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Dear world,

You are invited to attend an important symposium exploring international influences on local food culture.  Global Food: Local Perspectives will be Thursday October 22, 3:30-5:30 in NLSN 1215 at Purdue University.

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The symposium will feature a keynote lecture by Dr. Simone Cinotto, Professor of Italian American history and food studies at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.  He will present material from his most recently published book, Making Italian America: Consumer Culture and the Production of Ethnic Identities (2014).  Following his lecture, Dr. Lisa Banu (local food/design studies blogger at HungryPhil.com) will lead a roundtable discussion with three local restaurant owners from Thai Essence, La Scala, and Shaukin about their food memories and philosophies.  A complimentary food tasting for the first 50 people will accompany their discussion.  Visitor parking at PGG (Grant St., West Lafayette).

Purdue Map_Event in NLSN

This event has been curated by Kera Lovell as part of her 2015 Global Synergy Grant.  The event has been sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts’ Global Synergy Grant, the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, the American Studies Program, the Italian Studies Program, the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and the American Studies Graduate Student Organization all at Purdue University.  Thanks to Kirsten Serrano (La Scala), Miinal Bhatt (Shaukin), and Ake Waratap (Thai Essence) for donating their time for this event.

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I took the last post discussing my experience visiting Slow Food International’s University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, yet wanted to take a little more time to talk about the meanings and practices of Slow Food.

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Slow Food International’s restaurant, Osteria del Boccondivino, in Bra, Italy 

According to the Slow Food USA website, “Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization with more than 150,000 members and 2,000 food communities throughout 150+ countries.  Slow food International states that “Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.”

Yet for Life in the Food Lane blogger Francine Spiering, slow food means a more authentic experience with culinary sustenance.  It is a whole body, whole lifestyle, whole world experience:

Slow Food for me is appreciating food in all its diversity. It is discovering regional cuisines and local ingredients. Raising a child to know the chicken, not the nuggets. Favoring individual chef-owner restaurants where the cooking is good and done with passion. It is a good wine, a microbrew beer, a signature cocktail. It is crusty great-smelling bread, artisan cheese, traditional charcuterie, and the ripe freshness of seasonal, local produce. It is always cooking fresh food at home (I believe the buzzword is “real food”), and taking time to enjoy food together. Slow is more than food. Slow is an unhurried lifestyle, even if you are in a rush. It means taking time for things and someones that matter to you. Slow is setting your alarm to watch the moon be eclipsed in a red-hued shadow, even if you have an early rise the next day. Slow is living the dream, when the dream is to cherish the life you live.

For me, slow food is going to your friends’ houses to pick up some fresh zucchini.  It’s buying raw milk from a local dairy farmer.  It’s discussing family over a long meal at a big table.  And slow food in the US is hard to come by.

Bra, the birthplace of Slow Food International, serves as the perfect case study for understanding the meanings and practices of slow food.  After visiting the university, I ate lunch at Slow Food’s restaurant – Osteria del Boccondivino in Bra.  Set in a beautiful hidden courtyard outside the organization’s headquarters, the restaurant specializes on new daily menus that cater to the market’s fresh ingredients.

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Osteria del Boccondivino, Slow Food International’s restaurant in Bra, Italy

Additionally, the restaurant (and just about every other place in Italy) offers local wines you can drink with your multi-course meal.  The restaurant’s wine selection specializes in Langhe and Roero traditions in the northern Piedmont area of Italy.

When all wines are local, you know you're in a good country.  (Photo by Simon Bussiere)

When all wines are local, you know you’re in a good country.

Likewise, the University of Gastronomic Sciences has the Wine Bank (la Banca del Vino) which serves as a depository of different wines from all over the world.  Although it wasn’t open for tours when I was on campus for a visit, luckily I was able to check out Slow Food International’s pavilion at the Expo which featured raised beds and wine tastings from the Wine Bank. This still didn’t feel very Slow Foody. Back in Bra, however, my Airbnb host recommended visiting Giolito’s cheese shop down a back street of Bra.  I was about 2 minutes too late, with the doors already locked for a lunch break, but they agreed to open the doors (probably seeing dollar signs and pure excitement in my eyes).  That day they featured hundreds of different cheeses, some paired with special jams.  Confronted with the option to try and buy a lifetime of affordable cheese from the shop owner himself – Fiorenzo Giolito – I opted for “I’ll try literally anything,” and was only pleased. I bought an equivalent to about $30 worth of cheeses and two jams (cherry and orange marmalade).  THAT, unlike the restaurant, the pavilion, the university, felt like slow food.  To have a conversation with someone about how the cheese tastes, where it’s made in Italy, and what the name of the farmer was, was priceless.   Eating cheese for the next week was also priceless.

Because it is renowned for its quality and quantity of cheeses, this tiny shop supplies all of the cheese for Mario Batali’s restaurant chain Eataly.

Giolito’s cheese shop in Bra is a Slow Food shop specializing in hundreds of local and European cheeses delivered fresh weekly. They supply the restaurant chain Eataly with all of their cheeses. Eataly’s photo

They also host a biannual cheese festival in which more than 150,000 visitors converge on this small Piedmont town.   You can watch in all of its spectacle here.

Mind you, I did eat lunch once at McDonald’s in Italy, and I completely regretted it.  😉

The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy:  This is an aerial view of the grounds which includes a hotel, Slow Food International’s offices, and the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Could you tell it used to be a castle? Check out the hotel here (where this photo is from): http://www.albergoagenzia.com/welcome_eng.lasso

My second stop after visiting my faculty advisor, Professor Simone Cinotto, in Torino, was visiting the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.  As you can see from the photo, there’s just about nothing in Pollenzo except for this gorgeous castle-turned school/hotel, a scattering of homes and businesses to the right, and miles and miles of farmland and agritourism sites as far as you can see.  When I asked Dr. Cinotto to recommend a good place for lunch, he only suggested about 5 great farm-to-table restaurants within a half hour (and Italians are not easy to please when it comes to food).

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Here is a plaque detailing some of the historical roots of the castle at the university.  Towering above is the campanile or bell tower (often located at the historic city center), shown above.

Fortunately I was able to spend the night in Bra with a graduate student at the university from California who is (at this moment) doing her required internship at an organization in London.  She took about 2 hours to give us the inside scoop on the school, describing how the course schedule works, types of classes offered and the ones she preferred, and the city in which she lived.  For example, in the university’s undergraduate program seen here, the course schedule includes a range of classes, from Sensory Analysis and Microbiology to Territorial Sociology (<–??).

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Inside a classroom at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy where you get to taste the food and eat it too!

In addition, programs include required food studies field trips to events in Bra and neighboring cities, another destination in Europe, and then another outside of Europe.  The school is hard work, don’t get me wrong, but for lunch you get to eat fine Italian cuisine made by aspiring chefs in a gorgeous castle.  That sounds awesome.

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A look outward from the University of Gastronomic Sciences which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site because it was once the Royal Palace of Savoy: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/823/documents

Although this young and selective university has only gone on to graduate a little more than 600 students since its beginning in 2004, the school has produced major talent.  I would personally like to vouch for two young vibrant graduates, Anna Bellotti and Grégoire d’Oultremont, who opened their beautiful restaurant L’Alfieri in Bra.  It’s intimate and modern, yet fun and colorful with an ever-changing menu and a chipper bartender that greet you upon entry (and offered us up some special cocktails which now have me putting black tea in every liquor).  Here you can read an adorable interview with them about why they decided to open their restaurant.

A super awesome photo that I did not take from Trip Advisor.

It was one of the best – if not the best – meal we had in Italy, so I highly recommend it.  Here is a beautiful mind map of the owners that I had to share, which highlights all of the intricacies of the restaurant, their quest to create a community-minded space that feels right to be there, with a strong professional backing that rigorously plans, sources, and funds their creative ideas.  And if I can find pictures of the food I ate that night, you all will be the first to see them.

Last but not least, here are some final shots of the university before I headed on my way to Parma.  Soak in its red brick archways, trailing vines of ivy, and gorgeous views and circulation patterns.  What a university.  By the way, interested in going there?  Check out the university’s website here or go crazy – apply for the university’s Fulbright and earn your MA from there in 1 year for free.

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The University of Gastronomic Science Grounds

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In honor of American Independence Day, I wanted to give you some details about the US Pavilion at the Milan Expo!  In contrast to the USA pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 (I’ll give you a better comparative study another day), this pavilion not only has corporate sponsors but also government funds which enables more creativity and flexibility in the design process.  The building’s design – a very simple two-story building with a linear stacked design – boasts one of the world’s largest vertical gardens that flex horizontally to catch the sun’s rays.  Designed to mimic the structure of a barn, the pavilion’s theme of “farm to table” food is part of the US’s mission to work with companies and nations to use simple farming, good nutrition, and agricultural engineering to feed the world’s 9 billion people by 2050.

A rendering of the USA Pavilion at the World Expo in Milan, with one of the world’s largest vertical gardens

Follow the USA pavilion on Instagram @usapavilion2015 to see today’s US-sponsored events – today they have marching bands, cheerleading, flash mobs, and cupcake sales in honor of the 4th.  On their Instagram account you can also see a super quick behind the scenes look at the US pavilion.

Happy 4th!!

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Welcome to the Expo!  This blog will trace my path through Italy as part of my Global Synergy research grant through Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts, that enabled me to study the relationship between transnational American food and design.  To begin, I want to give you some brief details about the expo.  The Expo, or World’s Fair, has been widely attended for more than a century, with new countries each year in the spotlight as the world’s hosts.  Most expos function very similarly – with a complex of national and host pavilions, perhaps a theme, and daily attendance by local and global visitors.  You spend the day, meet new people, but leave with an eagerness to travel more abroad and in the host country as well.  This year Milan, Italy offered something entirely new – the theme “Food for Life,” which meant connecting the lifeblood of Italian culture with the world’s greatest environmental and social challenges – starvation, climate change, high population density, and mass processed foods.  Each country offered their perspective on food, blending conceptual art, technology, and design to compose a national vision of the topic at hand.  Between now and October 31 (when the Expo is completed), I will update this blog with my experiences, telling my digital story of the foods I consumed, the contacts I made, and how it shaped my research and teaching.

To begin, here is a floor shot of China’s pavilion “Land of Hope” in which LED colors change fluidly to compose an ever-changing landscape of agriculture in shape of China’s undulating architecture.

Here’s an image from above:

More to come!