Students experience French cuisine, culture on summer study abroad trip

Group of students and faculty holding a red and gold Iowa State University Cyclones flag. They are standing in front of a building in Paris, France.
Those who went on the study abroad trip to France included, left to right: Kurt Rosentrater, associate professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering and food science and human nutrition; Alison St. Germain, Student Wellness dietitian; Nicole Kling, graduate student in nutritional sciences; Anesley Middlekauff, junior in agricultural business; Stacia Sexton, spring '22 graduate in agricultural and life sciences education - communications option; Alyssa Martin, senior in dietetics; Celeste Chadwick, spring '22 graduate in food science; Kristen Twinam, spring '22 graduate in dietetics; Katelyn Belding, spring '22 graduate in animal science; Abbey Riemenschneider, senior in animal science; and Taylor Lucas, senior in dietetics.

By Riley Hiscocks

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 10 Iowa State University students representing six different majors explored France June 5-18 as part of the Cathedrals, Castles, Culture and Cuisine-Sustainable, Safe & Nutritious Food in France study abroad trip.

Kurt Rosentrater, associate professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering and food science and human nutrition, wanted his students to not only be tourists while in Paris, but to use their time as an educational experience. The trip was designed to introduce students to a variety of food and agricultural processes.

“France is rated as one of the most sustainable countries in the world. The country has the highest food safety rating and some of the highest rated cuisine in the world,” Rosentrater said. 

The Eiffel Tower, the Alley of the Swans and the Metro System were some of the sights to see during the group’s first day in Paris. The students also were able to fully dive into the sustainable, safe and nutritious food in France as they visited La Grande Epicerie de Paris, a grocery store with four main departments, which include groceries, fresh produce, wines and production kitchens.

Taylor Lucas, senior in dietetics, said the food in France was delicious.

“In France, the dishes rely less on flavor enhancements and more on the savory aspect of the core ingredients. Back at home, we love extra cheese or butter or salt, but French dishes are never overwhelmed by any enhancements, and it allowed us to savor the food just as it was,” Lucas said. 

In the days to follow, students experienced French culture and history, along with the key role food plays in the country’s culture. They visited several cathedrals and attended the Bastille Farmers Market, as well as took classes that taught them how to make chocolates and macarons. Along with these classes, the group enjoyed a cheese and wine tasting during their Paroles de Fromagers tour. 

“Did you know the best pairing for a wine and cheese would be a pair from the same region of origin? Our group learned this factoid from Pierre, our Parisian host and cheese-shop owner who guided our cheese and wine tasting,” Lucas said. 

Katelyn Belding, who graduated this past semester with a degree in animal science and is now a first-year vet student, described France as being the bread basket of the European Union, just like Iowa is to the United States.

“The agricultural products are a tad different because the commodities are not always processed and prepared at a commercial plant. France relies heavily on traditions, but I can understand why their techniques regarding food remain the same because it tastes amazing,” Belding said. 

Group of students and faculty members seated at two long tables, holding up glasses of wine.
The group enjoyed wine tasting while in France and learned the best pairing for a wine and cheese would be a pair from the same region of origin.

Nicole Kling, a first-year doctoral student in the interdepartmental graduate program in nutritional sciences, said the most distinctive difference between France and the United States is the French’s emphasis on quality over quantity.

“French food, such as wine, cheese and bread, is often produced on a smaller scale. Consumers cherish the food and drinks they consume rather than blindly consuming them as we sometimes do in the United States. Meals in France last hours as you enjoy the company of your dinner mates and enjoy the delicious food. Beyond food, quality of life is valued along with an appropriate work-life balance. It just felt as though the French are truly living in the moment and appreciating life, which are qualities I hope to apply to my life in Iowa,” Kling said. 

Along with indulging in the foods of France, the group met with several different companies and groups. One of those was the United States Embassy Agricultural Team. The students were able to discuss challenges of the food system and changing food patterns in France and Europe as a whole. To further explore the topic of France’s food system, the group visited Alcimed, a company focused on life sciences, public policy and environment.

Kling said her experience of meeting with professionals from international consulting firms and the U.S. Embassy exposed her to new career paths and opened her eyes to all of the opportunities that are possible with her education beyond the traditional options. 

“Before this trip, I had never been outside of the United States. It is funny how we can get so wrapped up in our bubble that we forget there are other countries, communities and people like us. They also face political strife, economic issues and natural disasters like us,” Belding said. “This trip exposed me to a broader perspective of problems, solutions and decisions. I will forever carry this mindset with me in my future career and life.”

Alison St. Germain, Student Wellness dietitian, accompanied the group of students and Rosentrater on the trip. Her passion and areas of expertise revolve around relationships between food and body, food satisfaction, body respect and eating disorders. 

“While it was simply amazing to learn about the history of France and then be able to see some historical sites, my favorite part of the course was interacting with the students and seeing their personal growth from the beginning of the pre-departure course to the end of their study abroad trip. I enjoyed getting to know each student at a personal level while traveling with them for two weeks. They are an intelligent, energetic and fun group to be around,” St. Germain said.