A man walks into a dingy classroom filled with yellow and green chairs, a brown satchel hanging across his chest. He smiles at the students, who have been comfortably chatting with each other about school and life, before putting his bag down and switching on his computer to do attendance. The man checks the room one more time, making sure he didn’t miss anyone, before saying, “okay”. The students quiet down, and the professor takes a seat in a chair, closing the circle that the class sits in to discuss. He clasps his hands together and leans over the desk. “So,” he asks, “What do we think?”.
Walking into my critical thinking and writing class, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, I mean, the class is called Food Porn for crying out loud – what even is that? I probably thought the class was going to be about gourmet food, or something dumb like that. I was so focused on this name, Food Porn, that I didn’t think about the class title itself, critical thinking and writing.
What does it even mean to think critically? In 1987, the National Council for Excellence defined critical thinking as “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action (Defining). This is what Food Porn asked us to do. Easy, right? So this is what we aimed to do each day in the classroom.
This isn’t to say we always executed critical thinking perfectly in class. Sometimes our conversations were dead, sometimes a class majority evidently had not read, and sometimes our essays just didn’t flow the right way. The way we thought did not always lead to amazing outcomes, and our critical thinking maybe had not been critical enough every day we met. It’s a process, learning how to think critically, but we managed to pull it off most days I think, and eventually, the thinking came with us even after we left the classroom.
It started flowing into our minds as we read, and as we wrote. I began to think deeper, looking for ideas that I thought would bring about discussion in class, or that I could create essay topics out of, not just fluff. Food Porn led me not only to think critically about class material, but asked me to think about the way I see the world and how I write, pushing me to strive to act and see the world from all directions.
We were first asked to think critically about the world, specifically about the food industry and honesty, but one thing leads to another and suddenly you’re looking at the world. We read two books over the course of the class, one entitled Eating Animals, and the other one The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty. First came Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. This book dives headfirst into the food industry, looking from the most humane of local farmers to the most firmly chained doors of factory farms (Foer). We discussed this industry, analyzing the different methods of farming, looking at the pros and cons of each sphere, and considering both sides of the coin. We asked ourselves, what do we do? Do we fight the industry? Do we become vegetarian, or vegan? With our new information, how can we go on to take action? Every chapter opened up a new window of thought, each one challenging us more and more to see the world and think about it, and then it let us think about what to do next on our own.
Next, we spoke of The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty, by Dan Ariely. He wrote about lying, when we do it, what becomes of us when we do it, and who it ends up affecting, whether it be the fashion industry, your neighbor, or yourself (Ariely). This reading caused some heated debates. We were forced to look at ourselves and the world in a new, uglier light. No one wants to think of themselves as cheaters, yet Ariely couldn’t help but turn everyone into one. Does it matter? Do we care if we lie? How do we feel about a world that’s full of cheaters and liars? Now what? The class fought hard on various points, like whether or not tipping your golf ball into the hole in a friendly game of golf should really be made a big deal, or if our white lies will inherently lead us to lie more frequently, with worse lies, too.
Sometimes our class didn’t agree on much, but some things we unified on. Whatever the case was, we were forced to really think about the book. Food Porn wanted us to be engaged. We wanted to be able to ask big questions and have people be ready to discuss. We wanted to really think about what this book was presenting to us, and be able to think about our information from all directions, and in an in-depth way. We wanted to think about the book in a way that made us think about the world.
In The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty, Dan tells us how his doctor once presented him with a large procedure that would make his face look better. Dan replies to his doctor by saying “’I don’t know…. I’m just uncomfortable with the idea. Let me think about it some more’” (Ariely). This line, though talking about surgery, sums up the how we had to think critically through our readings. We were not always comfortable with the topic, learning about inhumane animal treatment or our own dishonesty, but we still had to think about it some more. We needed to get down to the nitty gritty, both in our books and in the way we thought about the books, so that we could learn more about ourselves and the world we live in. We can always think some more.
The next step was to take our thinking outside of the four classroom walls and into our writing. Not just in what we were writing about, but in the way we wrote it as well. Over the course of the class, we wrote six big essays, but I am going to focus on one, my essay about sugar. Sugar, Yes Please? was my best essay in my opinion, and in my professor’s, and I am proud of it. I am proud of it for two reasons. The first is because I had to build it from scratch, while the second reason was because it wasn’t just something I had to research, it was something I had to experience.
My first idea for my sugar essay was unoriginal, a paper about things I already knew, things that had already been said, with thoughts that weren’t my own. It was bland and uninspiring, and it had to do more. The problem was that I wasn’t thinking critically, I was barely thinking at all. I had just been trying to regurgitate information in an organized matter, but now I had to think anew – really analyze the central issue here, the controversy behind the sugar epidemic. I wasn’t allowed to let others do the thinking for me; I had to think critically and find what truly spoke to me, and I found that what spoke to me was my own experience with sugar.
So I embarked on a journey of limiting sugar from my diet, and found obstacle after obstacle that made it that much harder to live a sugar-free life. This is what I ended up writing about, the difficulties of making the change even when you’re trying. Having this as my essay topic led me to see my essay in all of my actions, after all, I was writing a lot about my own life. Every trip to my dining hall, every grocery run, and every night time snack made me think of my commitment and my paper. I had to constantly think about how my actions would affect that way I wrote my essay and thought about sugar. Would I be like those in the documentary Fed Up that we watched for class, who strove to cut sugar out of their lives but took all the wrong steps to do it? (Fed Up). Would I be able to become one of the ten percent of Americans who, in a survey I found online while researching my sugar paper, managed to disassociate themselves from sugar? (Healthline). My critical thinking led me to a change in my life and a change in the way I wrote. No longer would I compile others’ thoughts, I would think of my own.
We have to think on our own; look at the world and really analyze and experience it, so that we can take action with it. Our actions could be discussing our thoughts, fighting for our beliefs, or changing our way of life. Maybe it will merely lead us to grow as a person, learning and adapting and becoming a different, hopefully better version of yesterday’s self. Whatever the case, I learned in my Food Porn class a new way to think. Dive in head first, and always think more.
“So,” he asks us, “What do we think?”. The gears in my mind begin to turn as I reflect back on that day’s reading. One girl raises her hand to offer up the first comment, and suddenly my mind flicks over to what she said, and the gears begin to turn on that thought. What did I think of that part? Her point was good, but I can expand on it. A boy then speaks, offering up a thought on the different section of the reading. No, I don’t agree with that, I see it differently. I raise my hand to speak, and suddenly my thoughts come out in words, and I have added to the conversation.
We build and build and build on our conversations. One thought provokes the next, one question leads to another, a two-hour long conversation that slowly creates a sphere of thought that goads and interrogates us, challenging a classroom full of freshman to go further and think deeper, so that our ideas and thoughts expand, and we see the world and ourselves differently, from 360 degrees. This, I think to myself, is Food Porn.
Ariely, Dan. The (honest) Truth about Dishonest: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves. London: HarperCollins, 2013. Print.
“Defining Critical Thinking.” Defining Critical Thinking. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2017.
Fed Up. Dir. Stephanie Soechtig. Prod. Eve Marson Singbiel and Sarah Olson. Screenplay by Mark Monroe. Perf. Michele Simon. The Weinstein Company, 2014. Documentary.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York, Boston, London: Little, Brown, 2013. Print.
“Healthline Survey Reveals Americans Know Sugar is Bad, But Cannot Stop Eating It.” PR Newswire, 17 Nov. 2016. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A470505251/BIC1?u=sant38536&xid=3e1bbdc0. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.