ASU Italian department lets students eat their education

By

Gabriel Sandler

Fresh pasta, ideally ravioli with ricotta and spinach. Pizza and antipasto, made from organic ingredients sourced from local farms. These are some iconic Italian foods that Juliann Vitullo wants to share with students inside and outside of the classroom.

Arizona State University's School of International Letters and Cultures is most closely associated with language learning — many majors including a language requirement. But cultural studies at the school are just as immersive, and its Italian department lets students eat their education.

“Food is a big part of everyday life, everyday discussions,” explained Vitullo, an Italian professor at the School of International Letters and Cultures. “It’s accepted as part of everyday pleasures and respected as part of that, as an important element of everyday life.”

With culture in mind, Vitullo has helped put together courses focused on different aspects of Italian food and Mediterranean lifestyle. Students examine local food cultures through restaurant samplings, local farm visits, history of food and nutritional aspects of Mediterranean diets. Eventually, the students come together over their own culinary traditions.

“We’re looking at questions of lifestyle ... to adapt whatever aspects they find interesting, to adapt certain aspects of that diet and lifestyle,” Vitullo said.

In one of her courses, students have to plan and prepare multi-course group meals, reflecting on the ingredients, and cooking and sharing the courses with friends. For Vitullo, this teaches students about Italian food but also about their own food networks.

Vitullo takes her students outside the classroom when she can. She partners with Maya’s Farm to educate students on sustainable eating and cultural farming, and reflect on Phoenix’s diverse culinary history. Vitullo also organizes a study abroad trip during spring break to Sorrento Italy and a summer program to San Severino Marche, Italy.

“I came up with this idea of having students first work at Maya’s Farm in the spring and study Italian if they haven’t already done that, and then participate in the San Severino Marche program ... and study the role of organic farms in two different local food networks,” Vitullo said.  

The Sorrento trip includes visiting local markets, a traditional pizzeria and even class making mozzarella cheese and Neapolitan pizza.

“What many of [the students] discover is that they really missed dedicating the time to doing that, dedicating the time to shopping and reflecting about what they’re eating and to inviting friends over, cooking together,” Vitullo said. “Really spending the time at the table together.”

Learn more about ASU's Italian courses and offerings here.