Today's class discussion was the last one on Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food. My students made connections between the book and the documentary King Corn, which they watched last week when I was out sick. They asked great questions that did not have any easy answers.
For example, at the start of class, one student asked "How did we get here? How did things get so bad?" Another student raised his hand and said that in the film, when the two students interviewed Earl Butz, Nixon's Ag Secretary, it seemed like what he really wanted to do was provide people with cheaper food so that they'd have money to spend on other things. Another student echoed the comment about how our economy is driven by consumer spending on things other than food, and that all of this is connected. The previous student said that he didn't think Butz meant for his policies to make us fatter and sicker, but that since this is what's happening [according to Pollan], we need to do something.
Later in class, when I asked again "How did we get here?" one student said that it was partly because women went to work in the 70's and when both people are working, no one has time or energy to cook. We were careful [as Pollan is] not to blame women but to talk about the socioeconomic conditions that have helped fuel the sales of convenience food. One student mentioned that she sees families arriving at the restaurant chain where she works at around 6 or 6:30, after practice is over. Busy lifestyles leave little time for cooking. They also talked about how we eat alone, in our cars or while doing other things, how when we eat and watch TV, we eat more because we're not paying attention to whether or not we're feeling full.
When I asked how practical Pollan's advice is, most of the students said that they could follow what he recommends. I didn't ask if they were going to do it because I don't want to proselytize. I want them to think, and to judge by today's discussion, which went the full 75 minutes with almost 100% participation, they're thinking.
Days like these make me so glad that I'm a teacher.