Jared Belsky ’19 recently presented his research at the 117th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Jose, Calif. Belsky and his research partner, Mackenzie Nelsen of UNC-Chapel Hill, won the Christine Wilson Award from the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition for their paper about vignaioli umbri (Umbrian winegrowers).
The Christine Wilson Awards are presented to outstanding undergraduate and graduate student research papers that examine topics within the perspectives of nutrition, food studies, and anthropology.
Major: Environmental Studies
Hometown: Groton, Mass.
High school: Groton School
Belsky did his research while studying abroad at the Umbra Institute in Perugia last spring. He has studied Italian at Hamilton for the past two years. As part of his project, he and Nelsen visited several small organic/biodynamic wineries within the region and conducted interviews with the winemakers about their sustainable practices, as well as perceptions of terroir (the set of environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype), and the identity of the modern farmer. They also took tours of the vineyards and cellars and had tastings, all as part of participant observation.
“I fell in love with Italy, more specifically the region of Umbria and the type of food produced there,” said Belsky. “It was the first time I was learning about food systems and agriculture, and I developed a passion for it, helped on by the people I met and the lasting relationships I formed. I connected this newfound academic interest in food to my environmental education back home.”
While they were doing their research, they also learned about a series of protests staged by small organic farmers who had recently been denied government funding that had previously been promised to them (the money had gone to funding larger, more industrialized farms).
Three main players in this movement, who called themselves the Agricoltori Indignati (The Indignant Farmers), happened to be three of the winemakers Belsky and Nelsen had been interviewing. The protest culminated in a demonstration of 50 tractors starting at the outskirts of Perugia, honking their horns and advancing up to Piazza Italia in the center of town, where they stopped under the Regione Umbria building and gave passionate speeches to the public.
As witnesses to the event, Belsky and Nelsen tied everything together in their paper, attributing a sociopolitical definition of terroir to these winemakers. They presented at the Perugia Food Conference in June at the Umbra Institute. They submitted their paper, “Cultivating Activism Through Terroir: An Anthropology of Sustainable Winemakers in Umbria, Italy,” to the journal Food, Culture and Society. The students were also recognized by The Forum on Education Abroad.