About You

My first degree was in Social Anthropology at Cambridge University. After graduating I moved to Peru, where, with friends, I set up a small Peruvian NGO working on land rights issues with Amazonian Indigenous peoples. The seven years I spent there was invaluable and highly rewarding, both personally and professionally. I learnt about the deep connection that indigenous peoples have with their land and the interdependence of all social, cultural, spiritual, economic and environmental factors in their daily lives. I was also witness to the often devastating impacts of extractive industries including oil, gas and timber both on fragile forest ecosystems and indigenous societies who were subject, suddenly, to economic forces and powers beyond their control. For the last three years I have been studying, living and working at the Chisholme Institute in the Scottish Borders.

I decided to study the MSc Gastronomy after moving to Edinburgh in the summer of 2015. Unsure exactly what direction to move into next, I knew I wanted to be rooted in place (and thus learn more about Scotland), to find practical applications for some of the theory and metaphysics that I had been contemplating since my time in Peru, and work towards addressing some of the social and economic injustices that I saw around me. Whilst there were other courses elsewhere that appealed to me, I did not feel clearly enough about any of them to commit myself. The MSc Gastronomy however seemed to respond to everything on my ‘wish-list’. There was also the immediate and attractive nature of food itself, something I had been brought up with in a family of cooks and restaurateurs.

I feel very fortunate to have been awarded funding that covers my course tuition fees, as without this I would not have been able to study this year. It is also encouraging to know that the Scottish Government recognises the importance of the growing field of Gastronomy and is investing in its future by supporting the course for the first few years through a number of student tuition grants. 

"The most valuable thing I am noticing about the course is how it leans on expertise from so many fields (economics, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, media studies, biology, systems analysis…) – no one area sees the whole picture and gastronomy is an exercise in looking beyond and between the traditional frameworks and boundaries: borrowing and applying knowledge from other times, places and contexts to provide a more nuanced and critically aware understanding from which to act and suggest responses, solutions and next steps."
Aliya Ryan

The Course

I was looking for many things within the MSc Gastronomy. As a new arrival in Edinburgh, finding out about local and Scottish history and culture, how people relate to food, land and the environment, and some of the issues and projects currently emerging was really important to me. I also hoped to meet people: other students, tutors and be introduced to Scotland through a lens that I knew was engaging, immediate and, for me, extremely significant.

It’s fifteen years since I did my undergraduate degree, and although much of my work since has involved writing and critical analysis, the return to academic rigour has been quite a shock, as well as a huge pleasure. Having some time (even if it still doesn’t feel like enough) to investigate some of the issues that are urgent in today’s world seems both essential, and a huge luxury. Many of the issues that we look at on the course are subjects that everybody really ought to learn at school – the mechanisms of food production, including the basics of agriculture and soil systems; how the contemporary international food markets work, and links to chemical companies and hydrocarbons; subsidies within the EU and relationships (often involving huge inequalities) with farmers and governments across the world, and so much more.

There is a lot of work involved in getting the most out of the course – lots to read, write, absorb and understand. The plus side is that it is all fascinating: almost without exception I look forward to going to class and studying towards it. The modules deal with many important, current issues (the farming crisis, obesity epidemic, GM debate, Scottish land reform etc.) by taking a big picture view and perspective.

The down-side is that as I am also working part time (2.5 days per week), so everything feels slightly rushed and as though I don’t have quite enough time to dedicate to it. I would far prefer to not be working and have more time for the course, however this isn’t possible at the moment and I feel very lucky to be doing the course at all. Inevitably I have to make compromises, and lower my expectations of myself, but I feel like the university has extra support should I need it, and so far things have just about balanced and my time-management skills are getting a workout.

The most valuable thing I am noticing about the course is how it leans on expertise from so many fields (economics, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, media studies, biology, systems analysis…) – no one area sees the whole picture and gastronomy is an exercise in looking beyond and between the traditional frameworks and boundaries: borrowing and applying knowledge from other times, places and contexts to provide a more nuanced and critically aware understanding from which to act and suggest responses, solutions and next steps. The course benefits from many invited specialists and visiting lecturers, enabling us to gain real insight into the issues they are dealing with, as well as the excellent body of core staff who help correlate and draw things together.

I would recommend prospective students talk to current and past students if they are interested in the course (I’m sure many of us would be happy to do this). The course is huge commitment, not just because of the amount of work involved, but because it is likely to change your attitude towards food and the world. Ask yourself, are you prepared to be challenged and tested, to be wrong and to get confused? This course isn’t necessarily going to give you any answers, but it should enable you to ask much better questions.

Life after Graduation

It feels too early to know yet, but I think that the next few months, particularly the focusing that will happen as we develop our dissertation topics, will help clarify things for me. There are so many emerging issues that would clearly benefit from the gastronomic point of view and approach, in Scotland and around the world and I’d like to play my part..

 

Story published 2016-2017

Gastronomy

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Course Information