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Meet Me in Rome Italy: Food Culture + How I Am Giving Back

In the beginning of June, despite my current Fibromyalgia flare up, I will embark on another food/bee activist expedition. This time, I will be heading to Rome Italy to GustoLab’s International Institute for Food Studies.

I will be studying Italian food culture from a historical, political, economic, and social perspective. Subjects covered will include the history of agriculture and food, food production, nutritional lessons, and a study of Italian cultural anthropology and philosophy.

One of the courses, for instance, is titled Food, Media, Communication and Trends. The objective is to give meaning to the term ‘critical consumption’ in the nutritional field and to define the role communication plays in promoting consumer awareness. The course investigates primary food issues, represented via international and national television production, the linguistic and structural techniques tied to food in media production, and the characteristics and tactics that advertisements and new media have on eating habits.

When I first read about GustoLab Institute’s program back in December 2014 on Comfood, an electronic mail list for those interested in community food security, I practically salivated. I geek out on food security issues and this is the first program of its kind. And in Italia? Wow. I’ve visited four times and am in love with the language, the landscape, and the culture.

As a go-getting Capricorn, I reached out to them immediately and asked if they would allow me to cover a few courses in exchange for producing articles and sharing their message on social media. I also offered to screen my film, Vanishing of the Bees, which comes with Italian subtitles, and give a talk.

We exchanged emails over several months now it is finally happening! I am so thrilled to become a student, once again. It was just six months ago that I studied to earn a permaculture certificate in Central America.

A few weeks after getting into contact with GustoLab Institute, I was contacted via Linkedin to submit my film to the the Milan International Film Awards Festival (MIFF). Just last week, I learned that, on behalf of the Leonardo Da Vinci Film Society, MIFF has selected the film for a special “Expo edition” screening on September 30th. This is an empowering moment as a journalist and activist. (Your support can help get there as the expo covers two nights in a hotel, but no airfare).

Love Bees? Want to support conscientious shopping? Grab Your Bee the Change T-Shirt NOW!spread-the-buzz-t-shirt

Journeys Past: Activism in Central America

I want to report on what’s going on in terms of food around the world. I want to share the information that mainstream media doesn’t cover!

For instance, when I was in Central America studying permaculture, I discovered that many poisons that are illegal in the states are still being used in Central America, ruining the native environment and harming people’s health. Meanwhile, companies like Coca Cola and Frito-Lay are cashing in and taking advantage of the perceived affluence these brands carry in foreign places, when in reality, they’re selling cheap junk food sold in wasteful plastic.

In Central America, the variety of Frito-Lay products was astounding—chip heaven. I know; I drove through four countries and stopped in a fair share of gas stations. PepsiCo, the company that owns Frito-Lay, has remarked on their booming snacks division in Latin America.

Pepsi Co’s Latin America Food Division, which includes brands such as Doritos, Cheetos, Marias Gamesa, Ruffles, Emperador, Saladitas, Lay’s, Rosquinhas Mabel, Elma Chips and Sabritas, as well as many Quaker-branded cereals and snacks, generated $8.4 billion in 2014.

Meanwhile, people in Central America are getting fat. The increased imports and availability of processed high fat and high sugar foods is responsible for an alarming increase in obesity in countries like Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, according to Bio Med’s open access journal Globalization and Health.

I suspect that worldwide big agriculture is eroding food culture and replacing it with faux food . In fact, last year while in France, I covered a new law that was passed to authenticate that French food being served in restaurants is actually fresh and not frozen.

Untouched Italy?

What has been the impact of large corporations on food and economy in Italy? Of all European countries, Italy has the largest area farmed organically and has the highest number of organic farms . The Slow Food movement was also born there. What other thriving food related things are occurring in the food world?

Gustolab’s headquarters and classrooms are located in the historical center of Rome, steps away from Piazza Navona. The program includes lectures on the cultural social and economic aspects of food in Italy, contains hands-on workshops with chefs, TV directors, journalists, nutritional experts,; and includes guided visits to farms, vineyards and food magazine headquarters.

The study of food and the environment in which it grows, or the manner in which it is produced—in additional to agricultural , culinary, and industrial processes—is crucial to deepening our knowledge of the gastronomic field while reframing preconceived thoughts, ideas,and thinking processes.

My Call to Action

So what’s next? As an activist and independent content provider, I would love your support on this self-imposed assignment. I am scheduled to screen my film three times during the course. This journey will allow me to share my knowledge and activism surrounding honeybees with Italians and students from  around the world. At the same time, I will gain a once-in-a-lifetime training in the food culture field. As a community, we are changing things when it comes to food policies. It’s been a long road and we still have a long way to trek, but positive change are occurring. Let me be your bee crusader.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead

Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the BeesFind out more about Maryam….


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