by Felecia Dispense
My children, active-duty military husband, and I have been immersed in the Italian culture through cuisine, travel, and even through education since November of 2014. For many Americans, the word “Italian” is typically synonymous with “food.” I can honestly say, this is something I still personally agree with, but within a much grander scope than I ever anticipated.
Growing up in north-central Alabama, I remember every field trip I took throughout grade school. To this day, I cherish my multiple trips to the Birmingham Museum of Art. A couple of field trips in elementary school involved food. One of them was to the potato chip factory. The other was to the pizza shop. We even got to put our own toppings on our pizzas for lunch.
While these were certainly exciting experiences for me growing up, it is impossible not to contrast my childhood field trips involving food education to those my children have experienced while in school here in Italy:
- They walked through fields of produce, pulling fresh ingredients from the ground that they would later learn to prepare for lunch.
- They learned to prepare their own ravioli from scratch. They mixed the ingredients for the pasta, then fed it through a table-top machine until it was just right for cutting into circles. Then they mixed their cleaned, freshly-harvested spinach with fresh ricotta and assembled the ravioli (these turned out delicious, by the way).
- They learned to peel and dice apples and strawberries. They also learned how to cook them down, turning them into a delicious jam they would get to take home and share with their family. As you can see, my daughter was very proud of her product (which was also delicious).
- My preschooler (age 4) learned to mix and roll out his own pizza dough (from scratch).
- All of my children have visited local farm animals (cows, pigs, chickens, goats, etc.)
- They have learned how apples are harvested and packaged from the orchard, followed by a trip out to the orchard to pick their own delicious apples.
- Outside of these specific trips, they have also gone on yearly field trips to the local market, a short walk away from the school.
I have found these experiences to be so enriching for my children. One’s relationship with food can be a complicated one, and it is my belief that this relationship begins to be shaped at a young age. The way the Italian school systems partner with local agribusinesses to educate their children, even at preschool age, on two of the most basic pillars of life – food and nutrition, and take them from garden to plate – is simply invaluable. These experiences are provided to all their children, regardless socioeconomic background. It is my hope when returning to the United States this year to be able to take this experience back with us. By reaching out into the communities, the school systems, and local agribusinesses, I hope to bring about more opportunities for children to have these food education opportunities that the Italians have graciously shared with us. I am certain that this four-year field trip will become one to last a lifetime.
About the Author
Felecia Dispense is a senior at The University of Alabama in the Didactic Program in Dietetics. She will be earning her B.S. in Food and Nutrition in May 2019. Her areas of interest include pediatric and oncology nutrition, research, education, and nutrition in the armed forces. She is a military spouse currently stationed in northeastern Italy with her husband, three children, and two cats. Outside of course work, she is involved with various volunteer organizations around her military community. During free time, she enjoys rock climbing, yoga, catching up on leisurely reading, and relaxing with her family.