Thursday, February 23, 2012

St. Bonaventure study abroad students enrolled in new Food Studies Program at Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy

Carrie Wozniak poses before wheels of cheese during a field trip as part of Umbra Institute’s Food Studies Program.

Alex Teixeira demonstrates that not only do you learn about food in Umbra Institute’s Food Studies Program, you get to enjoy it too.  

 St. Bonaventure University juniors Alex Teixeira and Carrie Wozniak were among the attentive students taking photos and asking questions as the maestro casaro (master cheese-maker) at a small cooperative in the fields outside Parma, Italy, talked while stirring huge copper kettles with his hands.

“This is a painstaking process, an art,” Antonio Parentelli told the students. “Making perfect parmigiano means hands-on work, not punching buttons on a machine.”

It also requires dedication, the students learned. Parentelli had just returned to work from vacation, only the second one he’d taken in his 35 years of making 200-pound wheels of parmesan cheese. The owners of the cooperative – 12 dairy farmers who own the small cheese factory – are pretty demanding, he said.

For Teixeira, Wozniak and their fellow students at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, a central Italian city known for its chocolate and its 35,000 university students, the trip to the cheese cooperative was a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience. “I was really surprised at the large amounts of food that could still be produced with a few workers and no hugefactory,” said Wozniak. “The whole trip was awesome.”

The St. Bonaventure students are spending a semester in Perugia through the university’s Franciscan Heritage Program, an undergraduate study abroad opportunity underwritten by St. Bonaventure University in association with the Umbra Institute, and serving students from Franciscan-affiliated campuses in the United States. The Franciscan Heritage Program is directed by Dr. Michael Chiariello, a professor of philosophy who has taught at St. Bonaventure since 1970.

Teixeira, a journalism and mass communication major from Mystic, Conn., and Wozniak, an accounting major from Tonawanda, N.Y., are taking classes in Umbra Institute’s new Food Studies Program.

“St. Bonaventure, through my efforts, is deeply engaged in the development of this cutting-edge program,” said Chiariello. “In addition to courses in the sociology, business and environmental aspects of food, I am working with Zachary Nowak, program coordinator, to develop and team-teach a course in food ethics.”

The course will have a decidedly Franciscan dimension, said Chiariello.

“It will cover such topics as the responsibilities of the food industry; the moral dimensions of diet choices: a meat-based vs. plant-based diet; the environmental aspects of food production; factory farming; genetically modified food production; and, of course, our responsibility to the hungry of the world,” he said.

The new program combines a rigorous classroom schedule with food workshops and field trips, said Nowak. “It encourages students to think about the fact that while we eat three times a day, we hardly ever stop to ask the basic questions about how or what we eat. Where does the food come from? Is it important that it be local or organic? What do the labels really mean? These questions are fundamental to life in our globalized world,” he said. 

The visit with the parmesan maker was part of a weekend field trip that included a stop at a small prosciutto cooperative and at a family run balsamic vinegar shop.

“I really enjoyed the weekend,” said Teixeira. “It was cool to get an inside look at how some of my favorite Italian foods are made.”

Chiariello said the new Food Studies Program is developing a series of internships that will be modeled after those already in place for Franciscan Heritage Program students. “We have been placing interns with Olio Costa D’Oro, an olive oil producer based in Spoleto, since 2008,” he said.

For more information about the Franciscan Heritage Program, go to

For information about the Food Studies Program at Umbra Institute, go to or email program coordinator Nowak at

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