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Focus December 2017

Youth and the Academy

Flawed perceptions and opportunities lying in wait.

Among the many interesting themes featured in the recent gathering of the “Franco Marenghi” Study Centre, one drew the greatest number of qualified and impassioned speakers: Academicians’ average age, and its decrease. This delicate issue has been tackled and debated on various levels and occasions in recent years. “If the young don’t join the Academy”, some say, “in a few years we’ll all be old and will achieve nothing”. An incomplete, pessimistic and unrealistic view. But a preliminary clarification is mandatory. By their very nature, associations can have differing aims: there are those for older and those for younger audiences; every age has its requirements and priorities. The Academy does not have a precise target regarding age, but by its nature it appeals to those who have, or should have, an extensive and mature connoisseurship of gastronomy and its culture, through experiences gleaned in the family, society and the restaurant world - and the socioeconomic status to sustain all of the above. Consequently its main audience is not the very young aficionados of happy hours, aperitif buffets, kebabs, sandwich cafes, and pizza or fast food restaurants. It is therefore futile to court their preferences and needs. The Academy conveys other messages, which are clearly comprehensible in view of its long history. This is demonstrated by the new Delegations founded in recent years, formed by young professionals and adults in the earliest phase of family life. Then time passes, and the Delegations age and often lose generational renewal without realising it. Furthermore, the average number of Delegation members does not increase; in other words, there is a virtual ceiling which many do not wish to transcend. This is one aspect of the issue. The other, far more positive aspect reveals a vital Academy with a steadily rising membership, increasing by over a thousand members over the past two years. This renewal has occasioned a surge in female participation and a substantial reduction in average age, now 63 years overall and only 58 years abroad. Avoiding useless fee discounts and special deals to attract younger members, there remains the crucial point of language, which often does not make allowances for today’s world, thereby failing to reach the so-called ‘youthful sphere’ due to problems with vocabulary and communication technology. The Academy will have to assume an increasingly active and innovative role in today’s food culture aimed at younger generations.

Paolo Petroni