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,