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Teaching and learning sustainable food systems in Europe

SUSPLUS Conference, when University students teach to younger pupils

On November 14, 2018, three students, together with UNISG Professor Paola Migliorini and a SUSPLUS project representative, shared their findings and experiences with an innovative, international project centered around sustainable food systems with the rest of the University of Gastronomic Sciences. It was very clear from the beginning that Paola Migliorini felt a great amount of pride for the work and findings displayed by all of the participating students, as well as for the enthusiasm with which they had participated in the project.

SUSPLUS is an Erasmus+ funded, two-year project between eight partnering Universities in Europe. The aim of the project is to develop and implement innovative teaching and learning methods regarding studies of sustainable food systems. Through the fortifications of teaching methods, the aim of the project is to improve the knowledge, competencies and skill sets of students about sustainable food systems, so they can better face the task of dealing with interdisciplinary problems in a complex reality. The project is subdivided into the testing of four learning tools.

When the project commenced, an online survey was conducted with a total of 1122 students, at various universities, in the seven participating countries. The purpose of the questionnaire was to gauge and understand the needs, desires and expectations of learning about sustainable food systems in the different countries, as well as, to understand their lifestyles concerning food. The survey emphasized a preference among the students to engage in learning through field trips and lectures that included participatory discussion and international courses, in a multicultural environment.

On the stage, presenting her and five other UNISG students’ experiences with two of the learning tools, was undergraduate UNISG student Elisabeth Berlinghof.

The first learning tool they experienced was an online E-learning platform. A point that was really underlined as the strength of the learning tool by the students was that they were being seen and heard by each other, interacted with the professor, as well as, received direct feedback. Furthermore, they pointed to the importance of discovering and learning about the different perspectives of people who all deal with the topic of sustainability in food systems and have strong opinions on the matter.

This point was stressed once again in the second part of her presentation, where Elisabeth spoke about the two week summer-school program in Poland (Summer 2018), that she and her colleagues attended with other participants of the SUSPLUS project.

One part of the trip consisted of teachings at the University of Warsaw. Here, all the students cooked meals – representative of the nations they came from  – for each other. They had also worked on a sustainability analysis of their dishes. Their work has been collected into an international cookbook that contains each dish, as well as, the accompanying analysis of sustainability that you can find here.

The second half of the trip consisted of daily visits and interviews with food producers of the region and subsequently, reflecting on the results and teaching of the interviews. The reflection deepened the learning aspects of the visits and a collaborative analysis of the system, in which the producer functioned, made the students further realize the complexity of the real-life cases they were presented with.

Mia Schembs and Fabio Tuccillo took the stage afterwards, providing an insight into their part of  the project, which consisted of developing and holding courses about sustainable food systems for middle and high school pupils, in Bra. In this task, the students of UNISG had to simplify complex concepts of sustainability that they were dealing with in their own lectures, so that they would be appropriate and understandable for children as young as 10 years old. They were greeted with enthusiastic participation from the middle-schoolers as well as meaningful surprises along the way. The project has opened up the possibility of further knowledge sharing projects with local schools.

Finally, Elisabeth Berlinghof once again took the stage to present the final learning tool tested–a small research project with a local business about sustainability. The research project was conducted with LIFE, a Piedmontese company, producer, and importer of dried fruits and nuts. The research project was centered around assessing the sustainability of the company, as well as interviews with its personnel. An important experience with research projects as a learning tool, was once again the complexity of sustainability as well as real-life business cases. It was emphasized that the concept of sustainability varies wildly between individuals, which in turn makes it even more complex to access and work with.

Teaching methods in the area of sustainability, in food systems, needs even more innovation and support in order to arm future professionals, within the field, with the necessary tools they need to navigate a complex gastronomic landscape.

Read more about the SUSPLUS project and find the cookbook, created by the participating students, here: susplus.eu

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