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by Taylor Cocalis Suarez

When you get to know someone as an adult, it’s intriguing to look back at photographs from their childhood. Often you can see the resemblance, and understand how they developed into the person they are today. But you can’t do it the other way around. If you look at a baby, it’s almost impossible to imagine what the person will look like in ten years, let alone twenty or thirty.

The same is true in regards to attending the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG). When I matriculated in 2005, I had no idea where the experience would take me. It’s only with a decade of work experience under my belt that I can look back and see exactly how UNISG influenced the path I pursued upon graduating, which eventually led me to co-found the Good Food Jobs website in 2010.

The Hunger for Connection

When I was growing up on the Jersey Shore, if you told someone that you wanted to work in food, they would immediately ask you,
“So you want to be a chef?”
I’d respond, “No, not exactly.”
To which they’d reply, “So you want to own a restaurant?”
“No, not that either.”
“So what else could you possibly do?” they’d think aloud.

I didn’t have an answer at the ready, but thanks to Good Food Jobs, a lot of people now do. At its heart, Good Food Jobs is not just a job search engine, but a community. While we have a small-but-growing active user base of 55,000+ gastronomes, the strength is in the kinship each person feels with the site. They come back over and over again because when they come to the site they realize, “Finally, I am not alone.”

I know how powerful that feeling is because of UNISG. I spent many years trying to communicate how and why I wanted to work in food, but it was an uphill battle. In our sound-bite culture it’s much more acceptable to say “I’m studying accounting, and want to be an accountant,” or “I’m going to med school to be a doctor.” But tell them that you want to be a “gastronome,” and they think you’re going to be some sort of stomach doctor. At UNISG, for the first time I was surrounded by others who truly understood my broad and deep interest in food. When I didn’t have to explain or defend this interest, it created fertile soil for creativity and opportunity. Life is infinitely better when you are in good company!

It’s not Really About the Food

UNISG was the first place that emphasized, “Just because you want to work in food doesn’t mean that you have to work directly with food.” In the U.S., the equation was simply Food = Culinary. But UNISG promoted Gastronomy = How Food Relates to Various Aspects of Culture. That set the stage for understanding the diversity of gastronomic opportunities out there, and how to communicate that it’s not just about the food. Rather, it’s about what food represents, how it makes you feel when you share it, understanding the alchemy behind cooking and agriculture, tracing back the roots to see how specific foods came to be popular in different places, understanding the pride that people have when they feel confident that they can nourish themselves and others. It is all of these things that make me love food—in itself, and as a vehicle for learning about all of the other things that impact how we live and how the world works.

Quality of Life

Ultimately, Italy gave me a deep respect for the value of quality of life. I loved my first full-time job in New York City, but there was one major issue: I had an unyielding schedule. It didn’t give me the flexibility to practice what I preach, and I longed for the opportunity to be outside on sunny days, make myself nourishing meals every day, and be able to connect with family and friends on special occasions. Even though I work just as hard now, and just as many hours, my work now includes far more variety and infinitely more flexibility to tend to my garden, bake a cake, go to the farmers market, or share a meal with someone I love.

Living in Italy, where the emphasis was on living, gave me this perspective. I had time and energy to wake up and take a long jog in the morning, sit down to a well-prepared breakfast, attend class, have lunch and some solid outdoor time, head to the market, make a dinner from scratch, share time with friends and visiting professors, read and write. There was work,and there was down time. And that down time provided the physical and mental space for creative ideas.

Studying food culture at UNISG provided a wonderfully strong and rich foundation for my work in a way that I could never have anticipated. But I can look back now at my “baby pictures” before attending UNISG and see how all those experiences led me to where I am and who I am today. Ultimately, Good Food Jobs has become much less about “food” and “jobs,” and much more about “good”—all the really good things in life—people, relationships, community, communication, support, and connection.

View postings at Good Food Jobs.