Sustainability and Environmental Humanities Spotlighted at AAR Food and Wine Event

Color photo of five people sitting in red chairs on a stage in a lecture room, with a video projection of a child on a man's shoulders behind them
AAR’s Tina Cancemi (far right) moderated a panel for “Pairings” featuring (from left) Giuseppe Mottura from the winery Sergio Mottura, Guillaume Gelly from Paolo e Noemia d’Amico, and Alice Gargiullo and Marco Cirese from Noelia Ricci
Color photo of five people sitting in red chairs on a stage in a lecture room, with a video projection of the event's title behind them
The first panel of “Pairings” featured (from left) Cristina Bowerman, Sara Levi, Giorgia Lauri, Fausto Ferraresi, and Aliza Wong

The evening of February 8 offered the first of what AAR hopes will become an annual series: a roundtable with chefs and winegrowers that sparked meaningful discussion about sustainability, food politics, and the implications of climate change on food systems. The event, “Pairings: Progress and Tradition through Food and Wine,” was born from a growing desire to build on AAR’s longstanding dedication to its gardens and food program and to expand the Academy’s intellectual scope into the environmental arts and humanities, according to AAR President Peter N. Miller. How can the artistic and humanistic work of the Academy and its Rome Prize Fellows inform and legitimize urgent conversations about the environment and food sustainability?

“Pairings” was a two-part event. The first panel, moderated by AAR Director Aliza Wong, included the Michelin-starred chef and activist Cristina Bowerman of Glass Hostaria in Rome and—representing the Rome Sustainable Food Project—Fausto Ferraresi, Giorgia Lauri, and Sara Levi. The second panel, moderated by AAR’s Tina Cancemi, featured local wine producers Marco Cirese and Alice Gargiullo from the winery Noelia Ricci (in Romagna), Giuseppe Mottura from the winery Sergio Mottura (in Lazio), and Guillaume Gelly from the winery Paolo e Noemia d’Amico (also in Lazio).

A striking sense of unified hope and purpose emerged from these conversations. Even the simple act of bringing chef’s voices to the table, Bowerman noted, makes a powerful statement, since chefs work on the frontlines and can offer more practical solutions than policymakers. Beyond the power of their platform, chefs can also reduce food waste in their kitchens, move toward single-use plastic-free environments, or participate in volunteer-based organizations like Chef’s Manifesto. Lauri argued that chefs can bring social justice and human rights issues to the forefront by building community—and an appetite for change—around the dinner table.

For AAR, the importance of food as community building relates directly to the institution’s mission of advancing the arts and humanities. Ferraresi stressed the ways in which the RSFP builds community that allows fellows to reach “a new level” in their work. “Fellows hang out together. They bring creativity together,” he said. “They come as a fellow and maybe go back with something more. And in front of a good plate of food and a good glass of wine, this is much easier to achieve.”

When the discussion turned to sustainability, Levi touched on principles of regenerative agriculture practiced by at the Academy such as, for example, using a light touch to allow the soil to slowly regenerate itself and return to a more natural, biodiverse state. According to Levi, the evolutionary populations of bread grown by the RSFP is one example of one way in which farmers and agronomists can work together to create resilient, biodiverse crops that can withstand climate change and protect farmers’ livelihoods.

In the next panel, winemakers talked about what sustainability means to them. Mottura called for a new system of certification that goes beyond organic, considering not just the way the soil is treated but expanding criteria to evaluate the overall environmental and social impact of the business. Cirese agreed. Sustainability, he explained, is not just environmental; it’s social and economic. The concept of tradition was felt strongly during this conversation: the winemakers on the panel, despite differences in their specific practices and histories, all expressed a deep commitment to upholding culture and tradition in winemaking, particularly when selecting indigenous grape varieties that are more resilient to changes in climate.

At the same time, climate change threatens traditional practices, they said. Even in the last year, floods, high temperatures, and heavy rainfall forced them to change the timing of harvests. Gelly underscored the importance of ensuring the health of the soil by sowing wild native plants after the harvest, promoting biodiversity and contributing directly to the wine’s identity, which comes primarily from the soil in which it is grown. All three winemakers committed to continually research the most sustainable practices to make wine that is true, that is healthy, and that makes their ancestors proud.

In a time where the bad news can be overwhelming, and the feeling of powerlessness can take hold, the “Pairings” event brought a call for action to the table, leaving participants with a sense of responsibility, awareness, and possibility.

Press inquiries

Andrew Mitchell

Director of Communications

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a.mitchell [at] (a[dot]mitchell[at]aarome[dot]org)

Maddalena Bonicelli

Rome Press Officer

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