Like many children, I was fascinated by the experience of food. I was also lucky enough to be nourished by two parents who love to cook and share good food. But it was a childhood divided between the Scottish Borders and Istanbul that helped me understand that food was not just a conveyor of flavor and nutrition, but also tradition, belief and cultural distinction.
Much later, while living in Seattle, I became aware of the political nature of food, the injustices and inequalities of our food system, and the impact of agriculture on the environment. At that time, a powerful food movement was establishing itself in the US and I got stuck in, volunteering and teaching with an urban agricultural organization, attending conferences and events, and ultimately working for the US’ only organic farmland trust. I began to see how food impacts almost every aspect of human life, just as all life relies upon it.
From that point, I knew I wanted to work with food in a way that reflected its’ far-reaching nature. It struck me that we rarely acknowledge the extent to which our interaction with food shapes not only our bodies and minds, but also our landscape, economy, cultural beliefs, social interrelations, and beyond. Every food choice has an impact on multiple areas of our lives, both seen and unseen. But when considering the nourishing potential of food, we rarely consider the quality of the soil in which it was grown, or the psychological impact of the atmosphere in which we eat, or numerous other important factors not conventionally linked to our western notion of nutrition.
Despite the growing trend of ‘foodie-ism’, food poverty and malnourishment are on the rise, as is a justified anxiety about whether or not we can trust our food system. I wanted to understand how we could begin to address this dysfunctional disconnect with our food.
I was thrilled to discover that I wasn’t the only one who had questions, and that an entire university had been formed in response to these growing concerns. From the US, I moved to Italy and completed a Masters degree at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. It was a transformative year, giving me first hand experience of all kinds of food production and processing across Europe, and the chance to learn from world experts in all realms of food. Most importantly, it taught me that taking real nourishment and pleasure from food is intrinsically linked to how deeply we know and understand it.
Some time later, back in Scotland, I was commissioned to establish and then run the UK’s first MSc Gastronomy at Queen Margaret University – an interdisciplinary programme that seeks to question and reframe how we think about food across industry, agriculture, education and beyond. The challenge to convince folk that Gastronomy signifies more than just a study of high-end products, stomach problems or something to do with stars and food, is ongoing. Gastronomy, as Brillat-Savarin described it back in the 1800s, is essential learning for anyone who eats, and is the serious study of that which nourishes mankind. He stipulated that this would have to incorporate critical insight into all the areas that make food possible as well as the connections between them, so that we would be able to feed ourselves, and one another, responsibly, well and pleasurably.
I have loved developing and teaching this form of food education, and have perceived a real desire for it across Scotland. People seem to have a lot of questions about their food, and aren’t always sure where to get reliable information. Formal academic engagement isn’t for everyone, and it’s long been my hope to offer gastronomic education outside the university classroom that empowers people to better understand that which nourishes them.
In addition to continuing my work with the Gastronomy programme, I’m happy to now be running and collaborating on short courses, workshops and more, in Edinburgh and further afield.