I was uncomfortable from the minute I walked into “Critical Thinking and Writing” at 5:25pm on a Monday–the first day of my college career. I was uncomfortable being in a new state, surrounded by new people who had new interests and perceptions of what was “in” and what wasn’t. I grew even more uncomfortable when my teacher was late and one of my classmates insisted we all get in a circle and chat. That was not me. I was also very intimidated by the idea of critically thinking and thinking for myself. I had become very good at keeping quiet and reading the classroom and then reiterating exactly what I knew the teacher wanted to hear on whatever assessment came up. In fact, if I was directly asked my thoughts on something I would mutter an “I don’t know” and quickly divert my attention. Critical Thinking and Writing? This was not my cup of tea, to say the least.
As the quarter wore on, I was exposed to a variety of topics and experiences that turned my enclosed little bubble of a world upside-down. Professor Leither, a young and energetic man, walked in and surprised us all with his presentation of the course, with the words “Food Porn” in big bold letters at the top of the screen. Our first assignment, which was to be worth 10% of our grade (that was a big deal at the time), was a “Visual Argument”–a youtube video to be presented without words. The thought of anyone getting ahold of my essays scared me; the thought of my peers, who I discovered early on were rather bright, watching, critiquing my work, kept me up at night. I worked tirelessly on my project, taking a risk and casting myself as the main subject, with selfies of me around campus portraying my message about the negative side of energy drinks. The hard work paid off and I received full points and only positive comments, which was a huge surprise for me because I believed that everything I produced was inferior to those of my peers and despised everything I produced to the point where I wouldn’t even reread it; I would blindly submit my work.
(Safeway, The Alameda)
This set the scene for the rest of the course and I slowly started to adjust my outlook on not only writing but thinking as well. Halfway through the quarter, it was announced that our next class would meet at the Safeway down the street. I walked in there, armed with all new information about how the meat and dairy in there was processed thanks to all the research of Jonathan Safran Foer in his highly celebrated book, Eating Animals, and the baffling amounts of added sugar and lack of transparency from the government regarding all of the foods in the middle aisle. Through this, I learned that we don’t really need the middle section of our grocery stores at all! They are just a big marketer’s trap to suck you into the food with no nutritional value at all on the way to get your refrigerator staples (milk, bread, fruits, vegetables, meats). I remember this as being the first time I truly looked at such a mundane task as going to the grocery store with a critical eye. When we got back to class, we discussed our findings, and one classmate pointed out that all of the meats were marked “100% guaranteed.” Guaranteed of what? This still gives me a chuckle and a tinge of anger at the lack of transparency as to what is being marketed to me to nourish my body with, each and every time that I walk into that Safeway.
I was also keenly aware of the abuses that went on in the meat department. Thanks to Foer, I know that “You can call your turkey organic and torture it daily” (Foer). The eggs and chicken I was looking at had been raised in a dark cage smaller than a piece of paper, injected with drugs, ridden with disease, covered in feces, and then slaughtered and injected with some “broth” and other “salty solutions” of God-knows-what to make it taste good- – aka what a chicken is supposed to taste like.
“Whether we’re talking about fish species, pigs, or some other eaten animal, is such suffering the most important thing in the world? Obviously not. But that’s not the question. Is it more important that sushi, bacon, or chicken nuggets? That’s the question.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer,
I will admit that I like chicken nuggets too much to give them up forever, but it is the awareness of foods, as well as the importance of cutting back on meat,which does in fact make a difference, contrary to the popular belief that one person can’t make a difference.
As for the middle aisles, the government approved, processed garbage we love to fill our bodies with, after watching Fed Up, I was fed up! The documentary highlighted the fact that Congress says pizza is a vegetable and leads us to believe we can eat a lot more sugar than our bodies need and should have. We believe this information because it is told to us by physicians, only these physicians are in cahoots with makers of sugary products such as Coca-Cola (Fed Up).
Everything we did in CTW 1 and CTW 2 brought me out of my comfort zone, and engaged me in ways I had never been engaged before. It brought out sides of me I never knew I had. By the middle of the quarter I was actually looking forward to going to class, just to see what new and exciting activity or information I would learn that day. At first, sitting in a circle and discussing what we took away from last night’s reading was an activity I associated closely to getting a root canal. I hated every minute of it but it had to be done.
In CTW 2, I was much more confident with expressing my opinion. In fact, I actually began to have an opinion of my own! Even if it was different from those of my classmates, I felt comfortable enough to share and wanted to share. I went from having surface-level conversations with friends and family, keeping the mood light and ignoring the world around me, to in-depth conversations, and often debates backed with facts with my friends, family, and peers. When we started reading Columbine, a non-fiction book by Dave Cullen about the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, I found myself reading the book critically, highlighting and jotting down notes in the margin, eager to share my findings with the class and hear what their take on the reading was. Being from the area, the tragedy hits close to home, and hearing the perspectives of people who aren’t as closely affected by it was very informational to me. I was shocked by the outright lies and lack of transparency–Jeffco had to be sued before they released information to the public.
Through these two major topics–factory farming and violence–I learned that they are in fact related. When Professor Leither told our class on the first day of CTW 2 that we would be transitioning from food and Eating Animals to violence and Columbine, I was perplexed: we weren’t having another quarter talking about food and animals getting abused to make it to our plates? But through my new critical thinking brain that I can’t seem to turn off anymore now that I have it, I learned that the two intertwine in ways one wouldn’t simply think of separately, but cannot ignore once they come together. The mindset of how we view our food–the ends justify the means- -can be carried over to putting less value on life itself. Putting such little value on one’s life–whether they are human or not–shapes how we view life itself. Lies and lack of transparency are rampant in this nation and I’m not about to keep quiet about it. I went from wanting to go about my bubble and coast on the surface, to diving in, getting my hands dirty, and spreading my thoughts around all in one short year.
“While it is always possible to wake a person who’s sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer,
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
Fed Up, The Documentary. Narr. Katie Couric, Ms. Prod. Stephanie Soechtig. 2014. Film.
Cullen, David. Columbine. : Grand Central, 2009. Print.
React to Film. “Are You FED Up?” React to Film, 09 May 2014. Web. 08 June 2016.
Byock, Lila. “Columbine, Now and Then.” The New Yorker. N.p., 11 Mar. 2009. Web. 08 June 2016.
“Safeway – Wikimapia.” Safeway. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 June 2016.
Doors of Perception. “Eating Animals.” Eating Animals. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 June 2016.