The summer before coming to Santa Clara University, the school had sent an email to all the freshmen asking us to fill out a questionnaire describing our interests so that they could figure out which critical thinking and writing classes to place us in. The questionnaire read: “are you interested in philosophy? Economics? Science? The environment?” And the list went on. To be honest, when filling it out, I had no idea what I was interested in, so my answers were pretty random. So when I walked into my CTW 1 class on my first day of freshman year, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that the title of the course was “Food Porn,” which I had just discovered an hour before class by checking Camino. Once I arrived, there sat the professor with two books in hand: Slant (written by the professor himself) and Eating Animals, a book about vegetarianism and the meat industry. Oh great, I thought. I should’ve paid more attention to my responses on that questionnaire. Here I was, a meat-eating student from San Francisco who had been listening to the endless arguments for vegetarianism for years and still had no intention of giving up meat. Not only is this professor going to try to convert us all into vegetarians, but he’s also going to try to make us follow the same writing format so that our papers all look the same? Ugh, welcome to freshman English. Needless to say, I left that first day feeling a little salty about this class and wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.
For our first few assignments when we were told to read Slant and follow that format to craft our first essay, I was very perplexed. What the heck is a slant? Why won’t he just call it a thesis? I thought. And a “supported by”…what? I thought that we were just being taught a writing format that did not exist anywhere but in my professor’s own mind. This terrified me because I wanted to learn how to write an actual college-level essay, not an essay that is based off of a randomly made up format that relies on foreign terminology! But of course I followed the format anyway (although I did try to bend the rules in a few essays later on). However, by the time spring quarter rolled around when we had CTW 2 I realized how the writing format professor Leither had us use was anything but random. It was the key to writing a strong essay. I noticed in my other classes that whenever I tried to use this format, I did much better on those essays than the ones where I didn’t use it. It was then that I became aware that this format was actually pretty standard.
My experience with professor Leither’s writing format exemplifies the main take-away that I have gained from this class: the fact that awareness is key. I had not been aware that this format was pretty common until I noticed that in the papers and books we read in class, this format was almost always present. In addition to this format, I was also frustrated with this class on many occasions because I felt like I was writing the same essay over and over again, just in different ways. However, now looking back on all of my papers over the course of these two quarters I’ve realized that they’re very different. While they are generally about the same topic, they all build off of each other, and as a whole allowed me to gain a multidimensional understanding of what initially seemed like a simple topic—food—but is actually quite complex. It wasn’t until now that I am able to take a step back and see how all of these essays relate to each other. It’s like I had been creating various pieces of a puzzle this whole time that all came together in the end.
Now that I have the opportunity to look back and reflect on my work throughout this course, I have realized that the concept of awareness has been the hallmark of everything. It was what I wrote about in my first essay and it will be what I end with. My first essay discussed how the “freshmen fifteen” is mainly attributed to college students’ susceptibility to going on autopilot when making their food choices because of the busy and hectic lifestyles they live. I then broadened this idea to the general population in my second essay, making the point that the power is in your hands to decide how you want to eat and that changing your diet is not as hard as it seems – all it takes is a little awareness. My third and final essay of fall quarter looked at this concept of awareness from a more personal angle, discussing how it is important to look at popular diets such as vegetarianism and veganism with a critical eye in order to select the diet that will best support your conscience and health. This fixation on awareness did not fade as I went into spring quarter.
In CTW 2, we started with a group essay that ultimately touched on the topic of awareness (even without me realizing it at first). We talked about the misconception that many Californians have about the California drought. Many Californians believe that they can help the California drought by taking shorter showers and this makes them look like they are making a conscious effort to do their part to help their beloved state. However, while it is advertised that “water conservation goals are being met…by skipping a shower or two now and then,” it is actually “agriculture [that] accounts for 80 percent of California’s water consumption” (Merda), (Sadler). The movie that my group and I made to go along with this essay where we interviewed several SCU students showed just how unaware people are about the drought and the route causes of it.
Later on in the quarter, we moved on to the topic of violence where I took on the issue of labor trafficking in the food industry. In a survey I conducted among 40 SCU students, 75% of participants claimed that they care about labor trafficking in the meat industry. However, 84% of them said they do not take labor trafficking into account when purchasing their food, which demonstrates that there is a significant discrepancy between people’s concern about this issue and the actions they choose to take to combat it. The underlying problem is that there is a lack of awareness about human trafficking in the food industry and most Americans do not even know that this problem exists. However, the educated, privileged Americans who think they are conscious consumers are most often oblivious to the food industry’s reliance on companies that engage in human trafficking and are supporting a culture of violence and coercion as a result.
When moving onto my last essay for this class about the Columbine shooting and how it relates to food, I didn’t know where to begin. For a while there, I felt like I had developed a pretty solid procedure for how and what I would write my essays on, but this one seemed completely different. After a challenging brainstorm session, I settled on the topic of the violent culture that exists in America and related that to violence in the meat packing industry. What I found while writing that essay is that my main discovery somehow ended up connecting back to awareness as well: Americans are so used to violence that they do not even see that it is a problem, so it is important to look at what is around you to figure out what you can do about this issue. To my surprise, even when having to connect two seemingly unrelated topics—food and the Columbine shooting—in an essay, I arrived at the same conclusion I had come to in various ways in all of my other essays from this class.
Now, while I just explained the many different ways that I have criticized Americans, Californians, and college students for not being conscious consumers and for being ignorant, this class has taught me that I am just as guilty of this lack of awareness as everyone I have been writing about. This all goes back to one of our very first homework assignments: to watch the Peta video, Meet Your Meat:
I remember being outraged that professor Leither didn’t put a trigger warning on this assignment. It is so violent and graphic that I could barely look at the screen. But then I thought, why should he put a trigger warning? If I can’t watch animals being slaughtered, should I really be eating meat? That just seemed very hypocritical to me. I cringe while watching this video, yet duh! These animals are being killed and we as a society do not often care to consider how these animals end up on our plates. This same type of realization came when watching Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine as well. When Moore compares the statistics found on gun-related-deaths-per-year by country I found the results shocking: “Japan: 39, Australia: 65, United Kingdom: 68, Canada: 165, France: 255, Germany: 381, and the United States: 11, 127 (Bowling for Columbine). I couldn’t believe that the amount of deaths in the US could be so much higher than these other countries until I once again realized that this is really anything but shocking. Violence has always been a huge issue in America, but that fact hasn’t been on my mind since I am so immersed in this culture of violence that it seems normal.
This phenomenon of being so immersed in a type of environment (like the violent culture in America) or so close to something (like food) that you’re blinded from seeing any of its flaws is the main issue behind all of my essays. This idea is perfectly illustrated in David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, This is Water:
Americans are so accustomed to violence. They have to be—it is the culture we live in and we need to be comfortable with it and expect it so that we can function on a day-to-day basis and live our lives. The same goes for food—we need food to survive and we even love eating it too. It is and will always be a part of our daily lives. Because of this, it is difficult for us to give up our favorite meals or the sense of security we may feel when having a weapon on hand to defend ourselves if need be, but it is so important to be able to take a step back and look around. You need to pay attention to these flaws around you so that you can figure out how to address these issues in your personal life – even the smallest efforts help. You do not need to completely become a vegetarian to combat the American meat industry and you do not have to go up to someone who is waving a gun around and tell them that gun use is wrong and is perpetuating violence in society (in fact, never do that).
What you can do is make a conscious effort to educate yourself on the more subtle aspects of your life, like food and violence. Look for the things that are so ingrained in your day-to-day life and question them. You may not be able to act on what you discover when asking these questions, but awareness alone goes a long way towards change and can allow you to see new ways that you can contribute to this change. Just as fish need to keep reminding themselves that “this is water,” you too need to remind yourself that the world you, your friends and your loved ones live in can be improved if you can make the conscious effort to pay attention.
Bowling for Columbine. By Michael Moore. Dir. Michael Moore. 2002.
Meet Your Meat. Dir. Cem Akin and Bruce Friedrich. Perf. Alec Baldwin. YouTube. Peta, 22 Nov. 2010. Web. 8 June 2016.
Merda, Chad. “California Gov. Jerry Brown Is Conserving Water, Skipping One Shower at a Time.” Sun Times National. N.p., 9 June 2015. Web. 8 June 2016.
Sadler, Amelia. “California’s Drought: The Meat of the Matter.” The Daily Californian. The Independent Berkeley Student Publishing Company, 10 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 June 2016.
This Is Water. By David Foster Wallace. Perf. David Foster Wallace. Vimeo. N.p., 2 Nov. 2013. Web. 8 June 2016.