Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was pre-enrolled in a class titled, “Food Porn.” As a nervous first-year who had never visited Santa Clara University prior to committing, I started to second guess my decision. I didn’t know SCU had such strange classes. I didn’t have any expectations because I was frankly caught very much off guard by this bold title. After the first week of class where we discussed happiness and David Foster Wallace, it didn’t seem too weird. Then came the videos about the truth behind the food industry and the realities of factory farming. Clearly, I was in for quite the journey. My relationship with food, meat in particular, was going to change whether I liked it or not.
After watching videos like “Meet Your Meat” and Fed Up, I expected to be writing about the abuses that occur in factory farms; however, it turns out that I was wrong. There was a lot of freedom in choosing our topics. In fact, I usually struggled because the possibilities seemed endless when trying to come up with an essay topic. Most of my essays ended up exploring our relationship as humans with food. I found that I wasn’t writing all that much about the food industry, rather, I was exploring human nature. None of my essays were ever focused solely on animal agriculture or the food industry; They covered so much more and were relevant regardless of whether you wanted to acknowledge the realities of the factory farming. There was so much more to “Food Porn” than food.
I discovered through research and reflection on personal experiences that human nature values the comfort and convenience that comes with habits. Familiarity is extremely important in shaping our actions. By looking at people’s relationship with food and the environment, it is evident that we sometimes sacrifice the morally right choice to remain comfortable. We don’t like doing things that require extra effort or time on our parts. Sticking to our daily routines, our instinct, is difficult to combat.
In terms of shopping at groceries stores like Safeway, there is a big element of habit changing required in order to outsmart the marketing tactics used on their customers. I discuss this in my essay “Safeway, Not Safe for Shopping.” Supermarkets are filled with consumer traps such as a strategic product placement and deceiving labels meant to get us to buy products that aren’t always good for us (but are profitable nonetheless). It’s not as easy to be the skeptical shopper as it is to throw whatever you want into your shopping cart. We, the informed consumer, need to put in the effort to determine when the supermarket is trying to influence our shopping carts. Supermarkets know how highly we value convenience, so they make it difficult for us by targeting that instinct.
I also wrote an essay about a subject very near and dear to my heart, my sandwich from California Deli in Benson, SCU’s dining hall. There was nothing holding me accountable to this simple ham and cheese sandwich I got every weekday. I made the decision to get this sandwich for no reason other than the enjoyment I felt when eating it. The fact that a study done by the World Health Organization in October 2015 showed that processed meats (including ham) are carcinogenic to humans didn’t stop me was terrifying to think about (WHO). But regardless, I should address it. Even as I was researching for my paper I continued to eat my ham sandwich, each bite a potential risk of cancer. Is the sandwich that good? Yes, it’s pretty good. But not good enough. For me, I realized that getting my sandwich every day was less about the sandwich and more about spending time with my friends. Throughout the year, a consistency in our lives despite different schedules was getting a sandwich for lunch. It was a routine that I didn’t want to stray from, however, after the discovery of vegan ham I found that it was still possible to partake in the sandwich ritual without eating meat.
After further reflection of the role of my ham and cheese sandwich on my life, I felt that I was up for the challenge of changing my diet for our experiment essay. For some reason, I decided that I didn’t want to go down the easier road of vegetarianism, so I settled on veganism. My once eager commitment to this food experiment faded quickly. Changing my eating habits was difficult especially when pizza was so close yet so far away. I was able to remain vegan for three weeks until my love for cheese couldn’t be contained. After submitting my essay, I decided to be a vegetarian. I personally experienced how hard it is to change your eating habits, especially in a college cafeteria with limited options and friends that eat whatever they want in front of you. The results from a study done by Nutritional Neuroscience showed that vegans experience less stress and anxiety than vegetarians and omnivores (Beezhold et al.). You would think there would be more vegans out there.
As a Santa Clara student, I could understand the struggle to live sustainably, so for the group essay, we wrote about sustainability on campus. It’s clear that the Forge Garden is readily available to students interested in working with nature. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to go through four years at Santa Clara without ever stopping by the Forge Garden. It would have to be a conscious decision to walk to the garden and volunteer or participate in the activities they offer. Like we discussed in class, if the Forge Garden was in the middle of campus it would be much harder to avoid. The administration doesn’t significantly help encourage a change in habits either because sustainable options in Benson and activities at the Forge Garden are not correctly implemented and normalized among Santa Clara culture.
Transition Earth Day has waned in effectiveness over time as we have become more comfortable reserving little environmental behaviors to solely April 22. A startling yet unsurprising amount of people didn’t know when Earth Day was according to a survey I took. I think Earth Day is a prime example where we see habit as a deterrent for positive environmentally friendly behavior. Being green requires effort that only a select few are willing to put in. It’s so much easier to reserve these behaviors to just Earth Day rather than apply them every day. Therefore, rather than serving as a reminder to care for the environment, Earth Day is an excuse for a lack of conscientious behavior during the rest of the year. Earth Day was created because the people demanded it in 1970; however, in the present day it appears to be too much of a burden.
Most of my essay topics came to me quite naturally because they were areas I could relate to. Almost all of us have gone shopping at a supermarket or struggled to be environmentally friendly. I found that writing about topics that I could relate to made my essays stronger because I was more interested and invested in what I was writing. It is quite easy to balance personal experiences with researched support and statistics.
If you’ve taken “Food Porn,” you’re no stranger to the question “So what?” The illusive “so what,” the all-encompassing reason as to why we should care. Why does this matter? What’s the broader significance? With every great slant, there’s an even greater “so what?” After thinking about all my essay topics throughout the two quarters, the problem of habits was very apparent to me. But why does it matter that as humans we are inclined to stick with what is familiar to us?
Overall, most of us are well-intentioned but a lack of awareness keeps us off track. Having to fight what’s comfortable and comes naturally requires extra effort to think in a different manner.
I don’t think we realize that we are inclined towards what we know. This is problematic because we close ourselves off to different opportunities. I had contemplated becoming a vegetarian since reading Fast Food Nation in high school, but I never stuck with it until taking this class. It’s really nice having a lighter conscience, however, I have encountered people who are extremely closed off to the thought of being a vegetarian, much less a vegan. Have they tried going vegetarian? No. Like we talked about in class, becoming a vegetarian or vegan isn’t the solution to ending animal agriculture, but it’s an ethical change that would lighten most of our consciences.
If we remain in our comfort zone, how will society ever change? It won’t. We must get accustomed to fighting what comes easy. Being resistant to change won’t allow us to improve. Ask questions. Be curious. Be skeptical. Don’t blindly accept what you think you know to be true. We don’t have to lie to ourselves to believe we are doing enough. Think about how much better we could all feel if we started telling ourselves the honest truth.
We should think about the larger implication of our actions. While in the moment it may seem like you don’t have the time to be environmentally friendly or it may feel impossible to get the vegetarian option, think about the long-term effect you could have. Try something new to widen your perspective and awareness.
I enjoyed my time in “Food Porn,” and I learned a lot. For instance, did you know that Alec Baldwin is a vegan? But on a more serious note, I gained a new way of thinking and consideration for the “so what?”
Beezhold, Bonnie, et al. “Vegans Report Less Stress and Anxiety Than Omnivores.” Nutritional Neuroscience, vol. 18, no. 7, Oct. 2015, pp. 289-296. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1179/1476830514Y.0000000164
“Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.” World Health Organization, Oct. 2015,