NYU Steinhardt News

NYU Eats Spain Up: Q&A with Food Studies Graduate Student Gloria Rodriguez

This fall, NYU lit up with the sights and smells of Spain, thanks to Food Studies graduate student Gloria Rodriguez, the NYU Steinhardt Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, and various partners throughout the university. Gloria is the director of the project, which aims to showcase Spain's vibrant culture through food. For 10 days students, faculty, staff, and the public attended cooking classes, tastings, history and culture events, and exhibitions focusing on the cuisine of three regions of Spain. We sat down with Gloria to discuss how this project came about, her experience at NYU Steinhardt, and her plans for the future.

What is your professional background, and what brought you to the NYU Food Studies program?

I was born in Madrid, Spain, and have traveled around a lot, even living in California for a few years as a child. Most recently, I lived in Spain and decided to initiate a career change. I spent years as an engineer, but it was more of a vocational career than a passion. It took a lot of gathering of strength and courage to make a change like that in a country where it is not common to make such a drastic switch.

I have always been interested in food and its intersection with understanding culture. But that type of job doesn’t really exist in Spain, so I had to pave my own way. Most people my age are more advanced in their careers, so I wanted to start something new. I began by getting a master’s in Cultural Management in Spain, concentrating on food as a cultural expression. I realized that Spain had a lot to say about food as an aspect of culture. The country had just gone through this huge gastronomic revolution, so I decided to study and explore food as a means of intercultural communication. This is how the idea of the Eat Spain Up! project came about. I came to the NYU Steinhardt Food Studies master’s program on a Fulbright Scholarship with the intention of bringing the Eat Spain Up! programming to New York.

How did Eat Spain Up! move from an idea to reality?

I first brought the idea to the Spanish Ministry of Culture, where we discussed the goals of the project and possible funding. The main goals were to 1) promote knowledge of Spanish culture through food; 2) promote tourism to Spain; and 3) promote knowledge, interest, and awareness of Spanish foods. Through this, funding came through the Tourism and Trade offices of Spain to begin the project. The first iteration of the event was in Stockholm, Sweden, then in Oslo, Norway. 

What was the process like of bringing a project of this scale to NYU?

Bringing this to NYU was challenging and rewarding at the same time, since there were so many different aspects and parts of the school to work with. It came together fully after a year and a half of planning with the support of the school, the Nutrition and Food Studies Department, and various other partners at NYU. All the different partners had different goals, so I needed to work with each of them to make sure everything was being met through the various programs throughout the week.

My other stakeholder was the audience that was intending to attend the events. I needed to communicate certain things to that audience so that they were satisfied with the quality of the programming. The week was so busy, many very long days, but I did get a lot of positive feedback from the attendees so I think that they were happy with the event.

I think it is a blessing that so many people needed to be involved, and that I couldn’t do this all on my own. It made the experience so much richer for the audience because they are able to see so many different perspectives and ideas on the culture and cuisine of Spain, and not just mine. I’m sure we have a lot to improve on, but overall I think that the objective to bring Spain closer to the audience in the U.S. was plenty fulfilled. 

You are graduating from the program here at NYU Steinhardt in the spring. What are your plans for the future?

The original idea of the Ministry of Culture was that this should happen regularly every year, so we will see if we can keep that going and see what kind of resources and team we can put together for the next time. When you have your country’s brand in your hands, you want to do things right, so we want to assess all that before moving forward with the next one. I still want to go forward with my plans to bring Spain closer to the world through food, so we will see what that evolves into.

I’d like to also work more with NYU Spain to bring more food-related classes and content so we can enhance the experience for the study abroad students there, so they can explore the history and culture more deeply. I think any study abroad site could be enhanced with food related activities and classes whether extracurricular or curricular, since learning about food is so much fun!