“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” – Nathaniel Branden
Since I was a little kid, whenever my parents asked me what I wanted to eat, the answer was simple. MEAT, MEAT, and MORE MEAT. From begging to go to the local McDonald’s for a juicy hamburger or rejoicing when we had our annual summer barbecues, I could not imagine a life or even plate without meat. Vegetables were my enemy and fruits were just mere acquaintances. My friends were Rice and potatoes, meat’s best friends. Never did I consider how meat was produced in the United States or the atrocities committed against violence. Without meat I would go ballistic. At the end of the day, all I cared about was if I had meat on my damn plate for every lunch and dinner, sometimes even breakfast. To say I was ignorant is an understatement. But could you really blame me though? This thought process continued until my freshman year at Santa Clara University.
Having arrived on campus early due to early preseason training with the Men’s Soccer Team, I had a month more than other students to adjust to a new environment. Hailing from the rainy and eco-friendly state of Oregon, sunny Silicon Valley was a different experience and environment. Despite my obsession for meat, I was still health-conscious and watched what I ate to maximize performance on the soccer field. As long as I stayed from the sugars and fats, meat was not off-limits. After a month of training everyday for the upcoming season, school started for all students. Upon receiving my schedule, I was annoyed that I still had to take an English class after 4 years of advanced English in high school. I would be lying if I said English is my favorite subject. I was sick of writing about books I hated reading about and writing pointless papers that I bullshitted the night before. But my outlook on writing and life in general, changed after the first week of the fall quarter Critical Thinking and Writing class with Professor Nicholas Leither.
“All I cared about was if I had meat on my damn plate for every lunch and dinner, sometimes even breakfast.”
When I got to my first class and received my syllabus I was expecting just another English class where we read books and follow it up by writing papers on it. Just a standard English class. What I wasn’t expecting was hearing that the topic for the class is Food Porn. Immediately this piqued my interest. I mean I already loved food and combining with the title “porn” caught the attention of my immature mind stuck somewhere in the gutter. I was still skeptical though. No way in hell this class was going to be something I looked forward to going to, especially since class was from 5:25 to 7:10 pm on Monday and Wednesday’s. The class was divided into three main subdivisions: food, sustainability, and violence. However, after the completion of my first week of CTW with Professor Leither, I quickly learned that I really can’t really know and judge something based on initial impressions. This class quickly became a class I looked forward to. CTW 1 and 2 ultimately taught me of the importance of awareness. Awareness cultivates the desire to seek the truth and the underlying reasons behind various institutions and events. Through the examination of the food system in the United States and violent events like Columbine, I investigated things that many assume they know, but really don’t.
“Awareness cultivates the desire to seek the truth and the underlying reasons behind various institutions and events.”
(Before I continue, I need to state a couple of disclaimers. I’m no suck-up writing good things to receive favorable results. Besides Leither would snuff that out really quickly. What I’m writing is just what I truly think.)
One memorable thing we did on the first day was watch a video called This is Water by David Foster Wallace. I’ve seen the video prior to the class, but the discussion we had after watching the video introduced me to ideas in the video I didn’t realize before. The speech was written for a commencement speech for Kenyon College. The video spoke on the importance to realize the importance of self-awareness. Essentially, the point of higher education is to cultivate this essential skill. We aren’t the only ones in the world. Everyone is going through their own troubles. What we individually see on the surface during day-to-day life only scratches the surface. Therefore, it is important to consider the effect our individual choice have. Not only does it influences ourselves, it influences everybody else as well. To me, this video served as a guide on how to approach the issues we investigated.
After this tutorial guide on how to approach this class and life in general, we were quickly introduced to our topic of Food Porn. I was ready to see delicious pictures of food under perfect lighting! But what we watched next class was the contrary. Instead, we turned the lights off and turned on the projector. Meet Your Meat was a documentary conducted by PETA that exposed the grueling realities inside the farms that produce and feed our daily meat demand.
What I saw was a complete shock. Chickens, cows, and pigs tortured to death in grueling, untenable conditions. These animals did not have adequate space to roam around or even do a complete 360. These supposed “farms” were death factories that subjected animals to horrible conditions. The entire class shared my sentiments; It was one of shock, awe, and disappointment. Was this how all the meat I loved to eat was made? How is this not regulated? My head was flooded with questions. I felt lied to. Although I was shocked, the video did little to curtail my appetite for meat. After class, I bought a nice chicken burger and called it a day.
Then, we were assigned to start reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer. Our first book assignment in CTW. Foer, a part-time vegetarian, conducted extensive research on the realities of the food system in the United States today. What started as an honest connection between farmer and animal and a promise to provide a good life before its inevitable death, was quickly demolished by the corrupting disease of greed. From primary to secondary research, Foer uncovered the various atrocities committed inside the factory farms everyday. Today, 99% of meat is produced by factory farms. I couldn’t believe it. Since I was a little kid, I have been eating disease-ridden, tortured, and tainted meat. My first reaction? Betrayal. The USDA, other government agencies, and food corporations that were supposed to keep our damn food clean has lied to consumers for years. The damn meat I liked to eat was actually tainted by these damn organizations. After finishing the book, I felt that everybody in America should read this book. From there on after, my awareness was heightened.
As the quarter progressed, we were assigned our first essay. After years of writing essays in high school, essays to me was a 5-paragraph paper: an intro, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Simple, it works, and no need to deviate from this format. But the Slant book written by Nicholas Leither himself, openly challenged this established system. Slant is a book that helped readers write essays that people want to read. Unlike other writing guides, the Slant book exposed us to many examples written by past students, which allowed readers to easily emulate the format endorsed by Slant. Found in the trifecta introduction or more specifically the thesis paragraph, the slant is the central focus or argument of the essay and it states an opinion and answers why the topic is important. Furthermore, the slant was narrow, in that it focused on a specific issue to narrow the topic to something that you can claim with authority. Through this format, I was able to write the best essays I have ever written. In the second essay of the quarter, I received a perfect score on my Sustainability Essay. I argued the sustainability of Santa Clara through its commitment to provide food through a sustainability committed company called Bon Appétit.
Out of my four classes I took in the fall quarter, I felt that I got the most of this class. I was engaged during class, actually wanted to read the materials assigned, and worked my ass off to complete my homework assignments to the best of my abilities. I can’t say that for all the classes I’ve taken so far. Especially an English class. I felt that in just 10 weeks I became a significantly better writer and reader and it translated in the essays for my other classes. Furthermore, the effects of CTW wasn’t just realized in the classroom. I found myself eating less red meat such as beef, as I would think about documentaries like Cowspiracy. The documentary found that the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions were cows. However, many corporations and agencies involved in this industry hid this information in order to avoid negative repercussions and regulations in their industry. Nevertheless, I was excited for CTW II and to see what it had to offer.
It wasn’t until spring that CTW II came around. For CTW II, the topic centered around the tragic event of Columbine and violence. The book Columbine by Dave Cullen, became the Eating Animals of CTW II. Cullen spent ten years investigating and gathering information on the Columbine High School shootings by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The book interviewed various people involved in the shooting. With a quarter of CTW 1 under my belt, I was able to ask critical questions throughout the book. What made these kids commit this atrocity? What kinds of kids were they? What the hell would I have done if this happened in my high school? And most importantly, where does violence come from?
Before the class, I’ve heard about the numerous myths surrounding the event. I assumed Columbine was just two crazy and depressed kids that went on a rampage to enact revenge on the classmates that bullied him. Never did I even imagine how complex and significant the event was or even considered how the killers were actually like. Columbine became one of those books that became impossible to put down. Not only were my preconceived notions I had of school shooters wrong, it showed that people want to believe what they want to believe and dismiss the causes of complex issues with simple answers. Violence stems from a variety of sources, not just from a psychologically ill victim. I felt I summed this up very well in my essay attached here: The Complicated Complexity of the Superiority Complex.
At this point in my CTW career, I felt very confident in being able to consider issues not just at the surface level, but underneath the surface.
Our first writing assignment for CTW II was a group essay. I’ve had reservations about group essays on the past due to previous experiences. It is hard to get everyone on the same page and get everyone to contribute equally. Our topic and mission was to raise awareness on the animals and the cruelty subjected to them on a daily basis. Despite some difficulties during the process I learned valuable experiences during the process. In order to meet our deadlines and ensure we produce a respectable essay, I set up meeting times outside of class to make sure we were all on the same page. I gained valuable leadership experience and was proud of the work we produced as a group.
For our second essay assignment, I believe I produced the best essay of my life so far. The essay, titled The Drink that Refuels, Recovers, and Deceives, investigated the effects of sugary drinks like Gatorade and Powerade and how these drinks are marketed as healthy products that enhances sports performance. I was able to get an interview with my strength and conditioning coach, Patrick Dolan and the answers I got from him enhanced my paper greatly. This was a great experience as I have never conducted a formal interview before and it was gratifying being able to receive valuable information used in my essay through conversation. On recommendation from Professor Leither, I am planning on submitting this essay to the CTW contest.
Although there were many nights and hours spent doing CTW homework and prepping for the never ending cycle of essays, CTW with Professor Leither was an enriching experience that improved my writing skills drastically. Gone are days where a 5-paragraph essay was the norm and necessity and through this class, my creativity was also able to flourish as well. The class allowed me to produce essays that I want to read and I will be proud for other people to read.
Today, I am still a consumer of meat. However, every time I make this choice to consume meat, I know that I am actively making a choice. More importantly, I am aware of the kind of practices I am indirectly supporting. Before this class, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a disparaging view towards vegetarians and vegans. I didn’t understand them. They were lunatics to me. Today I truly commend them.
The other day, I was grilling steaks at my friend’s house for a barbecue. I have always loved grilling, nothing is better than grilling a deliciously looking slice of meat. But when I finished grilling and got my eating utensils to bite into the juicy steak, something I have never experienced happened. I hesitated. For the first time, the steak didn’t look as appetizing. Maybe it was just a one-time thing, I don’t know. Maybe Professor Leither has brainwashing me so much that meat has become unappetizing. Maybe the purpose of this class was for Leither to brainwash all to his control. One thing is for sure though, this class has already had lasting impacts in the classroom and outside and I can’t thank Professor Leither enough.