Cuisine Questions, No Answers

Emma Rayner studying abroad in Italy.

Emma Rayner is studying in Ascoli Piceno, Italy as part of the UNH-in-Italy program.

From eating gelato to wearing a black faux-leather jacket, Emma Rayner has learned a lot about Italy and what it takes to blend in there. She does her best not to stick out in the streets and alleyways of Ascoli Piceno…

…That is, until she has to talk to someone.

“If they didn’t talk with their hands so much, I seriously would be hopeless,” Rayner laughed.

But in all seriousness, Rayner has not stopped learning about Italy since the moment she arrived at the beginning of the semester.

“I took a Philosophy of Food class, and we went on a lot of field trips,” Rayner said. “We learned through experience rather than through a textbook, which I think made for a way better learning environment [than at home].”

All this learning, however, and especially the field trips, have raised several internal questions for the junior English and EcoGastronomy major.

The first field trip Rayner went on was to a restaurant right in Ascoli Piceno.

“It was pretty fancy, and we went there as a class and we had a meal, and talked about if food can be aesthetic or if its just for fuel. Like, can food be enjoyable aesthetically or is it just for nutrition?”

Rayner took several field trips for her Philosophy of Food course.

Rayner took several field trips for her Philosophy of Food course.

The second field trip was to an Italian farm where they make all their own food from scratch.

“They have their own plumbing system and the couple that lives there have part time jobs and a simple life. They do everything on their own pretty much,” Rayner said. “And so the point was to go and see it and then ask ourselves if that’s something we [students] could do.”

And the last field trip Rayner attended was a wine tasting.

“The class discussed whether or not we think that certain wines taste better because they cost more or because an expert tells us they are better, or do we really taste them and think they taste better? So is taste subjective or objective?”

Rayner said she hasn’t found the answer to any of these questions, and isn’t sure if she will.

“I’m still thinking about them and talking about them. I can’t necessarily come to a conclusion, but I guess that is kind of the point,” Rayner said, adding that keeping the questions open-ended has forced her to think about them throughout all her travels this semester, in and out of Italy.

Rayner has come to love the Italian cuisine, which has sparked many academic questions for her.

Rayner has come to love the Italian cuisine, which has sparked many academic questions for her.

This is why Rayner believes the entire study abroad experience has been something beneficial to her student life. She is out of her comfort zone, not only asking questions within her field of study, but also asking questions about herself.

“It’s hard to be yourself here,” Rayner said of Ascoli Piceno. “On Halloween we all went to this bar, and we were being loud and having a good time. All the Italians were on the other side of the bar and staring at us. It makes you wonder why you are the way you are.”

Rayner laughed about the fact that she went to a market and bought a faux-leather jacket and boots.

“I mean, I liked them and wanted to buy them anyways, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking that they’d help me blend in,” Rayner said. “They dress very muted here and a lot of people wear the same things, and that’s something [I’m] not used to.”

So has studying abroad not only changed Rayner’s view of the world, but the way she wants to portray herself?

“[College] is the first part of your life when you change and grow, so submerging yourself in a new culture and taking yourself out of your comfortable box is an enormous opportunity and absolutely worthwhile,” Rayner said. “If you change when you’re there, I think that’s okay. I am the most nervous and anxious person in the world and even I can see myself become more confident and changing a little.”

“[College] is the first part of your life when you change and grow, so submerging yourself in a new culture and taking yourself out of your comfortable box is an enormous opportunity and absolutely worthwhile.”

So like the rest of the questions Rayner’s time in Italy has raised for her, it seems the question of whether or not she’s changed is also open-ended.

“I am having a blast, and I don’t want this to end,” Rayner said.

But so long as Rayner continues to think about her Italian teachings, keeps on asking herself those open-ended questions about her food and herself…will her study abroad experience ever truly end?

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