Critical Thinking and Writing (CTW), now that sounds like a fun class, doesn’t it? When I first saw this on my schedule, that thought didn’t exactly come to mind. Writing was such a chore for me and essays were not my cup of tea. In high school, I would have rather done anything else than write an eight page paper for my English class. However, you can imagine my curiosity when I saw that the class theme for my fall quarter Critical Thinking and Writing class was “Food Porn.” And for spring quarter, “Reading Food, Self and Culture… Lies!” What kind of class was Santa Clara University getting me into? However, what I came to learn was that I would be able to take a unique topic and write about it thoroughly, ask big questions, and write in my own style all at the same time.
I have to be completely honest. During Fall quarter, I refused to open my Critical Thinking and Writing class’ Camino page in the presence of other human beings. I was too embarrassed for someone to see the phrase “FOOD PORN” slathered across my screen and proceed to fall into a deep contemplation over what the heck I was doing with my life. I remember sitting at my desk the night before classes started, staring at the course title in all caps and telling myself, “So this is college.”
Once I finished exploring the course page, I still had no clue what to expect from this class. I was met with words like “slant” and “trifecta,” our first assignment involved making food porn of our own, and I still couldn’t get over the picture of the man made entirely out of produce. I knew that I was in for something different – something unlike any other traditional English class I had ever taken.
After my two quarter sequence of CTW, I was left with an overall sense of frustration with a hint of optimism. I wasn’t frustrated because of how much reading we had to do or how many essays we had to write. In fact, I was left flipping pages back and forth, seeking more explanations for unanswered questions, and felt embarrassed after I submitting assignment well-over the page number suggestions. The kind of questions that we were faced with every class made me think in circles. I started to question everything. I questioned myself. My personal habits. My standards. By the end of Fall quarter, I quite honestly felt terrible about myself and wondered if I had any sense of morals or personal code of ethics. The facts were placed right in front of me, yet I chose to do nothing with the knowledge I was gaining.
Let me explain. Throughout our two quarters of study, we learned about everything from the horrors of factory farming to false advertising. We learned the ins and outs of the “system” and were presented with the cold, hard truth about what goes into our food and what goes on in our brains. Some of the most difficult realities I discovered are listed below:
- Liquefied waste from industrialized farms is distributed into “massive lagoons,” which can cover up to 120,000 square feet (Foer, 177). Not only do they contaminate our water, but they deteriorate our land, as they “contribute to soil erosion and depletion and require high inputs of fertilizer and fossil fuels” (Puskar-Pasewicz).
- Meat farming is “responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation” (Cowspiracy).
- Producing a four-ounce hamburger “requires 7 pounds of grain and forage, 53 gallons of drinking water and irrigating feed crops, 75 square feet for grazing and growing feed crops, and 1,036 BTUs for feed production and transport—enough to power a microwave for 18 minutes” (Melone).
- A compound found in red meat, known as carnitine, “has been found to cause atherosclerosis, the hardening or clogging of the arteries, according to a study published in the journal Nature Medicine”(Melone). The research conducted by the scientific journal confirmed that carnitine converts to a heart-damaging compound called trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) (Melone). Therefore, consuming large amounts of carnitine results in an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease (Melone).
All of the solutions seemed crystal clear. Adopt a plant-based diet. Produce less waste. Stop lying to ourselves. For God’s sake, stop thinking about yourself and make a couple of sacrifices! This message was continuously pounded into our brains in David Foster Wallace’s speech, “This is Water.” Wallace shows his audience that humans are essentially stuck in a default setting that fuels self-interested thoughts, preventing us from seeing that the universe doesn’t revolve around us. The natural default setting is “the automatic way that we experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when we’re operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that we are the center of the universe and that our immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities,” Wallace says. This mentality, however, is a choice. We choose to think only about ourselves. We choose to turn a blind eye to the injustice around us. We choose to overlook the struggles and hardships of our peers. We choose to do nothing. Because that’s the easy way out.
We’ve become accustomed to the idea that ignoring our problems will make life easier to live through. If we pretend the issue doesn’t exist, well, its doesn’t – right? Wrong. Humans have become so self-absorbed and blind to reality that we make the conscious effort to avoid tackling critical issues and seeking answers to messy questions. We’ve ultimately resorted to self-deception and we continuously justify inaction. I focused on these concepts quite a bit in one of my essay’s Spring quarter. I explored the dangers of non-monetary transactions and its ties to dishonesty:
This tendency to avoid dealing with the root of our problems is a theme in Ursula Le Guin’s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” which was one of the first pieces of literature we tackled in our Spring quarter of study. The boy in the basement, which society continuously ignores for the sake of maintaining the overall welfare of the town, reflects the human tendency to resist change. It’s so easy to turn away from problems with deeper implications because it means we don’t have to deal with the moral responsibility or guilt surrounding this issues. However, we can’t remain comfortable with walking away from problems like the citizens of Omelas do.
Lying is easy. It’s comfortable. It’s effective. Yet, when you continuously tell yourself that everything is as it should be, you deprive yourself of the right to seek positive alternatives to toxic situations. We lie to ourselves to avoid dealing with the fear accompanied by these lifestyle changes, and endure unnecessary pain as a result.
CTW has ultimately taught me that humans are rational: we are self-interested, will try to maximize our utility in every given situation, and will always make the transitive decision. Our free-will essentially goes down the drain when there’s a shortcut available. Our instincts takeover, and we take the easy way out. Every. Time. I’d like to think that “I’m different” or will “be the change I wish to see in the world,” but my personal experiment for my final essay in Fall quarter proved that I’m just like any other rational human being. I tried going vegetarian for a week, and I discovered that the real challenge was not the act of abstaining from meat, but mustering the confidence that it demands from you. The will to refuse animal-based protein and overcome the stigma of vegetarianism was the real challenge. I wasn’t expecting the social discomfort that accompanied the lifestyle. I failed – miserably – and couldn’t turn down another plate of my mom’s home cooked Persian food when I went home over Thanksgiving Break.
CTW has ultimately inspired me to take on David Foster Wallace’s challenge of snapping out of my natural default setting and abandoning my habit of telling myself that change is impossible. “Learn how to think and pay attention and you will know that you have other options” Wallace says.
And with that, I embark on the journey to challenge myself to avoid the easy way out. To stop justifying inaction and negligence. To accept change.
Arcimboldo, Giuseppe. Vertumnus. 1590, Skokloster Castle, Milan, Italy.
Cowspiracy. Dir. Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. Cowspiracy. N.p., 26 June 2014. Web.
Downing, Eve. “The Psychology of Spending.” MIT Spectrum, MIT, 1999,
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. Back Bay Books, 2010.
FoundationDesignNZ. “WATER.” YouTube, YouTube, 25 May 2013,
Melone, Linda. “10 Reasons To Stop Eating Red Meat.” Prevention, 19 Nov. 2015.
Puskar-Pasewicz, Margaret. “Agribusiness.” Cultural Encyclopedia of Vegetarianism,
Imagine a bright, sunny, and peaceful day. You are sitting aside a pleasant body of water, this may be a neighborhood pond, a smooth lake, or even a calm sea. Everything around you is still and exudes a an aura of calm. The bare surface that you are sitting is not rough nor smooth, not hot nor cold, but simply acts as a soft surface to only promote your sense of calm. There are no car horns, buzzing electric wires, or wailing winds but simply the sounds of nature. The only movement in this aura of tranquility is a small duck that is gently traveling across the body of water. A picturesque scene, right? Continue reading Aren’t We All Ducks in the Same Pond? // Alex Tay
It’s weirdly paradoxical to be in a place where you are aware that you are unaware, yet that is where this class left me. If there’s one common theme that seemed to run through everything we studied as a class and everything I researched on my own, it’s the idea that we are less aware and understand less than we often realize.
During first quarter, we read the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. As someone who had fairly recently become a vegetarian, I was interested to read the book, but also expected that most of it would cover what I already knew. I was wrong. I found much of this book surprising. To me, the most shocking part of Foer’s book was his description of how the animal agriculture industry handles animal waste and how this affects people.
In total, all farmed animals in the U.S. produce 87,000 pounds of waste per second. This 130 times what the human population produces. There is no real regulation on all this animal waste. Most often, it is put into football field-sized pools. It often runs off into water supplies and toxins such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide inevitably evaporate into the air. Children raised near factory farms are twice as likely to develop asthma, while children raised onÃ‚Â a typical hog factory farm have an over fifty percent chance of developing asthma. People living near factory farms also have problems with persistent nosebleeds, earaches, chronic diarrhea, and burning in their lungs (Foer 174-176).
Before reading this book, I was aware (to some extent) that factory farming harmed animals and harmed our environment. What I hadn’t considered was how factory farming harms people.
For one of my essays, I explored how our culture tends to respond to the problem of hunger in the U.S. Often, people see food drives as an easy and effective way of responding to the issue. In reality, we are unaware of how inefficient food drives really are at addressing the problem of hunger. While the average person may be able to take a dollar to the store and buy a can of green beans, food banks are able to use $1 to purchase about four meals (often including fresh produce) because of discounted rates they have access to on food (Schilling). We are unaware of how the problem of hunger can best be solved through monetary donations because we want to feel good about ourselves when we donate a few cans.Â
In another essay, I argued that the clothing industry’s sizing system (or lack thereof) harms our self-esteem. Women’s clothing brands often label clothes so that women will fit into smaller than expected sizes. This sets women up to become frustrated, confused and disappointed. WhileÂ waists of size 8 jeans often vary by three or more inches (Dockterman), women tend to be unaware of this and may tend to blame their own bodies when they can’t find clothes that fit. In addition, studies have shown that women inevitably have to try on a size larger than expected, the negative effect is greater than the positive effect in self-esteem experienced when trying on a size smaller than expected (Aydinoglu; Hoegg).
Perhaps the thing that best drives this point home from this class is something that we looked at within the first week or so: This is Water.
David Foster Wallace’s speech makes an important and challenging point that we are often unaware of our own attitudes and biases. Without realizing it, we go through life with a self-centric view, unaware of the perspectives of those around us. To be aware of other’s perspectives, we must do the difficult work of continually paying attention.
Overall, this class made me aware of a few situations and truths that I was not before. I hope that I continue to grow in awareness, especially in awareness of the perspectives of those around me.
I also think that sometimes we know the truth, but we refuse to acknowledge it for whatever reason. Like Foer says, “It’s possible to wake someone from sleep, but no amount of noise will wake someone who is pretending to be asleep” (Foer 102). Is there any point to awareness if it doesn’t lead to some kind of change?
Aydinoglu, Nilfer Z. and Aradhna Krishna. “Imagining Thin: Why Vanity Sizing Works.” Journal of Consumer Psychology (Elsevier Science), vol. 22, no. 4, Oct. 2012, pp. 565-572. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2011.12.001.
Bodley, Riley. “In this photo are two of my favorite pairs of jeans…” Facebook, 9 May 2017, http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1141910845955788&set=a.122027494610800.36926.100004106511339&type=3&theater.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. Little, Brown & Company, 2013.
Dockterman, Eliana. “One Size Fits None.” Time, vol. 188, no. 10/11, 12 Sept. 2016, pp. 78-84. EBSCOhost, login.libproxy.scu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=117821613&site=eds-live.
Hoegg, JoAndrea, et al. “The Flip Side of Vanity Sizing: How Consumers Respond to and Compensate for Larger Than Expected Clothing Sizes.” Journal of Consumer Psychology (Elsevier Science), vol. 24, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 70-78. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2013.07.003.
Schilling, Erin. “Georgia United Hosts Annual February Food Drive.” The Red & Black [Athens], 7 Feb. 2018, http://www.redandblack.com/athensnews/georgia-united-hosts-annual-february-food-drive/article_34f61954-0bbd-11e8-9991-a790ef8f4fcd.html. Accessed 21 Feb. 2018.
“This Is Water” Full Version-David Foster Wallace Commencement Speech. YouTube, 19 May 2013, youtu.be/8CrOL-ydFMI?t=20m30s.
Don’t follow your dreams. We have all heard the same celebrities give the same speeches over and over: “Never give up!” “Follow your dreams!” “Nothing is impossible!” I am here to tell you that every famous actor, athlete, and artist that has ever told you this is dead wrong.
“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”
-David Foster Wallace, “This is Water”
When I walked into my English Critical Thinking and Writing (CTW) class on the first day, I had no idea what to expect. My professor, Nick Leither, showed the class David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech “This is Water.” After discussing the speech, Professor Nick switched gears and flicked the screen over to the next slide. The screen displayed the course overview, reading “Food Porn: Reading Food, Self, & Culture.” Both intrigued and confused, I left class on that first day with two questions. First off, how can an english class be entirely dedicated to food? Also, what the hell is water? I had no clue what was to come during the two quarters of this class.
I should first explain that I did not sign up for this class. Every freshman at Santa Clara University (SCU) is randomly placed into a mandatory CTW class before even arriving to campus. I was honestly quite displeased when I learned that I had been assigned a 7:30-9:10 PM CTW class. Convinced that my brain would not be capable of attending class at this time of the day, my naive-self even talked to my advisor to see if I could switch into a different CTW section at a different time. As you can probably guess, my advisor told me to suck it up, and viola- my “Food Porn” CTW class at 7:30-9:10 PM was here to stay for two quarters. Although I was first unhappy by my CTW course placement, the class and its material caused me to reflect on my lifestyle and personal values, which which will continue to stick with me- not only for the remainder of my college experience- but for the rest of my life.
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. Continue reading Wake Up and Smell the Roses (Even If There are Some Thorns)//Aria Berluti