Working With Ascoli Piceno Students: Translating American Food Culture

13 Sep

Everybody knows Italy has a great food culture.  Also well known are the United State’s challenges with quality food options, healthy eating, and the disconnection with where one’s food comes from.

How black and white is it? Would these students understand the problems faced, and issues that need reexamining in American food culture? How difficult would it be to explain why we felt there was a need or appropriate place for the MFC project in the U.S.?

Part of the workshopping was to find answers to these type of questions…

Our basic agenda:

1) Explain American food culture, the crossroads of food and architecture in America,  and present the MFC project

2)Break into mixed groups to discuss everyone’s unique relationship with food and discover potential Italian food issues

3)Present the Venice Project goal:  Activate and design a space to create a discussion around food.

4) Discuss, share ideas and dismiss

These small group discussions were the richest part of the first day of workshopping. Everyone had time to contribute to the conversation (with the occasional translation or illustration).

Some realizations and understandings after day 1:

-Venice is a very international city and attracts heavy loads of tourists. Sometimes other Italians scoff at how few Italians actually live in Venice. Our project, installation,  flash-mob, or event should take this into account or use to our advantage.

– While great differences between Italian and American food culture exist, some students regretted that they felt their families were slowly moving away from food traditions or that they were being lost. This was something everyone in the MFC group could relate to.

-Out of all the challenges we discussed about American food culture it was the issue of disconnection with production that seemed most difficult for the Italian students to relate to. While planning our project event in Venice, one student expressed how they needed to shift their ways of thinking to even understand how this could be such a problem in the U.S. The student went on to say how the typical Italian (depending on where they live) grows a significant portion of their own food.  Except during winters, produce is grown abundantly and is generally local. Italians it seemed, take advantage of being able to grow their own herbs, fruits and vegetables. This was made more apparent after wandering through Venice and other cities in the Veneto region. Small backyard gardens or even boxes in windows were utilized to grow almost everywhere. This behavior was made even more clear when, one night at our apartment in Venice we needed fresh herbs for roasted potatoes. On my way to find some at a local grocery store, I discovered a few bushels in a small garden outside the front door (thank you neighbors). In Chicago, if one grows some of their own produce it is unique and commendable, in Italy it seems to be the standard.


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