There’s this mentality in society that we are only mere blips in the world. As humans, on an individual basis, there’s this perception that what we say or do doesn’t matter in the large-scale. People think, ‘What difference could I possibly make?’ Sure, we may say that everyone matters and everyone is capable of greatness, but you only see that kind of stuff on movies and television shows. It isn’t real. These are fabrications made by people who know what the public wants to hear. We want to hear that everything is possible and the world is at our fingertips, but the reality is that the world kind of sucks.
This was the overall mentality I had going into college. I was confident in myself and my abilities, but I was pretty much convinced that there was this never-ending cycle of suck that exists in the world and nothing can be done to change it.
There will always be poverty, political gridlock, liars, and evil. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a cynic. I like to think I’m an optimist and look to the brighter side of life in adverse situations. But I do have this understanding that bad things exist in the world and we can’t change it all that much.
Critical Thinking & Writing (CTW) was one of the first classes I took in college. The subject of the class was food and many people told me I would be writing recipes, watching Food Network, and that it would be an easy class; none of which turned out to be true. My CTW class focused on food and violence, food in the first quarter, and violence in the second.
With the food industry we examined Big Food and the inordinate power lobbying groups have in the government. How, with money comes power and money can buy silence, especially in Capitalist America. Just look at the McGovern Report, a report introduced to our class with the documentary Fed Up. Senator McGovern wanted to address the growing obesity epidemic in America, so he established a committee to write a report that stated dietary goals for Americans: “[It noted] that our diet had become overly rich in fatty meats, rich in saturated fats and cholesterol, and rich in sugar” (Fed Up). However, this report never got published because Big Food didn’t want consumers to stop eating their sugar laden food. We also looked at Big Food in terms of the meat industry.
We read Johnathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals which codified his experiences investigating the meat industry. We learned his opinion on the matter that resonated with me: “For me, factory farming is wrong not because it produces meat, but because it robs every animal of every shred of happiness… Factory farming wasn’t born or advanced out of a need to produce more food – to “feed the hungry” – but to produce it in a way that is profitable for agribusiness companies. Factory farming is all about money” (Foer 208-209).
In the second quarter of CTW we looked at violence and read Dave Cullen’s poignant nonfiction account of Columbine. His book gave a detailed account of what happened during the shooting, an inside look on the shooters and their mental states, and how the community survived. Cullen wrote about the police department in the Columbine area and how they handled the situation. It turned out that the police department was alerted of the potential danger one of the shooters posed, Eric Harris. Apparently Harris had a website where he wrote all of his violent thoughts and plans and the police were informed about it but did not end up investigating. Then Harris turns out to be one of the shooters. Rather than be upfront about all information they had in the aftermath, we learned that “officials suppressed the affidavit [regarding Eric Harris] and boldly lied about what they had known” (Cullen 166). This lie caused excessive damage to the police department, the survivors, and the families of the victims when the truth was inevitably released.
I’ve taken many English classes in my life so I assumed that this class would be like any other. Read books, learn some history about the time period surrounding the books, take tests on the books and history, and write essays. So you can imagine my surprise when I came into my CTW class and was challenged to think about topics that ranged wide ranges of life.The structure of this class was far different from other English classes I have taken. CTW encouraged me to think critically in a way I never had before. The emphasis was on discussion, collaboration, and essays, which definitely improved my ability to both write and convey my thoughts effectively.
This class challenged what I knew to be true. It did confirm that the world does indeed suck. That there are “government conspiracies” and the ever-present notion that people act in their self-interest and will do whatever to make money – be it create an institution that indiscriminately slaughters animals or profit off of a struggling family’s pain at a loss in the family. But this class also gave me hope. Every time we discussed a severe problem that exists right under our noses, we focused on ways the problem impacts society and how this could change. Though the perception in modern-day society is that the world is too big and we are insignificant in the grand scheme of things, the reality is that everyone can make a difference in the world if they believe in themselves and their cause because it can and will make a world of difference. I especially learned this with the essays we wrote.
In CTW we were encouraged to write essays that were connected to the overall course concept, but specifically concerning something we were particularly interested in. We learned how to effectively brainstorm and be productive in our topic generation. I was very interested in the government’s role in our day-to-day life. With research and countless hours of essay writing, throughout the two quarters of CTW, I wrote four essays at least ten pages each. They focused on the government’s failure to act and its impact on college students, uninformed college students because of improper emphases in society, sub-Saharan Africa’s governments being incapable of effectively providing food security for their people, and how the government is compromised by lobbying groups and the group’s inordinate influence on the government.
The one central theme throughout all of them was the government’s ability to get away with injustices in the world. I was shocked that the government was allowed to get away with such injustices, but I also learned that it is not completely the government’s fault. It’s a societal problem. People with money and power are given priority to everyone else in the world. It’s just the way it is. Now, this aspect of the class confirmed my preexisting beliefs. But the amount of information available on it and the corresponding success with informing the public on this information was inspiring. In my class of fifteen, one student became a complete vegan because of the class and almost everyone attempted to eat less meat in their day-to-day life.
We learned when discussing sustainability that “California residents cut water use by 29% in May  – the first real indication that the state might meet unprecedented conservation reductions imposed by Gov. Jerry Brown” (Morin) because of the drought.
I learned that information is key in prompting any action and when people come together towards one central aim or good anything is possible.
So yes, it is true that on an individual basis we are small and pretty much insignificant, but when we come together we can make a difference. Is it realistic to rally people enough to believe in a cause and take measures in support of it? Not really. Is it possible if you have passion and are driven in your efforts? Yes. Part of my understanding that the world kind of sucks came with the implication that we can’t do anything to truly achieve world peace. But the important part of correcting my understanding was realizing that 1. People are capable of truly amazing things and 2. Any effort is a good effort for the good of society. Will writing a paper about sustainably and the food industry change the world? No, but sharing your ideas and research with others will get the conversation started. “The government is meant to “provide… for the general welfare” (Cornell Law). If there’s a problem in the world demand better. Demand better for yourself, for the community, for the world. Because the truth is, you can be an optimist and have an appropriate measure of reality and hope.
Cornell Law. “Article I – Spending for the General Welfare.” Cornell University Law School. Cornell University Law School, n.d. Web. 2 June 2016. <https://www.law.cornell.edu/anncon/html/art1frag29_user.html>.
Cullen, David. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.
Fed Up. Prod. Katie Couric and Laurie David. Dir. Stephanie Soechtig. By Stephanie Soechtig. Perf. Katie Couric. Atlas Films, 2014. Netflix. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
Morin, Monte, and Matt Stevens. “California Residents Cut Water Use by Hefty 29% in May, Officials Say.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 1 July 2015. Web. 07 June 2016. <http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-may-water-conservation-20150701-story.html>.