Moving Past Oblivion and Becoming Aware // Maddie Kileen

We rarely question what is happening around us. We get caught up in the motions of everyday life and often forget to look at our surroundings. I know I have fallen victim to this. I get wrapped up in school, friends, social events, and the other extraneous things that are constantly buzzing around the typical college students mind. It’s easy to laser focus on your schedule and what needs to be accomplished next. When you are constantly going through the motions of classes, work, exercise, sleep, repeat, it is easy to forget to remember to take a minute to look around and realize, and possibly question the world around us.


One of the first videos we watched in Creative Writing and Thinking was a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace, “This is Water.” It jump started my thinking about how important it is to be aware of what’s going on around us. The tedious and boring activities we perform everyday are often overlooked, such as what we eat or buy at the grocery store. We become too focused on the small unimportant things in life, such as the traffic you are stuck in or the annoying woman taking forever at the cash register, that we fail to see the big picture filled with important messages. If we walk through life without a conscious effort to observe what is around us, “The most obvious important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” (This is Water).  

The message that I took from “This is Water” is one that was applicable to every topic I wrote about both quarters. I came to college at SCU feeling that I knew a great deal about the world and my surroundings. However, after covering topics of the food and meat industry, the judicial system, and school violence factory farming, animal violence, and school violence, I suddenly realized that before CTW I was the fish in the tank saying, “What the hell is water?” I came to the conclusion that often these issues are given a quick answer or ignored because we fail to stop and think about how maybe the way we are approaching the issues. I ultimately left the class with a newfound understanding that if we live life in an unconscious and unaware state, so many things are passing us by and we are not fully grasping the importance and magnitude of our decisions and actions. 

Looking at the Label

My first exposure in CTW to an issue that many consumers are unaware of is the labeling on food products. Although organic labeled items are said to be a more nourishing and healthy option for the consumer according to the USDA, the term organic is thrown around too loosely by companies creating a false perception of organic in the mind of consumers. I soon realized I was so gullible to the food labels I was reading, especially as college student. I walk through the grocery store and grab items from the shelf without any thought or question of whether the USDA or the company is being truthful on the label. Before Nick introduced our class to “Eating Animals” and Food Inc., I never considered the labels on food products might be entirely deceptive.

In “Eating Animals” Foer explains corporations incentives for creating labels that promote deceptive terms such as “organic” or “cage free.” He explains that, “most humane farming standards are merely industry attempts to cash in on the public’s growing concern” (Foer 172). The visuals on a product have a great deal of influence on how students shape their opinions on a product. If we take an extra moment to look further into a label or question whether the label is truthful we have the potential to be more educated and informed consumers.

Killer Beef

Since I can remember, Minnesota summer nights consisted of my dad grilling up hamburgers, hot dogs, and brats while we enjoyed the warm weather and fresh air. I really looked forward to those family dinners out on the patio and never thought twice about what I was consuming. Meat was at the center of every meal. Why would I question the food my parents were feeding me? The last thing on my mind was considering where the meat comes from – and whether is has an impact on my health. The harsh reality of where meat comes from and how it isprocessed and animals are treated never crossed my mind until being exposed to research in CTW.

Clean and healthy cattle from sanitary suppliers are expected because they wouldn’t feed us anything less, right? The idea that our beef is safe is a myth, and as consumers we have allowed these corporations to bully and control us into believing this fabrication. According to the FDA, foodborne illness causes approximately 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States. This is a shocking statistic that warrants a drastic change in the food production industry. USDA study that showed, “78.6 percent of the ground beef contained microbes that are spread primarily by fecal material” (Schlosser 197).   Our mindsets concerning beef are often “I don’t want to know,” which enables companies to continue operating in an unsafe manner. Unsanitary practices paired with weak FDA regulatory inspections in cattle slaughterhouses are ignored and not taken seriously by consumers, exposing everyone to life threatening strains of chemicals, toxins and bacteria.

It is time for consumers to become aware of the “water” around them. Recognizing that nothing less than sanitary is acceptable regarding where our beef is produced is the only way for the system to make a change. It’s time to become aware of what’s really in the “killer beef,” The next time we hear the horrendous activities in slaughterhouses and factory farms, instead of turning a blind eye and returning to the tedious motions of life, we should instead investigate further.

Firearm Acceptability

Second quarter we transitioned to discussing more about violence in other aspects besides factory farming and the food industry. We started by reading Columbine by Dave Cullen and looking into the tragedy of the shootings that occurred. On the surface, from looking at media coverage, it is easy to pinpoint all the blame on Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters who killed 12 students and 1 teacher, and seriously wounded many others in the spring 1999. The discussions prompted me to think of other reasons behind Eric and Dylan’s motivation? Is the small town of Littleton, Colorado and society as a whole partly to blame in this tragic incident?

To answer this question, I looked into the attitude of firearm acceptability throughout the United States. I theorized the obsession and comfort with firearms in the small town of Littleton contributed to the warning signs of Eric and Dylan to pass by family, police, and officials. If there wasn’t such an accepting attitude towards firearms, Dylan and Eric may have never been able to go through with their plan. In light of the reoccurring situations of school shootings, we need to step back and realize our surroundings and attitudes may be contributing to the problem. Looking at the bigger picture and being aware of the “water” surrounding us may allow us to find the root of not only tragic school shootings, but even issues with animal violence, labeling, and factory farming.

Works Cited:

“U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.

Schlosser, Eric. “Chapter 9: What’s In the Meat.” Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. 193-222. Print.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.

Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.

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