“A Capstone? Isnt that for Juniors?
Those were the exact words that ran out of my brothers mouth as I asked him to explain what I am expected to present for my last project of Critical Thinking and Writing 2.
He was right, mostly the term “capstone paper” is one that most undergraduates have to present as they near the end of their academic careers in which they are expected to present about all their revolutionary researches. Simultaneously, he was also wrong, I am not a junior, I am just a struggling freshman.
As I put on my thinking hat and sat down upon my uncomfortable chair, I admit I was initially stymied.I like to think I was stymied by the extremely hard topic but it is also quite possible that watching Hell’s Kitchen is not quite helpful to a productive time. As my five minutes of mental break turned into 10 then 20 then an hour, I realized that the answer was in front of me all along.
“A Capstone? Isnt that for Juniors?
In a way, those words are the most accurate summary or description of my two quarters with professor Leither. He is a crusher of dreams. You like fried chicken? Too bad its dipped in fecal soup. You like minute maid lemonade? Too bad it has ONLY 3 % lemon juice. His classes have made me so critical that now every time I eat eggs, the universal ingredient in healthy diets, I question EVERYTHING making the most simple meal, breakfast, a critical thinking workshop every morning.
First big “oh” moment
The theme of my first quarter was food porn. As a freshman, from a different country I will admit I had not envision myself flying all the way here, over 14000 miles, to take a course whose name itself makes you uncomfortable, even more so than my chair. What we studied and discussed about in the class was not much better than the name. With topics ranging from how chickens cannot fly anymore because they are too fat, to why we do not eat dogs I have to admit the name was a pretty good precursor to what the class would be.
The theme changed at the end of the quarter but the underlying essence remains. Every paper, every research, every reading was about uncomfortable topics, topics which used their uncomfortable nature to hide their dirty secrets.
I spent my very first couple weeks at school, unintentionally, tarnishing the school. The topic of my first paper was Food, an unfinished fight for diversity at SCU. That should give away enough information about the paper itself. Many times during my research for the essay, I thought about changing the topic simply because it was uncomfortable to think about. Was it right for me to accuse/ question the school of a crime as big as racism on a topic as small as dining? Was it right for me to question the school serving the MAJORITY of its students? These were the questions that shrouded this uncomfortable topic. Even as I wrote my very coolly worded closing statement these questions persisted in making sure that I question myself consistently.
This was my first contact of what every paper following this would be forcing me to do: thinking about uncomfortable situations or norms. One way that I used in this first essay that made it easier was the use of unbiased data or plain and pure statistical facts. I did not use this research method much in later essays but this was what my first essay was based on.
Now a little bit about my findings
After spending hours procuring opening hours, types of food sold, quantity and quality of different combinations and some more that will not be mentioned, I realized that there was a huge issue of under-representation of Asian culture in the dining sections. There were many facts that led me to this conclusion but the one that still pisses me off is the Chai tea. Chai, which is literally tea in chinese, is a revered drink that most if not all asians can associate with. Coming from a nation in South East Asia I, myself, grew up with it and the many different possible combinations that it can be consumed in. Focusing on the quantitative aspect of Chai served in SCU, not quality because the quality was also S**t, it became apparent to me how much Asian food was under represented. While there were 7 different types of coffee in ALL cafes across the campus, there was only 1 type of Chai at most cafes and 2 at our main dinning hall. Finishing that sentence, I hear myself thinking “So?” and I know that you must be too. THAT IS EXACTLY HOW THESE KINDS OF TOPIC WORK. They make you doubt and feel uncomfortable so that the truth never comes out. the truth being the racist nature of the dining sector of SCU. The questions we should be asking is why they serve more types of coffee than Chai. If it is the norm to have more types of coffee, we have to question why that is the norm.
This was my first experience with dishonesty of the world, at least in a sense that we will discover in the second quarter, where the truth is not necessarily hidden but manipulated in a way that you have to dig really hard to touch the surface.
Vegetarianism; is PETA an a*****e?
This was a question that I actually had to seriously consider before making my choice to go vegetarian (at least for a while). While the moral concept of vegetarianism is obviously good its reputation had been tarnished so freaking hard that when ever I mention that I am (at that time) a vegetarian (when it was a appropriate, i was not sitting at the end of the hall with a sign in my hand) there was that look. That furrowed eye brows, that overall shrinking face (like one is eating lemon or smelled something sour, a vegetarian) was one that I consistently faced throughout my entire experiment of going vegetarian.
What did I Do?
As I found it difficult to truly understand the separation between the two groups, meat eaters and the others, i decided it would only be accurate if I went vegetarian. And so I did for around 7 weeks (?). I like to think it was 7 weeks but the truth is around the 3rd week I had a hot dog at church. Now, after convincing myself that god’s food is pure, this is what I came up with after an extended period of plant based meals only.
Most of my primary research was accurate and truthful in its own way. While I never felt the fullness or to a degree, the strength (?) from a meat based diet, I felt much more healthier. Healthier, in a sense that, I was more awake, active, less sluggish and overall I just felt the difference between the two diets.
The experiment that was supposed to last 2 weeks, ended up lasting 7 (?) . During that very short time, i learnt a very valuable lesson; things look different from the other side. I used to be the guy that would roll my eyes at a self-proclaimed vegetarian. I always saw them as being too caught up themselves or something like that. However when i became a vegetarian, I too, felt the urge to tell people. It was a very confusing moment in my life. I did not want to tell others because I wanted them to know I was a healthier, more sustainable person like I had thought before. I wanted to tell them because I wanted to help them. Just like how Christians feel the need to evangelize I felt the need to inform everyone about vegetarianism because i knew it was better. I knew it was a more informed choice. That moment taught me everything has two sides; ours and theirs. This is one lesson that will probably stick with me more than anything i will learn in the 4 years at SCU.
So why am I NOT a vegetarian anymore?
Despite having all facts as to why I should be a vegetarian, I have resumed to my old ways of eating meat. Why? Because honestly, deep down like most people, I simply do not care that plant based diets were healthier. To most people, including me, it did not matter that plant based diets were, simply put, healthier or more sustainable, all they cared was that sweetness of the lamb, which produces 43.56 times MORE CARBON DIOXIDE than lentils (The Carbon Footprint of 5 Diets Compared). I know it sounds bad and I know it makes me look bad but that’s just the truth and there is no way of going around it.
(By the way, that statement was written with zero fudge factor. Fudge factor is a term from Dan Ariely’s Honest Truth about Dishonesty and it basically means that we all have a certain limit to which we can lie and still believe we are still honest good people)
It was during this part of my journey that the phrase ignorance is bliss made sense to me. All the information that I presented in the essay were public information. Its available to me. Its available to you. Its available to that guy eating meat. However, most of us, including me, sometimes choose to ignore because we do not want to think about the uncomfortable topics, like I consistently had to throughout the two quarters)
To answer the question.
Before I had the chance to experience the other side, PETA is a massive A-word. Now it is still an A-word but a smaller one.
The theme changed at the second quarter from FOOD PORN to dishonesty. Obviously the theme appears wayyyy less uncomfortable than before yet I promise you it was not. This was where Dan Ariely’s book came into play. The one mentioned above. The entire book was honestly a slap in the face for me. Every chapter the author would “explore” a topic where people were dishonest and every of those topics was relatable. (i mean it was for everyone not just me)
“Ohh have you just forgotten about that time in 2nd Grade where you lied? Well its a good time to think about it now.”
His gradual development on the concept of fudge factor GRADUALLY questions your morals.
“Is it wrong to illegally download music?”
“Do you do it?”
“if you know it is wrong, yet you continually do it, does that make you a bad person?”
Questions like that were always coming up at the back of my mind at every class discussion. This kind of trained my brain to question everything making sure that my fudge factor was lowering. (I believe i lie/ exaggerate about 20% before, now that I have these questions stuck behind my head, that number has possibly dropped down to 10%. So thats kinda good)
This continual critical analysis led me to the last essay that i am proud of throughout both quarter.
I was honestly proud of this one because I was able to conclude it with cool words at that end that was a direct reference to the introduction. You know, like how most COOL authors do.
The topic itself was not that new or cool but it had the theme of both quarters;
(un)comfortableness and dishonesty. To be honest the research itself was not also as exciting as one would have liked. Just as stated above most of my primary research was from public domain and honestly most people knew about them.
Health Concerns. Checked
Environmental Sustainability. Checked
Ethical Issues. Checked
That checklist just summarized my 18 pages essay. All through the research, all that I had in mind was, well i guess this is it i have literally nothing new to write. Even before the research itself I already knew most of the things (maybe not exact numbers but you know…. i knew them). That being said the reason I am incredibly proud of my end result is because it shattered my little sphere of illusion.
As I said i knew all the bad things from eating at McDonald and you probably do. Yet i frequented McDonald more than I am be proud of. It was in this moment that ignorance became bliss for me.Ignorance not as in not knowing but as in knowing yet ignoring and I think this applies to most of us.
Even now when i bite into that big mac I do not think about its ridiculous carbon footprint, or the animal cruelty behind it or how little its employees are paid. The two themes of the two quarters, (un)comfortableness and dishonesty, made sure that I would not be able to directly associate those negative factors with the big mac i was chewing.
Ignorance is Bliss
But is it right though? Is it right to continue eating meat knowing how those animals were skinned alive? Is it right to continue biting into big macs while knowing that their main targeted consumers were children? Is it right to choose a blissful life of ignorance?
If you were hoping for me to go assertive here and to provide an answer, i sadly have none. While the two amazing quarters of research have made me a more informed person I still am asking these questions and now that you know I hope you will do to.
As I am concluding this essay/ blog, I realized something. I realized that the research papers, the readings and Leither himself did not only crush my dreams but also my ignorance and my immaturity. I have not become a person that would always make the right choice but now at least through continual critical analysis, I have choices. My decision to continue eating meat is not an uninformed one. It is the wrong one but at least it was an informed one. This is a luxury that most sadly do not possess.
In the end, through all the papers I wrote, through all the researches that I went through, I like to believe that I have become a more informed citizen, the ultimate goal of any research, any class, any school and any type of education.
“The Carbon Foodprint of 5 Diets Compared.” Shrinkthatfootprint.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 08