Follow by Email

Search This Blog

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ms. Silano, Why Do You Teach English 101 with a Food Theme?

1) Confession #1: I love food. I love to talk about it, I love to read/write about it, and I am a better instructor when I make it the chief focus in my college composition classes. I enjoy all types of cuisines, but my main criterion is that the food I eat contains fresh ingredients (sometimes just-picked from my tiny garden), and organically-raised/grown produce and animal products. Does this make me a food snob? I don't know--you tell me. I have the privilege of getting to buy produce in season (at least a few months of the year), and eating wholesome/fresh foods, but even if I were living in poverty I would make it a high priority to serve up home-cooked meals using inexpensive ingredients--legumes, low-cost dairy products, whole grains, and plenty of fresh or flash-frozen produce. I also forage wild foods whenever possible (including dandelion greens, blackberries, and stinging nettles) to provide high nutrition at a low price.

2) Topic Relevance: By 2030 there could be 65 million more obese adults in the United States than in 2010, according to the epidemiologist Dr. Y. Claire Wang and her colleagues at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

This would translate into 8 million more cases of diabetes, 6.8 million more cases of atherosclerotic heart disease and strok,e and more than 500,000 more cases of cancer.

If the current trend in the rise of obesity continues, three out of every four Americans will be overweight or obese by 2020.

In 2003, the healthcare cost for treating obesity and its related diseases was $75 billion. That amount is trending toward $140 billion a year by 2030.

For every five-point rise in body mass index, men face a 52 percent increase in the risk of esophageal cancer and a 24 percent increase in colon cancer, while women can expect a 59 percent rise in the risk of both endometrial and gallbladder cancer and a 12 percent rise in postmenopausal breast cancer.

Other obesity-related ailments that contribute to the loss of disability-free years and productivity include osteoarthritis, benign prostate disease, infertility, asthma, sleep apnea and birth defects, which are linked to maternal obesity.

2) More Relevance:

Many refer to the obesity epidemic as America's most pressing health problem.We may not always agree on why we are becoming a nation of overweight people, but a recent
series of reports in The Lancet points to several factors: (1) We exercise less, a lot less; we are car-dependent and believe that low prices and convenience are king; (2) T
here are food vending machines stuffed with candy and soda, fast-food emporiums and shopping malls delivering up all order of high-calorie concoctions; (3) Billboards & TV commercials bombard us with enticing depictions of high-calorie, highly-processed foods; (4) We eat outside of the home, or eat “conveniently” all too often; (5) Substances that humans are evolutionarily programmed to crave, but that are found rarely in nature--sugar, salt and fat--are more readily available than ever in the form of Mountain Dew, Pepsi, Coke, Micky D's, KFC, Jack in the Box, Krispy Kreme donuts, etc.

3) Local & Global Poverty: According in an article on September 14, 2011, in The New York Times, in 2010, about 48 million people ages 18 to 64 did not work even one week out of the year, up from 45 million in 2009. It also states that currently 46.2 million Americans live in poverty, and that Black Americans experienced the highest poverty rate, at 27 percent, up from 25 percent in 2009, and Hispanics rose to 26 percent from 25 percent. (White Americans experienced a poverty rate of 9.9 percent). When people are out of work and trying to make ends meet, they look for inexpensive foods which often come in the form of refined carbohydrates containing simple sugars; it is these foods that are causing lifestyle diseases that look exactly like the diseases of first-world poverty.

Globally, half the world's children live in poverty (1 out of 2 billion). Unicef estimates that 22,000 children die every day because of it. They also die from lack of clean water; in fact, 1.8 children million die each year from diarrhea due to contaminated water. What does this have to do with us, our food consumption, the way we grow our food? Sometimes the gulf between the haves and the have-nots seems insurmountable and unbridgeable--I am not here to tell you that we can save the world by not eating meat. I am only hear to engage you in a conversation about food and the way it's processed (or not processed), marketed, & distributed. I don't have the answers--but maybe some of you do.

4) When we eat conveniently and inexpensively it also turns out that we harm not only our own bodies but the bodies of farm laborers. That's because farm laborers cannot be paid a living wage when Safeway charges .89 cents a pound for cabbage. Most farm laborers receive no health or retirement benefits. They may work 14 or more hours a day, earn far below the minimum wage, and be as young as twelve to work in the fields from sun up until sunset, picking your low-cost tomatoes and lettuce. Yes, that, right: a 12-year old likely picked the tomato that is now a pool of ketchup on that giant Big Mac you're about to bite into. Either that, or someone your father's age worked all day in a field loading 240 lb.-crates for something like $3/hour.

5) We not only harm other human beings, but many of our food choices harm farm animals and our environment. When a box of Rice Chex is trucked from Ohio to Washington, that translates into quite a bit of fossil fuels and tire usage. When tires start to break down, they release all kinds of nasty chemicals, including mercury and lead. Every time it rains, these chemicals wend their way down to Puget Sound. The salmon get to eat those yummy chemicals. Animals that are raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Area Feeding Operations) spew out a TON of manure (a cow produces 150 pounds of fecal matter per day); it gets into the water system and sickens people. Speaking of water, you need between 500-2,500 gallons to produce ONE pound of beef. If you live in the desert (as most of us in Western America do), this seems like a high price for eating steak.

6) I'm not here to depress you or make you feel guilty. This class is about raising awareness--pulling back the veil and seeing what's behind these labels, behind the glossy print ads and the aura of a corporate name or names. I encourage you to enjoy the food you like to eat--to celebrate the foods that solidify and confirm your cultural heritage and your identity--but to be prepared to get acquainted with food on a systems level--not only your personal relationship with it, but a more holistic approach. You might leave here all pumped up to grow your own food (if you can), or all fired up about how food corporations market their wares to you and your children. That's good--but you don't need to get all pumped up, become a vegan, or convert your dorm room into a greenhouse to get an A in this class.

6) What you need to do is delay the temptation to make up your mind today (or next week) about your opinion about our food system as it currently exists, as well as the possibilities for the future. As a citizen and a consumer, you deserve to know what's in your food, whether anything that's been added is good for you, and what the animals you are eating ate before they were slaughtered. You might not want to know, and in some ways I don't blame you. But in this class you are going to find out. And we are going to write (and in some cases talk) about it. Keep an open mind, do your best to withhold judgment, complete the reading/writing assignments, come to class ready to dive into the activities, and I will support you in every way I can with succeeding in this course.

No comments: