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

Friday, September 28, 2012

Eng. 151H: Pollan, Foer, and the Complications of Food

This is one of those days where I should not be awake, let alone functional.  I got next to no sleep last night, the alarm went off at 5:00, and I haven't had as much caffeine as I expected to by this point in the morning.  But I am not one to question such blessed energy, so off we go into the wonderful world of Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer on this glorious September Friday.

We have been reading our way through Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, spending the first part of the week talking about corn and industrial corn production, which has been quite the experience for my students.  This is the end of our second week in Writing Project 2, on food systems, and today, the first interview they're doing for this project is due (I haven't seen them yet, but I'm pretty excited).  Some of them went to the Farmer's Market down in the Haymarket last week (I hope they go tomorrow as well) and I get paid this weekend, which means the food budget is replenished, which means I can go too without torturing myself.

Today's section of Omnivore's Dilemma was about pastoral grass and Joel Salatin's farm--but the sad part of the day is that we didn't get as much time to spend on it as I wanted to, since I wanted to spend a good chunk of our time on Foer, as a new voice and a new perspective in this ongoing exploration of complications.  I waved around the book, Eating Animals, where I took the portions about storytelling and gave it to my students for today.  I talked about what Foer was doing as a Writer (which is not to say that Pollan is not a writer, but the differences between their styles and execution are marked) and what it would be like to apply Noah Lukeman to both of these texts to discern what their sentences are doing.  I talked about the use of his pages, manipulating the page to also do what he wants it to do.  I love writers who do that.

Then, free writing:

  • How does JSF complicate what we've been talking about?  Where did you highlight, underline, comment?  What do you still think about after you've put it down?
  • What new ideas and perspectives does he bring to this conversation?
  • How does he bring us back to the micro level that our class is themed around?
  • If you can, interpret what we've been talking about through the lens of your major.  There are pre-med, political science, etc. majors--what perspective does that offer?  If you can't filter this topic through your major or intended major, think about it through your own personal history.
  • How did your interview complicate this topic?
We talked about storytelling, how pretty much everything Foer is doing in these pages is a variation on storytelling, changing a story, and what it means to do either.  My students pointed out where Foer specifically mentions Pollan and we talked a little bit about the dialogue that is going on in Foer's book.

We ran out of time to discuss Pollan's section in depth, but we'll get to it next week.  At the end of class, one of my students brought up a really good question (about "why does it matter, if the animal is dead?)--which I would like to say is typical of this particular class.  This class asks truly excellent, difficult questions.  These are questions that seem simplistic or antagonistic or "duh" questions on first glance, but the reality is they are incredibly important questions.  Asking "why does it matter?" is a valid question.  I have one particular student who is really, really good at forming these kind of under-the-surface-complex questions, something that was often brought up in the Natural Disasters 150 I taught in the spring.  If farming was so tough during the Dust Bowl, why did people stay?  Why didn't they go somewhere else?  That's not a dumb question--that's a truly excellent question.  What would have prevented them from going somewhere else, doing something different?

And then, as I was riding the elevator back to my office, I have that moment that most teachers do:  I really hope this class is going as well as I think it is...because this is awesome.

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