A unique experiential learning opportunity immersed George Brown College students last fall in the history, tastes and nutritional benefits of the famed Mediterranean diet.

Last October, 24 students took part in Savour the Mediterranean, a 10-day study abroad course in Spain that focused on the country’s distinct culinary culture and traditions. Through visits to local markets, growers and an esteemed cooking school, the students learned first hand about the foods, cooking styles, producers and regions pertaining to the healthful diet of those living near the Mediterranean Sea.

“The goal was for the students to learn about nutrition directly from one of the healthiest countries in the world by observing how the foods are grown and prepared, and tasting the fresh, delicious ingredients,” says nutrition professor Linda Gillis, who co-led the tour.

The Mediterranean diet involves eating vegetables and fruits; whole grains; legumes and nuts; moderate amounts of fish and poultry; small amounts of red meat; olive oil as the main source of fat; and promotes being active and eating with family and friends. Associated with reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and dementia, the diet is endorsed as a beneficial style of eating by most major scientific organizations. Spain, whose citizens embrace this diet, was ranked the healthiest country in the world (1) by Bloomberg’s 2019 Healthiest Country Index.

Dining at Sobrino de Botin – the oldest restaurant in the world.

To understand this gastronomical approach, the students visited a variety of culinary sites in Madrid, Barcelona and Salamanca. At the Hacienda Zorito organic farm, they witnessed the processes for producing sheep cheese, wine, Iberian ham, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and enjoyed tastings of each. They also learned about wine production at a vineyard in the Priorat region. Other highlights included a full-day haute cuisine cooking demonstration at Le Cordon Bleu Madrid, a tour of the San Miguel gourmet tapas market, and dining at Sobrino de Botín, which was established in 1725 and is the oldest continually running restaurant in the world. They also visited cultural sites such as the Sagrada Familia church, Royal Palace and Plaza Mayor public square.

Throughout the trip, Gillis made connections between the culinary insights that emerged and lessons learned in nutrition courses that are normally part of the regular classroom curriculum: Nutrition Fundamentals from a Culinary Perspective, and Nutrition and Wellness. The students were tasked with conducting a diet analysis of what they ate, comparing Canadian and Spanish food guide recommendations, and orally presenting their findings. Upon their return, the students were required to write a blog post about their experiences. A final mark was added to their grade report which counted as credit for the nutrition course.

The Savour the Mediterranean course cost $4,500, which covered air travel, public transportation, accommodations and most meals. All of the students qualified for George Brown scholarships, which offset some of the fee. The experiential learning course is part of George Brown’s commitment to providing enriching study and work experiences through global education.

Visited le Cordon Bleu Madrid for a cooking demo.

“The students told me the trip was incredible,” Gillis says. “You can talk about these concepts in class, but actually seeing the foods being produced and the meals being prepared is an amazing learning experience.”

References:

  1. Euobserver (26 Feb 2019). Bloomberg Index: Spain world’s healthiest country. Downloaded from https://euobserver.com/tickers/144263