Have you ever had one of those days when you look at your burger and think, “Wow this is amazing! What is in this burger?” This question would be the first of many after our first week in my freshman Critical Thinking and Writing class (CTW). This class would teach us not to look at something for what it is, but instead look at its identity and what its effects are on the world around us. My teacher, Nicholas Leither, taught me how to look at the small picture and be able to apply it to the big picture with varying results. Little did I know that if you actually did some digging into that any question like the one mentioned above, you would be traveling down a rabbit hole of lies, horror, and in the end, the brutal truth. My CTW class was lucky enough to have the course theme revolve around food and with that, Nick held my hand for months as he guided me through the worlds of factory farms for our first quarter, and violence in different way in our second quarter. Before we got to our class’s first quarter theme, we had to start somewhere.
Our first class was one that was hard to forget. Not just because of our realization that for the next two quarters we would be meeting from 7:20-9:05 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday, but from the sheer frustration of not being able to tackle what we thought was such a simple question. When Nick walked into class, he sat us down, looked around with a beaming smile, and asked only one question for the rest of the two hours and forty-five minute class which was, “What is happiness?” We threw out answers like “being fulfilled,” “being incredibly rich,” “not having a worry in the world,” “being able to do anything you want,” and other such answers ranging from materialistic and philosophical to no avail. However, every time we gave an answer that we though was satisfactory, he would simply ask us again, “But do you really think that will make you happy?” The answer would always be no after some long thought and discussion. Two hours went by like this and we were all, except for Nick, close to the brink of a mental breakdown. What unifying thing would make every person in this room happy for the rest of her/his life? Little did we know that our answer would soon find us all in different forms or another.
My class was then shown the next day a clip by the recently passed David Foster Wallace titled “This is Water.”
The ending question shocked me… “What the hell is water?” Was it funny? Was it questioning the very state of our lives and the truths of this universe? Or perhaps was it something else. We discussed this question for the full two hours and forty-five minutes of class and reached varying conclusions to no avail until the very last ten minutes of class where we reached a pseudo-answer. What if the point of this video is to take a step back from life, take a step back from the doldrums that life’s cyclical behavior entails, and be able to say that, “this is life,” and truly be aware for a second. We essentially need to free ourselves from ourselves and step back and remind ourselves that, “this is water,” this is life, and be content with that fact. We as a class were being bombarded with and deep, almost impossible philosophical questions like this one every class and it was driving us crazy as we were banging our heads against the wall to figure them out. What we didn’t know was that this was Mr. Leither’s plan all along. Then it hit me. I personally understood that this process was the answer that we were looking for, although I can’t speak for everyone. In my opinion, it is being self-aware of your condition or others conditions, being able to accept that, move forward with your life, and know that it’s alright…
I can say for a fact that the first week of class blew my mind.
This essentially provided each student with the necessary foundation for the remaining months we would spend together attempting to find the answer that was not only acceptable to each student, but one that only each of us could see and be happy with.
By being able to take a step back and analyze the situation, we were able to see past the fluff and draw conclusions that we were previously not able to see. That was when our professor introduced us to our course theme, food.
The world of food is amazing at a glance as it is tasty, fun, and humans and animals need it to survive. We all thought this until we read “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer and saw “Meet your Meat” by PETA. The majority of humans in this world are complacent with what they eat and are essentially oblivious to how it’s made. Louise Fresco, a Dutch scientist, director and writer, once said that, “Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.” The identity of our food is essentially one that is a rabbit hole of lies, horror, and in the end we learned, absolutely brutal. Foer and PETA’s “Meet your Meat” showed how our meat is being made on a global scale and how horrific factory farms are.
With what we learned in our first week, we were able to understand how this affected us and the world around us. We knew immediately as a class that this practice, as outlined in “Eating Animals,” is not sustainable and is wrong on so many levels. In my first essay for the class I discussed food recalls and how it benefits food corporations more than the consumer. Companies actually calculate how much effort and money they need to invest into the safety and cleanliness of their operations to just barely pass the USDA standards and when their calculations are wrong, consumers end up with E. Coli or harmful bacteria in their food (GAO). Foer also outlines how the average USDA food inspector has approximately two seconds to check the chicken inside and out for any “issues” which leaves an enormous margin for error. Big Food is too big and an example of USDA’s wet noodle of a grip on the poultry industry as the poultry industry was able to lobby successfully that “feces” should be labeled as “cosmetic blemishes” and “fecal soup” as broth (Foer 134-135).
In my second essay I looked into how hard it is to change someone’s preference of buying processed food over organic food and how it affected low-income households. I found that food sustainability for the most part is not affordable for low-income households and is unfair (FRAC). Even if it was available and affordable to all levels of income, people are biologically programmed to be more attracted to what creates more pleasure and what is easier by our very nature and with cheap fast food that is being made that tricks are mind into craving its fat and sugar, its easy to see why these non-organic restaurants are so profitable. Less expensive, energy-dense foods typically have lower nutritional quality and, because of our overconsumption of these bad calories, processed foods have been linked to obesity” (FRAC). In my third essay I focused on overpopulation and food insecurity and how food prices are increasing at alarming rates and resources are being strained to the point of collapse. However, if we utilize waste to its full potential and implemented new agricultural methods, we could slow this process ten-fold. By “2050 the world will need to feed approximately 9 billion people, over 2 billion more than today,” when we already have 1 billion people suffering from chronic hunger showing how important these methods really are (Global Food Security). In my last essay I discussed the now condemned Oklahoma SAE fraternity and the racist song they chanted on May 7th, 2015 and how it applied to exclusivity and its inherent power. The way that fraternities, like the one at SAE Oklahoma, achieve their prestige and reputation is through their ability to excluded prospective members and when race is a bigger factor than character, that becomes unacceptable. In the end I learned, “Given fraternities’ history as organizations designed to enhance the prestige of members through exclusivity, it should come as no surprise that at least one chapter defines that exclusivity in racial terms” (Syrett).
Without this class, I would have never been able to learn as in depth as I had about factory farms, overpopulation, racism at certain fraternities in the US, food recalls, how to analyze data, ask the question not easily seen, and most importantly learn about happiness. Nicholas Leither has essentially changed the way I view every article, idea, and action in my life and I am thankful for that. It’s easy to be lazy and just assume that everybody is doing the right thing and that what they say is what they mean. But by not taking things for granted and by looking just a little deeper, the world opens up to you. At the end of the day, I’m able to tackle seemingly innocent and easy questions with the tools that Nick has given me like figuring out “what is in this burger,” and “what is happiness.”
- Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
- “Why Low-Income and Food Insecure People Are Vulnerable to Obesity Food Research & Action Center.” Food Research Action Center Why Low Income and Food Insecure People Are Vulnerable to Obesity Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.
- “GAO: FDA Should Improve Food Recall Communication | Food Safety News.” Food Safety News. 26 July 2012. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.
- Syrett, Nicholas L. “Why Racists Find a Home in Frats.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 02 Mar. 2016.
- Wallace, David Foster. “This is Water.” Kenyon College. 2005. Vimeo,Patrick Buckley. Web. Accessed March 15, 2016.