On the board: Further Reading (Rachel Carson, Silent Spring; Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire; Sharon Bishop, "The Power of Place"; Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses; the documentary King Corn.)
In "Corn is Not Eternal," I tried to tease out that the corn has become for us what the buffalo was to various Plains tribes, but my class--stubbornly, perhaps--persisted in thinking that corn gives us more than the buffalo did to the Plains tribes. I haven't watched King Corn completely yet, but I've started it. Since it's instant on Netflix, I recommended it. But we haven't completely reconciled what we've lost by giving corn this much importance in our lives.
Between "Remember the Flowers" and "Putting Tomatoes By," which works through what his father considers important (and how he preserves it for the future) and what his mother values (and how she preserves it), we talked about how these things (issues of pesticides/herbicides, monocultures, overdevelopment/conservation, migration from rural to urban/surburban, self-sufficiency, loyalty) come out of various mindsets. We talked about how the parents, who would certainly have gone through the Depression and the father probably served in WW2, formed their work ethics and such. I brought in Silent Spring, how the problems that Carson brings up come out of this post-WW2 mindset: warlike language (eradication), American exceptionalism, absolute trust in the government, etc. I was pleased that I got a few surprised looks, nods, like I'd just given them something new (and, I hope, interesting) to consider.
In "The Transfiguration of Bread" and "Putting Tomatoes By," the ideas of homemade vs. manufacturing were brought up, the values that each of those represent, and how the trend is going back towards homemade, that people are canning again, etc. Ironically, there's an article on the main UNL page today about canning.
But the way I ended class today is directly related to the readings we did for 992 this week. Because this book is largely rural in context and there are a great deal of my students who come from urban/surburban places, we ended with this question (which we started out in discussion, but then I took them to paper, to write about it):
- How does all this function within an urban/surburban context?
- How does that environment (in all definitions of that term) affect the ideas that Gruchow brings up across these essays?
- How do these ideas apply to those places too?
- How does that urban/surburban environment shape what you consider important and how you preserve it?
- How much of that is access and availability vs. necessity? Are you more likely to go buy a can of organic tomatoes than to grow them yourself?
- Because you have access to things like a farmer's market, does that change your perceptions?
- What happens when things like homemade bread and canned vegetables become political choices (consumption, environmental, waste), based on a certain level of affluence, vs. what you do because you have no other choice?
Since I've been thinking about my city students and what they think of reading such rural writings, I'm glad that we were able to consider these questions today. Hopefully they'll bear fruit by the time the rough draft of their first paper is due next Thursday.