Internship in Review: Nate Orsi’s Experience at the Cornell Food & Brand Lab

by Lucia Austria

I interviewed Gastronomy student Nate Orsi on his internship experience this past summer at the Cornell Food & Brand Lab in Ithaca, New York. His enthusiasm for the program promises fulfilling experiences for any BU Gastronome interested in applying next summer.

How did you feel when you first started the internship at Cornell? What were the other interns like?

Mindless Eating published by Bantam
Mindless Eating published by Bantam

It was an awesome experience, fueled by positive energy, people, and a bit of caffeine. It was almost like anything was possible within the realm of food research. Dr. Brian Wansink, the head of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, has an electric personality. He is so passionate about life, and in particular food.  His book, Mindless Eating, was the first thing we were told to read in preparation for the internship.    Everyone is highly motivated and focused. When you are around people with such a zest for life, it makes you want to excel and explore that world that you are in, which happened to be the world of food. Kitchens and faux restaurants with mirrored glass, study sessions where food preferences were researched, and long hours contemplating how people perceive food were key ingredients to the overall process.

What kind of projects did you work on?

We were assigned to ongoing research projects and weekly tasks related to such topics as creating smarter lunch rooms, investigating obesity and eating disorders, or the effects of chefs cooking in schools. Other research topics included the tie between spirituality and eating meals, food fears, varying perceptions of taste in social settings, and farm to school research.

Nate Orsi
Nate Orsi

I worked on simultaneous projects for the Food & Brand Lab. To hone my writing skills, I was asked to condense an article written on the research potential of virtual reality environments and food. For another project, I canvassed people to gauge their perceptions of tastes of meat sandwiches. I conducted interviews and observed people eating food in public spaces and wrote about my findings. I also provided feedback to other interns and researchers on how to improve menu items for non-profit organizations. We all met together on a weekly basis for problem solving sessions, bounced ideas off of each other, really making progress with our projects.

Much of my work was focused on school gardens, food marketing, independent thinking on how to get kids to eat more sensibly during lunch, looking at kitchens from a historical perspective, and perceptions of caffeinated beverages.

I also helped launch a website which featured research on the process of naming vegetable dishes in school cafeterias.  “Whats in a Name?”  investigates how school lunch programs attempt to get students to eat more vegetables. Research revealed that by changing the names of vegetables, kids ate substantially more of them because it was more of an engaging and fun experience.

What was it like to live in Ithaca for the summer?

Ithaca has a great local food scene. It’s a pretty rad, earth friendly place, full of locavores, gorges, and friendly folks who are in tune with their surroundings and their food system. If you ever get the chance to experience Ithaca I would highly recommend Waffle Frolic, and the Ithaca Farmers Market is unreal.

Any words for students interested in applying to the internship?

Let me know if you get to Ithaca, because while it is a haul to get there, I promise you won’t regret it.

Nate Orsi is a Gastronomy student and member of the BU Gastronomy Garden Club. Read here for more information on the internship application process and deadline for the Cornell University Food & Brand Lab.

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