"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Eng. 151H: Mixing it Up

Today is one of those days when the work that's not due for a couple of weeks is much more attractive than the work you have to do right now, for tomorrow.  Today is my writing day and I need to get moving on the essays that will make up my dissertation (on the city of Galway), but I keep getting distracted.  I have books to read that look like more fun (like Declan Burke's Down These Green Streets: Irish Crime Writing in the 21st Century which arrived this week)--and that particular distraction got worse this morning by a call for papers from Eire-Ireland that's looking for work on Irish crime for a special issue in 2014.  This, of course, sends me into a tailspin of wanting to take the previous informal writings I've done on the subject (here and here and here) and see what I can come up with.  Which makes me jot down notes to bring up when I meet with the vice-chair of the department on Friday to ask some questions about various things.  And then I get nervous because I haven't written the paper I'm giving at the American Conference of Irish Studies in less than a month.  One thought leads to another.  And this is not productive for the writing I actually have to do.

Because I'm reading at the No Name Reading Series on Friday the 28th and I want to read something new.

So, naturally, I feel the need to work on something else--like reflect on what's going on in my 151H class.

My 151H turned in their final drafts of their Silent Spring rhetorical analysis on Monday and we transitioned to the second Writing Project by watching the apple section of the documentary The Botany of Desire (which is instant on Netflix if you'd like to check it out).  The book (by Michael Pollan) is better, but this was a good way to give my students a little break in the brain area while still getting them to think in this new direction, to see how what we've been doing in the last few weeks transitions into what we will be doing in the next few weeks.  I've got a fondness for apples--published an essay called "The Inheritance of Apples" a few years ago in Silk Road Literary Review.  And I found out that yesterday, my sisters were going to pick up Gram from her assisted living, bring her back to their house, and make pies.  (Also found out that because Gram--who is 89--couldn't really do any of the tasks anymore, that made her extremely critical of everything--the apples were cut too thick, the pastry cutter wasn't as good as using a knife and fork, and more.)  I adore my grandmother.  She's a hoot.  And a champion pie baker.  So I get excited about apples.

The purpose of the project is to investigate food systems and for my students to consider the choices they are making and how the complications are related to what we're talking about in the class.  We talked about how the rhetoric of apples changed from the demon fruit that was getting America drunk to An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.  I also brought up something I'd seen on the LIncoln Journal-Star that morning, about BPI (makers of pink slime) suing ABC news for defamation--and this was something that will get brought up when we watch Food, Inc. in a couple of weeks (I had no idea these veggies libel laws existed)--so what we're doing is incredibly current.  The point of the project is to become aware of the rhetoric used by all of these different groups, to explore why this idea of food systems is not as simple as either/or.

We had read the introduction to The Omnivore's Dilemma (which is our text for this project) for the day and I gave them a couple writing prompts to get the class started:  I pulled out a few quotes from the first couple of pages about the rules and traditions and such that govern how we eat, not just what we eat.  So I had them write about what rules governed their food lives.  Then I asked them to consider what issues and complications that Pollan brings up in this introduction that we should be aware of as we proceed.  This seemed to be a good way to start things off, to give them space to think through their pens.

We talked through what they had written and they brought up meals with their families, we talked about holiday meals and what rules governed those traditions.  They spoke of their holiday meals coming mostly out of cans, some meals were completely from scratch, one of my students said that her family actually goes out and shoots a turkey themselves.  One of my student's family has lutefisk as their tradition, which brought up "what is lutefisk?"  So he and I got to share that mental image of fish jello with the rest of the class--but the larger issue we connected to there was what that food (if one can actually call it food) represented.  It represented the food that was available, it represented a culture that needed to preserve food for the winter so they didn't starve.  Ah, they said.  I got to tell them the story of the Hunter's Suppers we had at my church when I was growing up, the lutefisk, the lefse, the meatballs and potatoes, the whole shebang.  That too, was part of a tradition.  The food system we are a part of is pretty complicated.

After Monday's viewing of the apples, we pulled out some of the complications--we talked about the role of business (small vs. large growers), we talked about culture and tradition and how that shifts and changes, we talked about how apples were part of how the continent was settled.  On Friday (tomorrow), they will have read the potatoes chapter of The Botany of Desire, so I'm excited to talk to them about what they find there.

Especially as I plan to mash some Yukon gold potatoes with butter and milk for my lunch.  Mjolk och potatis, to raise a fork to my Swedish grandmother.

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