Dietetics program.  My frustration with the American Dietetic Association curriculum guidelines drove me to contemplate dropping out of the nutrition program all-together.  I thought about becoming a psychology major, an English student, a marketing scholar… Anything to get away from dietary exchanges and metabolic syndrome.  If only EcoGastronomy was offered as a stand-alone major of its own, my problems would be solved!  It was almost as if my prayers were answered by the University Gods of Creating Majors.  Within the Nutrition department, a new option was in the works: Wellness.  This new program emphasized health on a more holistic level with some new course requirements, including stress management, exercise, health promotion, and teaching health.  Additionally, this new nutrition option allowed room for studying abroad or picking up a minor…. Or in my case, picking up a dual major: EcoGastronomy.  I officially enrolled in the second Introduction to EcoGastronomy course offered, which was in the fall semester of 2009.

I embraced the class with a newly discovered scholarly passion, which had previously been lack-luster at best in my other nutrition courses.  I was hooked.  After each class, I would call my mom and try to teach her the wonders of Good, Clean, and Fair.  I frequently communicated with Emily Goldman and Sara Hartley who were studying abroad at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy at the time, and I absolutely couldn’t wait for my turn to go to Italy.  In the mean time, I attended farmer’s markets and events, worked at the UNH Organic Garden, read books, watched films, worked at an organic and local pizza restaurant in Portsmouth, and joined up with other foodies who shared my passion for great food.  Eventually, my time came to hop on the plane for Italy, and one of my most life-changing experiences to date (followed by a close-second summer experience in California).  I suppose the details of my study abroad experience can be examined at length in the Study Abroad Report that precedes this reflection, but I will say this: I made friends with some of the greatest, most interesting, complex, and beautiful people.

My study abroad group definitely had some characters, I will be the first to admit, but it is these quirks and personalities that I am able to look back and realize that those eleven girls became my EcoG family.  We laughed together, cried together, got drunk together, hated Chiara together, got lost together, missed buses together, traveled and saw the world together, cooked and ate together, and grew together.  To be Sara Hartley for just a moment, I will say that it was a magical life experience.  And I mean that, in every sense of the word.  While compiling journal entries and photos for this portfolio, I lost myself in the memories that EcoGastronomy has provided me over the years.  I think about the 3-mile walk home from school in Pollenzo, through the farms outside of Bra.  I think about being served raw veal for lunch on our very first hungover day at school.  I think about late-night gelato shop visits with my roommates.  I think about Alanna getting locked in the basement bathroom of the Wine Bar.  I think about the steamy dance floor of Café Boglione playing Michael Jackson all night long.  I think about getting yelled at by our apartment’s management for our “stinky cooking.”  I think about our obsession with cappuccino at all hours of the day, although we learned it is socially acceptable only in the morning.  I think about the nights that we rotated “family dinners” at each of our four apartments—laughing, drinking, and eating late into the night.  We developed deep bonds with one another, bonds that did not dissipate once we reached the United States again.  I have developed a friendship with these girls where we can pick up right where we left off.  They know me better and deeper than many of my friends. 

Perhaps I should have made a scholarly connection between my primary major and EcoGastronomy, or maybe I should have reported in detail about my opinions of our current food system with substantial evidence from reports and studies.  But to me, that was not what my EcoGastronomy experience meant to me beyond the classroom.  Sometimes I find it to be silly that food has changed my life.  And not in a nutritional sense.  Not in a “daily dietary recommended value” fulfillment sort of way.  In a way that heals your soul and your spirit.  I have met some of the greatest people who share my foodie ways through EcoG, I have experienced life and culture through my gastronomic travels, and I have learned the importance of food in our daily life.  I no longer view food as a vehicle for delivering nutrients to our bodies as suggested in my nutrition coursework, but rather, food is a way of nourishment that extends beyond caloric intake.  It nourishes your mind, your body, your relationships, and your happiness.  Food brings people together. 

Food is love. 

Blog post contributed courtesy of Shannon Jasie

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