Sampling Italy’s Slow Food Movement

My freshman year of college at Northeastern went by in what felt like a blink of an eye. I enjoyed my classes, became involved in a number of organizations on campus, and developed countless new friendships all within the span of eight short months. I remember leaving for college and constantly being told to enjoy it while it lasted because those would be the best years of my life. My first year certainly lived up to those expectations, but the best part of my year took place very far away from the campus I now call home.

In early May, I traveled to Rome with 20 other honors students prepared to live and study in the ancient city for the next month. The trip is one of the dozens of trips offered over the summer through the Dialogue of Civilizations program at Northeastern. The following month was spent studying Italian language and culture, observing Romans in their everyday lives, and experiencing what it is like to live in a different country for an extended period of time. Our introductory Italian class, led by our awesome instructor Claudia, met five days a week and provided us with a basic knowledge of Italian needed to converse with locals on a daily basis throughout our trip. Instead of focusing on verb conjugations and grammar, Claudia mainly taught us greetings, vocabulary, and simple phrases. Having taken French since middle school I had experience learning a foreign language, yet learning Italian while in Italy was a completely different experience. My motivation to learn the language was effortless as I could practice by simply ordering a meal, shopping for groceries, or attempting to have a conversation with someone. When our month in Italy was over I left with a knowledge of the language that would have taken at least four to five months in a traditional classroom setting to acquire.

While learning Italian in Italy was a truly unique experience, one of the highlights of the trip for me was our sociology course. The class was led by Professor Faber, a professor from Northeastern who traveled with us to Italy to teach the course. Titled Rome: City as Text, we focused on performing social observations to make conclusions about Italian culture. As a class we performed our first observation together at Piazza Venezia, one of the most crowded intersections throughout the entire city with the Vittorio Emanuele Monument on center display. Our goal was to jot down as many notes as we could about the setting and Roman drivers. We then each transformed these observations into descriptive and analytical papers that drew conclusions about Roman culture. For example, some students concluded that the small size of the cars is related to Italy’s concern for the environment, while others suggested that the aggressiveness of Roman drivers is due to the narrowness and age of the streets themselves. This ethnography served as a practice for the rest that we were responsible for while in Rome.

One aspect of Italian culture that I, along with most of my classmates, was most excited for was the food. I will gladly admit that the food was more than I had hoped and expected it to be. The smaller but richer portions allowed me to finish almost any dish I ordered and I easily managed to satisfy my gelato cravings almost daily. Yet there was a whole different side to Italian cuisine that I had never realized. The Slow Food Movement was a movement created in response to the opening of the first McDonald’s in Rome in the 1980’s in a fear that fast food would negatively affect Italian cuisine. This revolution emphasized not only the use of local and fresh ingredients at restaurants throughout the country, but also the use of meals to socialize and enjoy time with friends and family. The Slow Food Movement inspired my social observation at a McDonald’s to witness how fast food in a slow food culture is different from fast food in the fast paced culture present in the United States. I noticed that all customers sat down to eat their food in the restaurant rather than taking it on the go, and that the restaurant was more up-scale than the typical McDonald’s in the US. Overall, it appeared as though the Slow Food Movement was revolutionizing fast food, rather than the other way around.

My first experience studying abroad was nothing short amazing. I saw ancient pieces of history, bonded with the other students on my trip, and learned how to travel through Rome as a sociologist rather than a tourist. Within days of returning home to Chicago I found myself longing to go back to the slow-paced lifestyle, mouthwatering food, and close friendships I had made while in Italy. Who knew one could consider a place home after just a month?

-Samantha Levin, Biochemistry