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David Szanto
Gastronome
November 25, 2014

When you look up 'gastronome' in the dictionary, you'll likely find David Szanto's image. His interest in food manifests itself in far too many professional ways to list in the 'job title' slot above, making him a prime example of how one can take his or her interest in the subject of food and apply it in various ways to craft a sound living. David embodies a Teacher / Student / Writer / Artist, and his official titles are as follows:

Director, Master in Representation, Meaning, and Media at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (Piedmonte, Italy)
PhD candidate at Concordia University (Montreal, CA)

Writer & Artist at Icebox Studio (Omnipresent)

Interested in learning more about the University of Gastronomic Sciences? Representatives from the school will be stateside the first week of December. Attend one of their info sessions:

THURSDAY 4 DECEMBER 2014
7 PM - 8:30 PM
NYC / Eataly
Full details at: http://www.unisg.it/eventi/unisg-eataly-new-york/

SUNDAY 7 DECEMBER 2014
4 PM - 6 PM
Chicago / Eataly
Full details at: http://www.unisg.it/eventi/unisg-eataly-chicago/

Now, on to that interview . . .

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

I in fact never used to want to work in food, partly because I didn't want to screw up how important it was for me. I did start a small catering company immediately after getting my BSc, and ended up hating cooking food I didn't like for people I didn't care about. After that, I swore I'd never make a profession out of it. But of course, more than 15 years later, after doing my master's degree at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, I did return to food as a profession.

Throughout my life, food had been empowering, emotional, engaging - from family dinners to restaurant discoveries to experimental dessert projects. Doing things with food always made me feel more like myself. After studying the connections between anthropology and biochemistry and photography and sensory analysis, I realized that all my thoughts and feelings and impulses about food were connected with history and politics and nature and culture and economics (and, and, and?), and that this big, messy entanglement would be worth devoting a chunk of time to. Hence my current life of teaching and learning, a PhD in gastronomy, and a rather fuzzy set of future projects and pathways?.

How did you get your current good food job?

During the UNISG graduation ceremony in Colorno, in November 2006, Carlo Petrini pulled me aside and told me he wanted me to work for the university, doing "molte cose" (many things). That was one of the truer statements ever made. It's been many, many things. Later, in 2009, I approached my current doctoral supervisor and told her that I wanted to do a PhD in gastronomy. She said, "What does that mean, exactly?" I said I didn't know. About six months later I had a much clearer idea, and so she said something like, "Okay, let's see where this goes."

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

I had done a lot of different things, from marketing to film finance to book publishing to new product development. I'd also studied physics and chemistry, writing and art. Having a lot of different frameworks for the world is a good way to start thinking and doing with food, I think. Food transects every kind of professional, intellectual, emotional, and physical practice, and doing lots of different stuff helps you see those connections and simultaneities. Was I a dilettante? Nah, I prefer the tag generalist.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

While it wasn't actually an obstacle, I did have to come to grips with the reality that what I do is often in uncharted territory. I often say that if you want to create a new space-for work, for play, for thinking, for making-you have to occupy that space and make a certain amount of noise about it. Eventually, the space becomes real around you, and others join in, but in the meantime, it can be lonely and unsettling and awkward. Standing in an otherwise unoccupied field and waving your arms around sometimes makes you feel (and look) pretty silly, so if you're going to do it, you have to be prepared for those feelings, as well as some surprising looks, feedback, and comments. Of course, there are plenty of really positive reflections from the outside world, too, which helps you to keep waving your arms around. And did I ever consider calling it quits? Of course! But the alternative (a Bad Food Job? a non-Food Job?) just isn't an option, so onward we must go?.

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
Certainly academic work in food is exploding right now. Food fits in between disciplines, so while it's not always obvious how to find your place in most educational institutions, once you do, the opportunities and relationships are remarkable. Similarly, in the professional world, I think it's all about filling in the spaces between existing professions-making connections between farms and foragers and restaurants, growing and aggregating and preserving backyard garden produce, advocating and lobbying and agitating for the rights of people who don't have as loud a voice as those of us with lots of privilege and access and freedom.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
Pickles, bitters, massages, housing, theater tickets, and a commitment from wealthy governments to fund music, art, mental health care, and cooking education, and to respond appropriately to first peoples' land rights claims.
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