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Food, Sustainability, Accessibility: Italy travelogue from an HRTM student!

10 students pose for a picture in a kitchen
The Florence FLIP students at their end-of-trip cooking class at Florence University of the Arts

As an incoming junior in the Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management (HRTM) department at New Mexico State University, I embarked on a faculty-led international program (FLIP) in Florence, Italy. We took a class at Florence University of the Arts, but in exploring another country, I learned more than just what a class could offer.

During the three week trip, several differences between Europe and the U.S. surprised me.


The first meal the group ate after arriving in Italy was at a small coffee shop not far from our campus check-in point. Unlike American coffee shops, where we pay and take a drink to go, it is customary to sit with your drink in a mug or glass and hang around with friends for extended periods of time. This slow paced way of enjoying morning cappuccinos soon became my favorite part of my routine.

Food preparation and serving was also approached differently. While food safety regulations were followed appropriately, things common in the U.S. (such as ice) were rarely available. During service, it was common to see them use nothing but their hands – no tongs, no gloves, no napkins, to grab something you ordered. Everything was just straight from the pastry case and onto a plate. Street vendors and ready-to-eat foods were available almost everywhere, so most things like sandwiches, pastries, and salads weren’t made to order… and the bare hands trend followed you anywhere you went.


As soon as we touched ground in Europe, I noticed a lot of differences in their style of sustainability. From the aforementioned mugs in coffee shops, to the way they handle trash and public transportation, It felt like another world.

Mugs and glassware were the default anywhere you went – even Starbucks. If you wanted to get something to go, you had to specifically ask for a paper cup.

Trash was separated by the consumer before it was taken to large communal trash bins that were placed around the city. There are four categories for waste: paper, plastic, organic, and residual. When it came time to bring waste to the bigger bins, you would put each category into its own bin, and if you were caught putting something where it shouldn’t be, you would get corrected by local business owners or even nearby policemen. When trash is collected from the large communal bins, there is a garbage truck that comes by and lifts the bins, revealing extended underground storage that is then released into the garbage truck.

Public transportation was available as the first option, even before cars. Bikes, buses, and taxis were popular around town or travel short distances, but trains were nearly the only option for travel from town to town. Trains often had two levels, tables in every booth, and even vending machines placed throughout. The trains that traveled shorter distances were much like the buses, only larger. If you chose not to take a bike or public transportation, walking was essentially your only option.


The most notably positive thing about accessibility in Florence was the fact that everything was available in four or five languages. Though technically the city was walkable, I can’t tell you how many times I tripped over misplaced cobblestones. Almost no sidewalk was larger than 3 feet across and not one of them was an easy walk.

One thing I was surprised to see was that there were no accessibility ramps and few elevators. Most shops were multiple levels, and only the nice ones had escalators or elevators, usually only stairs. My work with accessibility in our digital media products has helped me be more aware of the importance of making things accessible to as many people as possible, and I definitely noticed that this was more challenging in Italy than in many places in the United States.

In Conclusion

Traveling is a great way to learn about the different ways other countries handle everyday activities, such as taking out the trash. I learned so much about what I can improve upon. I also learned about strengths we have here in the U.S. that I had no clue about. I plan to take this knowledge that I brought home and use it in my everyday life to become a more sustainable and open person, at home and in the workplace.

Written By: Emalie Hames, Student Assistant


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