Food is so much more than fuel. It brings people together - it also gives a flavour of a country’s culture and its people’s identity.
As we mark World Food Day on 16 October, we offer you a sample of how Erasmus+ people are getting a taste for new experiences and gaining new skills, over breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Learning about food and how to cook for yourself may be the first new skill you develop, when studying, training or volunteering abroad through Erasmus+, as Zak Guerfi found.
“I really feel I’ve developed as a person”, said Zak who went to Sweden on a three-month placement with League Football Education. “The biggest skill I’ve learnt is independence.
“At home, my mum would cook my meals and do my washing. Now, obviously, I have to do all that by myself. I live in my own apartment and plan my day better.”
With independence comes doing the food shopping while abroad - possibly a daunting task at first if you are not fluent in the local language. But if you want to grill the store owner about their produce, learning the language becomes a necessity.
Visiting the local markets, trying colourful fresh vegetables, and then rustling up something tasty to share with new friends will form some of your favourite memories of your time abroad – not to mention some very useful life-skills.
The language of food
Newcastle University has developed a way to combine language learning with food through its Erasmus+ project to create a multilingual cooking app, appropriately named ‘Linguacuisine’. This innovative app will help you learn a language through the medium of cookery, while also learning how to make some local delicacies. No doubt, this will help you know your onions from your cipolle.
After language, the local food is often the main difference you notice when visiting another country. Nancy Maguire, from Lumos Foundation UK, told us, “One of the most common comments from the young people visiting Bulgaria for the first time was how different the food was!
"As many of them had never previously travelled internationally, after language, this was the biggest noticeable difference.”
When discovering a new culture and cuisine, you may stumble on some hard-to-translate words to describe local specialities. Only through living there and getting under the skin of a country, will you discover words like ‘fika’ - a Swedish term for having a coffee and cake break. Barbara Gorda made this delightful discovery when she carried out a work placement there at AstraZeneca, as part of her degree in Biochemistry at Cardiff University.
Feeding new skills
While local food may help you develop your language skills and confidence, there's no telling where this could lead you. Many apprentices refine their cookery skills on a traineeship abroad, like Ollie Clarke from Cornwall. Following his two-week placement and ensuing experience in France, Ollie went on to work in some top Parisian restaurants and has now opened his own bistro in Paris.
Ollie commented: "The placement was an important first step in my decision to move to Paris, mainly for the reason that it showed us how easy it was. How different it may be from home shows you at the same time how similar it is and how, in a kitchen, nothing really changes across borders."
For some, an Erasmus+ placement may lead to a future food business, for others, it's the Erasmus+ project that is helping future food businesses get off the ground.
Banbridge District Enterprise’s project helped to revitalise rural communities in Northern Ireland by boosting business growth through the development of shared kitchen spaces. These shared spaces help emerging food producers develop their products, without the expense of leasing commercial properties and buying professional equipment.
Eating together is a great way to gain trust and understanding between people from different backgrounds, breaking down barriers and helping people to see each other as individuals. Eleanor Tack discovered this when she volunteered with the Red Cross in France with Erasmus+ funding.
She worked towards the integration and acceptance of refugees in society, through bringing the local French citizens together with refugee families, to share stories, offer food and play games.
Food can also be a conduit for learning about wider, global issues. Participants from LEAP Sports Scotland took part in a social food enterprise and interacted with immigrants in their host country of Italy.
Just as school pupils involved in Oxfam GB’s Erasmus+ project joined Youth Ambassador Groups and took part in extra-curricular activities, developing skills in leadership, voice and participation. Some of the highlights of the groups’ activities included a Hunger Banquet and Flash Mob at the Expo Milan in Italy to raise awareness about inequalities in the global food system and a student-led fundraiser in Cyprus to raise awareness about the broken food system and the impact of climate change.
From trying new foods to training the food engineers of the future, Erasmus+ is serving up life-changing opportunities. It brings people together over shared meals, helps develop new skills and feeds imaginations.