By: Beth Pangia
Studying abroad in Florence, Italy was an amazing experience. I am so grateful I got the opportunity to learn more about how significant food is to Italian culture, and how it resembles the identities of many Italians. On my trip, I was able to meet so many new friends who had similar interests to me in the healthcare field. I was also able to learn more about different food habits in Italy compared to the United States, and how that correlates to the obesity and food insecurity rates in Italy compared to America. Overall, I am grateful for the new experiences and friends, and the knowledge I gained that will be beneficial to my future career.
The thing that surprised me the most about my study abroad program was how different the food culture was in Italy compared to America, and how that corresponded to the food insecurity and obesity rates. Prior to studying abroad, I did a lot of work with food insecurity within the Pittsburgh area, so when studying abroad, I wanted to see how the rate of food insecurity in Italy compared to the United States and what accounted for those differences. In Florence, I went to a food bank and was able to learn more about food insecurity in Italy and why it does not seem as prevalent compared to the United States. When walking down the streets of Florence, you rarely see any homeless people or set up areas for the homeless to sleep. Family connectivity is very important to Italian culture so although it seems there are less homeless and food insecure people, food insecurity is still prevalent in Italy, it is just that all families tend to take in one another and tackle hunger obstacles together. Although it is true that the level of food insecurity in Italy is less than that in the United States, it is still a major issue in Italy that must be solved. I am happy that I got to see these issues first hand when volunteering at the food bank.
During my program, I was also very surprised by the limited number of obese people I saw when walking down the streets of Florence. When I think of Italian food, I tend not to think of healthy things, so it surprised me when I rarely saw any obesity in Italy. However, after going out to eat in Italy a variety of times, I was able to see that their food habits and choices are much different than that of the United States. Many Italians make smarter choices when it comes to portion sizes, fat content, and salt concentration. The food in Italy is also barley processed, which makes them overall much more healthy. Overall, I was very surprised on how the food was less processed and how small the portion sizes were in Italy, which corresponded to the low rate of obesity.
My summer program changed my perspective about my plan of study, professional, and personal goals. Prior to going to the food bank in Italy, I believed that the best way to alleviate food insecurity was through more nutritional education and community-supported agriculture. Prior to coming to Italy, I believed that food insecurity in Italy was less prevalent because they had more nutritional education and CSA’s in Italy, however this was not the reasoning behind it. In Italy, it seems that people are raised to make better nutritional choices. For example, if someone is hungry, they will buy pasta and sauce, rather than get fast food from McDonalds. Coming to Italy changed my perspective on the reasoning behind high levels of food insecurity globally.
Seeing how less processed the food was and how much smaller the portion sizes were in Italy made me passionate about adding onto my professional goals by trying to make these changes in the United States. By limiting processed foods and large portion sizes, maybe we can decrease the obesity rate in the United States. Also, after taking gender and food studies, this made me more interested in food insecurity and gender disparities. A personal goal of mine after this trip is to learn more about how gender and food insecurity correlate to one another in the United States, and what I can do to change that. For my class, I wrote a paper on how food insecurity is more prevalent in the Italian female population, especially immigrants. Making a difference in this portion of the food insecurity movement has now become a personal goal of mine. My summer program made me look outside of the box on how food insecurity differs in different countries, and what changes we should make in the United States to alleviate it. By taking this study abroad program, I was able to add additional personal and professional goals to my career path.
After studying abroad for the first time, I have a lot of advice I would give to others who are planning to go abroad. To start off, I would recommend to pack light. There are a lot of souvenirs that I wanted to bring home to friends and family, but I ended up packing too heavy and did not have space for as much as I would have liked. I would also make the most of your time wherever you are. You never know if you will ever be able to go back to where you study abroad. Whenever you have time, go and visit places around you. Even when the weather is not the best, go explore and enjoy the scenery. Studying abroad was an amazing experience that I would recommend everyone to do one day if they get a chance! It makes you more passionate about your major and the idea of making a difference in the world. I will forever be grateful for my opportunity to study abroad, and will cherish the experiences I had forever.