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Food Sustainability Meets Culture: Take-Home Boxes Come to Perugia, Italy

December 09, 2013
“Sustainability has never tasted so good!”

PERUGIA, Italy —“Sustainability has never tasted so good!” announces the slogan for the brand new food sustainability project at the Umbra Institute, launched this semester.

Gathered in a classroom on the second floor of Umbra, Merrimack College student Mark Koussa Jr., along with 13 classmates in the Sustainability and Food Production in Italy class, discussed and fine-tuned their semester-long project.

The aptly-named “repEAT Project” was conceived as a way for students to synthesize in-class themes of food sustainability with real-world applications.

Led by Professor Elisa Ascione, the students this semester focused on raising awareness of food waste by introducing take-home boxes in three well-known Perugian restaurants: Osteria a Priori, Al Mangiar Bene, and Pachamama.

Italians are known for their attention to sustainability, but have not yet embraced take-home boxes the same way the United States has. The students set out to find out why, and if, take-home boxes would be effective in Italian culture.

“Food is both a public and a private world. With this project, we examine the private behavior of food culture and practices, and make comparisons with practices in the United States and Italy” Professor Ascione explains.

 The class met several times with the restaurant owners to collaborate on how to execute the project. A local Italian graphic designer also attended class to offer valuable feedback for the ideas presented.

Due to the amount of time needed for the project, the students were divided into three groups, each with a different task: conducting surveys of restaurant patrons, designing a logo and slogan, or distributing marketing materials.

From the surveys the students collected, an impressive 75% of the respondents would be interested in using a take-home box, and 70% would actually eat the leftovers they brought home.

The project is sponsored by the city government and supported by the waste management company GESENU, which will produce the packaging.

The “repEAT Project” is one of many examples of Umbra students getting out into the Perugian community through real-world exercises. “I love how we are actually making a difference in our place of study. It makes our lessons much more real and purposeful, and helping this cause is a great feeling” said Koussa Jr.

Future students who take Sustainability and Food Production in Italy will carry on the legacy of the project forward by building upon the groundwork laid this semester. 

About the Food Studies Program:

The Food Studies Program is an interdisciplinary curricular concentration at the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad program located in the central Italian city of Perugia. Often called a “big university town in a small Italian city,” Perugia is the ideal setting for studying food, business, and sustainability. For more information about the Umbra Institute or its Food Studies Program, contact the associate director of the Program, Zachary Nowak (

You can also watch a short overview of the Program on YouTube.

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  • Merrimack College student Mark Koussa Jr., with the “repEAT Project” take-home boxes and logo, for the Umbra Institute Food Studies Program class.
    Merrimack College student Mark Koussa Jr., with the “repEAT Project” take-home boxes and logo, for the Umbra Institute Food Studies Program class.

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