Fifteen students at Lebanon Valley College (LVC) will travel to Italy in May to participate in a unique three-week credited course that ties together philosophy and its relationship to food.
“Gastro-Philosophy: Reflections on Place, Time and Identity,” is an opportunity for students to engage in the on-site study of the philosophy of food while encountering the culture, language, and lifestyle of Italy in the small, historic city of Perugia, according to Robert Valgenti, Associate Professor of Philosophy at LVC.
“Studying food and philosophy itself – even within the academic discipline of food studies – is a real oddity,” Valgenti said. “There aren’t many philosophers who work on food, but certainly Italy is a place you would want to do it.”
Valgenti had the idea for the course after conducting research in Italy and because of his life-long love of food, which was influenced by growing up in an environment where food was a central theme at family gatherings.
“I was also interested in this because it is a wide-open field,” Valgenti said. “Not many American philosophers work on Italian philosophy.”
Valgenti said the itinerary includes field trips to Florence to learn how recipes and cooking techniques connect to history; a visit to a wine-making operation to see how land in a specific region affects agricultural production; and an excursion to Venice to examine how identity is formed through food.
“What appealed to us is the collaborative effort of a cross-section of teaching disciplines, which will give the students a well-rounded educational experience,” said Wendie DiMatteo Holsinger, Chief Executive Officer, ASK Foods and LVC trustee. “This will be a high-impact experience that gets the students out of the classroom and gives them an internationally based real world view.”
Holsinger said supporting a food-focused course was a natural fit with ASK Foods, which has been making wholesome soups, salads, entrees and sides at its plants in Palmyra, Lebanon County since 1948.
“We’re foodies who are very passionate about food and the experience of great foods,” Holsinger said. “It’s wonderful to give students an opportunity to not only study the social aspects of food, but to provide a forum for them to have an agriculturally based focus that covers such issues as production, sustainability and the business of food, which, of course, is near and dear to my heart.”
After the students return from their overseas studies, they will be required to produce a report that highlights their experiences and incorporates what they’ve learned in the classroom and in the field during their stay.
“I am a big supporter of studying abroad because it is an absolutely transformative experience,” Valgenti said. “I am a firm believer that students get more out of one semester or one year of study abroad than they do in four years of on-campus studies.”
Valgenti added that the college is appreciative of Wendie’s support of the course.
“ASK believes it’s critical for industry to intersect with higher education to give students the opportunity to connect the classroom to the business world so they can see the numerous career opportunities that are available to them when they get out of school,” Holsinger said.