My name is Maya and, like many folks at UniSG, I come from many places. Talking about my past food-related jobs, I've worked at Trader Joe's in California, harvested rice, soy and tea in Japan, and I've made thousands of tortillas at Hija de Sanchez in Copenhagen.
- What did you study at Unisg, when and why did you decide to enrol here?
I completed my masters degree in Food Culture & Communication with an emphasis in media, meaning, and representation (FC18) in 2015. David Szanto was my director, and my class had 24 students from 8 different countries. I enrolled at UniSG because I was looking for a hands-on, grounded perspective on food that I could not find elsewhere. After completing my undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics, I felt limited in how I could talk about food: I could only tell people what to eat and how much of it to eat without really knowing their stories, their cultural backgrounds, or even the greater context within which food systems operate. In other words, it felt odd to me to instruct people how many grams or calories to eat without knowing where they were coming from, their access to food, their narratives, or their food memories. UniSG provided me with a more comprehensive approach to tackling food issues that refrain from prescribing certain truths over others.
- What did you enjoy the most here at Unisg (in or outside school)?
I enjoyed the study trips because they provided a ground-level perspective to food issues. I felt immersed in whatever food community we were visiting. These trips gave us opportunities for hands-on learning, in seeing, smelling, tasting, and experiencing the very stuff that we would read about in our courses. It's one thing to read about food issues in words, but it is entirely another to go, see, and do those things, in real time, at the origin. The resulting interactions leave a stronger impression, and the exchanges seem more meaningful. There is something incredibly powerful, engaging, and hopeful about those visits that last long after the trip itself.
- What did you do straight after your course and what are you doing now?
Immediately after graduation, I applied to doctoral programs in North America to continue my studies in/around food. I took particular interest in fermented foods as a way to look at how humans and microbes interact across various food cultures. I took my interest in fermented foods to Japan, where I learned the hands-on practices of making miso, Koji, and other seasonal ferments. I went on to intern at the Nordic Food Lab where I explored the delicious potential of Koji in the context of Nordic grains. I've just completed my first year of doctoral studies at Concordia University in Montreal. I look forward to developing my research projects.
- Which are your future projects/plans?
Food studies does not really exist at the graduate level- UniSG is one of few places that have recently taken up food as an academic discipline, but it is still a latent field with a lot of potential. (A PhD in gastronomy, for example, does not exist yet.) Our foodscapes are facing dire circumstances, so I fully believe that we need more gastronomes who think, make, and question food. My goal is to make gastronomy a legitimate discipline in universities; so, obtaining my PhD is one of many steps towards gaining academic experience and credibility.
- How did your vision of food change during UniSG?
During my time at UniSG, I learned that there is not one absolute food truth. I learned that what one person claims as real or true or right may not be the case for another. At a time when everything seems so precarious and complicated, it is so enticing to follow whatever "One Right Answer" because it's so neatly advertised and easy to understand. But food is not so easy to understand. And, to continue believing in that "One Right Answer" is to give power to dominant ideas that keep our food systems in a precarious and complicated state. We, as gastronomes, are taught to question everything and explore multiple truths and multiple reasons for why everything became so precarious and complicated in the first place. We are mediators and we are translators because we understand the chemistry of food as much as its history, its sensory attributes, its production, its legislation, and so on. We know how to communicate and connect with other food people.
- Do you have any suggestions for current students (special tips, a quote or whatever)?
Celebrate the interdisciplinarity of UniSG. UniSG is one of the only places in the world that has a diverse curriculum to study food. I will be the first to admit that some of the courses in which I was enrolled seemed irrelevant to my interests. For example, I could care less about EU food policy when I may not live in Europe. But, now, I have a working understanding of food and legislation at the general EU level, at a grounded level in rural Italy, as well as an international perspective from my classmates with their stories from home. This working knowledge gives me the words and the tools to communicate and connect with other food people and (as I mentioned in the previous question) help me become a mediator of sorts. Being able to speak across difference audiences is a skill that you can only pick up from being in a diverse environment. Celebrating interdisciplinarity also means celebrating the backgrounds of classmates. In my case, I learned so much from classmates and other folks related to UniSG who were foodmakers, lawyers, engineers, teachers, designers, and DIY-fermenters who each brought a unique perspective to our class discussions and study trips. Having continued down the academic path, I can assure you that such an environment is extremely rare and is to be cherished!
You can read about Maya’s reserch projects here:
We wish all the best to Maya and we thanks her for telling us her amazing story!
- Your Newletter Team