Above: the Slow Food U. campus was once a country residence belonging to King Vittorio Emanuele II, united Italy’s first ruler until his death in 1878.
Grading exams is rarely a task that professors look forward to. But when it comes to reading term papers by graduate students in my food and wine communications seminars at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences, the engagé topics and theses reveal some of the issues that matter most to these millennials, many of whom will become food and wine professionals.
One of the subjects that stood out was “greenwashing,” the black art of misrepresenting a product or producer as environmentally responsible. Wineries in particular have been the culprits of such dissimulation in the eyes of some of my students. The conviction and vehemence with which some of the students call out unscrupulous winemakers are impressive.
Food waste by Instagram users was another red thread that connects many of the essays. Instagram users, especially chefs, some of the wrote, have lost sight of nutritional value and sustainable practices when they create and then discard hardly edible dishes conceived expressly for the social media platform.
Food porn health risks also concern my students. A number of them pointed to the high fat content and low nutritional value of the foods commonly represented on social media. This trend, they point out, encourages and even promotes unhealthy eating habits among young people.
Natural wine’s grip on cultural hegemony was one of the topics that surprised me. The popularity of natural wine and natural winemakers and their uncanny ability — purposeful or incidental — to eclipse conventional wine and conventional winemakers is, evidently, a real concern among some of my students. It takes a lot of courage to speak out about the issue, especially on a campus where natural wine is taught like gospel.
All and all, the socially conscious, woke issues that my students grapple with align with overarching millennial trends.
As one of my former students put it, he wants to make the world a better place to eat. If these millennials have a say, we’ll all be the better for it.