Generalist

As many of us here at the University of Gastronomic Sciences think about our time here, our education, what we are going to do with it, etc. we were reminded in one class that “this is a generalist course”, but of course! It isn’t cooking school, culinary arts school, wine making school, etc.  I won’t be coming home with a mountain of new kitchen skills (sorry ladies), but I will have gained a large amount of food related knowledge.
In the book Food: The Key Concepts, the author talks about this idea of generalist in food studies, he says:

“Specialists are useful to have around, of course, since modern life is far too complex for us to understand everything.  But the problem with relying entirely on specialists is that sometimes they’re wrong.  Or worse, they tend to disagree.  So to help us sort out the issues and gain some needed perspective, we need generalists — people with a decent grounding in science and poetry, agriculture and philosophy, who are not afraid to question assumptions, values, and methods.  True, we may not understand all the biochemistry involved in nutrition, but we can speculate about why certain foods “taste good” at particular times and to particular people.  We may not be able to explain why one pesticide works better on mites than another, but we can still ask why farm workers’ children seem especially cancer-prone.  We may not fully understand how genetic engineering works, but we still can wonder whether it is necessary in teh first place.  Such issues require that we think about matters political, historical, economic, sociocultural and scientific all at once.  As generalists, we study food as a system. Such holistic thinking actually restores our sense of power and humanity, for when it comes to eating, humans are generalists, i.e. omnivores.”

So with this, I hope we can process some of the very broad ideas we have started to absorb in our studies here.  Sure, I won’t be able to cook a perfect risotto, lasagna or gnocchi, but I can tell you about their past, about the products involved, and ask informed questions about them.

A generalist education, although within the boundaries of food studies, is much like a liberal arts education.  Liberal arts denotes a curriculum that imparts general knowledge and develops the student’s rational thought and intellectual capabilities.  This type of education is useful in everyday life, academic life, and in giving us a basis for further thought, studies and inspiration.  Unlike studying a vocation, liberal arts provides the student with a different perspective in which to function in the world.

So with that, a generalist program in food studies is, in fact, giving us a broad range of knowledge which will help us engage food from multiple angles.  Providing us with this information is not only important for the continued expansion of food studies, gastronomy, etc. but also for us to carry with us throughout our lives, imparting little bits of wisdom where necessary.  Perhaps, some will become business people, lawyers, journalists, etc — in each profession I believe we can find a place and purpose for our education.  It might just take us awhile to find the perfect fit.

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