When I saw I was pre-enrolled in a class called Food Porn, I thought we would be looking at sexy pictures of delicious food and writing about our favorite meals. You know, something like this:
Look at how good that looks.
Boy, was I wrong. And it wasn’t like I was wrong by a little bit – no I completely missed the mark. We didn’t look at a single photo of tasty food. Instead of watching cooking videos, we watched this:
This was most certainly not going to be a class about brownies and grilled chicken. Well, actually – it was. We learned about the messed up ways the food industry harnesses the eggs and milk we use in brownies. As for chicken, well, Foer wrote an entire book about Eating Animals about how billions of animals live miserable lives and die in horrific ways (yes, including chicken) He talked about why the only reason we eat cows and chicken but raise dogs and cats as pets is due to social structures (Foer 14).
To be honest, I never really got an answer as to why the class was called Food Porn. Maybe it was because it showed the naked truth of the food industry. Regardless, the food was definitely not the main focus of the class. I believe Nick Leither, our teacher, wanted us to leave the class knowing more than just the cruelty and deception of the industries that surround us.
What resonated the most with me in this class was choosing a narrow slant to make my arguments. There’s a beautiful, poetic simplicity to making arguments that way. Nick first introduced us to this idea by having us read an article called Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace.
You should read it if you have time, but the gist of it is that boiling lobsters alive could possibly (and is, Wallace implies) a cruel torture that future generations might look back at the same way we now view Aztec sacrifice rituals (Wallace). Now, he is quick to acknowledge his own bias on the matter. The evidence he presents clearly suggests lobsters have an inclination to survive and avoid boiling water (and pain), yet he is inclined to ignore it because he prefers to continue eating animals. But that is the genius of his argument. Notice what he did: the entire article is about one very specific thing – the Maine Lobster Festival. But near the end of the article (and periodically throughout the entire essay), he expands this idea to address the larger issue of the ethics of eating animals. Now, he didn’t have to do this. He could have simply addressed the ethics of eating animals directly. But how many times have you heard that argument? And, assuming you are a meat eater like me, how many times have you just let it go through one ear and out the other?
Quick side-note: David Foster Wallace is a gangsta. Gourmet Magazine, whose sole purpose is to talk about gourmet food comprised mainly of meat, asks you to write a review of a well-known event for its viewers and instead, you use their platform to talk about the ethics of meat eating and call them out on their eating habits? Gangsta move. That probably made for a really awkward meeting at Gourmet afterward.
No, instead Wallace’s argument is much more effective because he lures you in unsuspectedly. You think you are reading a review of the Maine Lobster Festival but then walk away thinking about whether it’s right or not to eat animals – and are wondering how you started thinking about that.
And even though you know that Wallace is probably not an expert on animal rights, you are still inclined to believe whatever he says since his argument’s foundation is built off of an event he actually attended.
What’s more, while Wallace was a great writer, if he chose to address the ethics of eating animals head on, his argument would be weaker because he would be forced to give you examples from all over. You would feel his argument is not focused enough since he’d be talking about chickens, cows, lobsters, seafood, farmers, industrial farms, etc. He’d be all over the place. Examples would be coming in left and right, and you might be convinced, but you wouldn’t walk away with that “huh” feeling. It would just feel like fact after fact is thrown at you.
But Nick also taught us to show, not tell. So allow me to show you through examples of my own slants (or theses).
For my very first essay in Food Porn, I wanted to address the issue of corporations being able to anticipate your needs and wants – and then take advantage of you by monetizing on that. Now, I could address this issue directly and bring in broad examples from Google, Facebook, Amazon, grocery stores, etc. But how effective do you think this essay would be? I’m sure I could find some compelling examples, but it would lack the same focus that an essay like Consider the Lobster had. Furthermore, my argument might get become muddied as I’m bringing examples from all these different places.
Instead, I chose to focus my argument on the observations I made walking through Safeway. And what I found allowed me to write an essay about how Safeway puts certain items near each other because you are more likely to buy extra items that way. My observations suggested that these strategies worked because people’s shopping carts held the items I suspected Safeway intended for them to buy.
I’ll spare you the details, because then you’d basically be reading my essay, but here’s my point: The same way Wallace used his experience of the Maine Lobster Festival and cooking lobsters alive to hint at the larger issue of the ethics of animal eating, I used my experience of walking through Safeway to hint at the larger issue of corporations knowing what you want and exploiting that to make more money.
Focusing on a narrow slant isn’t the only thing I learned in my two quarters with Nick, but it was definitely what resonated the most with me. A narrow slant is almost poetic, really. It’s as if you are making your entire essay one big metaphor. I feel that it is something I can apply in any form of art – especially in filmmaking. I feel that I didn’t just learn how to write essays more effectively, but I learned how to make a point in any aspect of life more effectively.
Magazine, Gourmet. “Consider the Lobster.” Consider the Lobster: 2000s Archive. Gourmet Magazine, n.d. Web. 14 June 2017.
“Meet Your Meat.” PETA. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2017.