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Day 2: "Our National Eating Disorder"

Notes for Day 2 of Food for Thought

I. Coursekeeping
1. welcome back! (did everyone come back??)
introduce woman next to you and her favorite food
(yep, a test: how much were you paying attention to your classmates?)

2. looking @ how we did on the mechanics: not everyone's found their way to Serendip,
created an account, logged in and made a posting
(@ 9 a.m., missing Ellen, Rebecca, Emily, Hilary, Jessica...and Amy is "anonymous"?)

talk about the experience of negotiating the site, speaking to the world?

write down your name and user-name (for my use only; but--
do you want to be called by her given name or your user name in class?--
possibility opens up here for alternative personalities/behaviors!)

3. schedule writing conferences w/ me, to begin next week: on board, for public revising & negotiating

4. so we'll have something to talk about:
by 5 p.m. tomorrow, submit your first paper:
a 3 pp. description of a dinner @ your family’s house.

Type it in 12-pt. font (one of the plain fonts), double-spaced,
w/ your name, date, paper # in upper right-hand corner,
AND E-MAIL IT AS A Microsoft Word ATTACHMENT (doc or docx) to

Write in first person, as yourself & someone who is partaking in the meal.
Write for your classmates—imagine you are bringing us (or one of us) to dinner for the first time:
what needs explaining, what seems “natural” to you that might seem “not natural”/
need explanation for someone outside your family/culture/?

Pollan says (on p. 4), " Our culture codifies the rules of wise eating in an elaborate structure of taboos, rituals, recipes, manners and culinary traditions that keep us from having to reenact the omnivore's dilemma@ every meal." What taboos, rituals, recipes, manner and culinary traditions function in your home? (Don't assume a norm, and don't start to feel guilty because your experience doesn't match it--what we are looking for here is an account of the diversity of our habits....)

Make the description as concrete and specific as possible; evoke all of the senses.
Try to give me as much data as you can:
the concrete materiality of what the meal looks/sounds/smells/touches/tastes like.
(You did this already w/ your postings…very richly sensory!)

In the weeks to come, we’ll get you to re-write this story, to dig beneath it, perform an archeology of the meal,
figuring out where it comes from, what work goes into making it, where it is located ecologically and economically.
But for now: just describe the food itself, and make the experience of eating it as vivid as you can.

Pollan writes up 3 meals in his book (Chapters 7, 14, 20);
look @ them if you want models-->
ex: Chapter 7, Fast Food Meal: eating in the car, wrapped as presents

Review of homework: 3-pp. paper due via e-mail tomorrow afternoon;
for next Tuesday, read Chapter 9 in Pollan's book, “Big Organic,” pp. 134-184.

Questions about that, or anything else we talked about on Tuesday....?
Any second thoughts on our discussion of "what education is...?"
Okay, let's get on w/ it!

II. Pollan opens today’s reading assignment (Intro, Chaps. 1&5) by saying (on p. 1), “whatever native wisdom we may once have possessed about eating has been replaced by confusion and anxiety. Somehow this most elemental of activities—figuring out what to eat—has come to require a remarkable amount of expert help.

But he ends his introduction (on p. 11), by saying that “To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake…affords satisfaction…
this is a book about the kinds of pleasure that are only deepened by knowing."

Write for ten minutes in response to one or both of these passages.
In your experience, does “knowing more” generally lead to anxiety or to pleasure?

What about knowing more, in particular, about the food you are eating?
What about knowing more about a particular food you have habitually eaten?

What in your own experience fits (either of) these claims?
Can you give some data/tell a story to back them up?
What in your experience brings these claims into question?
Can you offer some data/a story to challenge them?

Go round and read our reactions:
Does knowing more increase anxiety or deepen pleasure?
What’s the difference between “native wisdom” and “expert help”?
Which do you/does your family trust? Why?

Create a chart on the board, w/ two axes: pleasure <--> anxiety; knowing <--> not knowing
where would you place yourself on this grid?

III. Other initial reactions to these selections?
second reading for anyone?
What was added to you by reading this?
What’d you learn that you didn’t know?
What questions would you have for Pollan, if he were visiting class today?
What biology questions, for Peter??
What can we say about the literary qualities of his writing???

IV. Reading Notes:
Introduction: National Eating Disorder

No stable culture of food: pendulum swings of scares/fads
Paradox of unhealthy people obsessed with healthy eating
Rozin on existential situation of omnivore vs. specialized eater
(cf. Hyde on the specialized thinker)

surfeit of choice: pleasures of variety, a lot of stress (Paradox of Choice)
incalculable advantage of a culture/stored experience/accumulated wisdom:
codified rules of wise eating keeps us from having to
reenact omnivore’s dilemma @ every meal
extraordinary abundance complicates whole problem of choice
follow food chain: transaction between species of eaters, eaten
our place in food chain determines kind of creature we are
omnivorousness shapes our nature, body, soul
observation, memory, curiosity, various adapatations
open-endedness of human appetite responsible for savagery and civility
ability to modify food chains
all life competition for solar energy; food chain system for passing on calories
industrial, organic and hunger-gatherer food chains:
fossil fuels increased available food energy
from unconsciousness to full consciousness of all involved in feeding self
fundamental tension between our efficiency, nature’s diversity:
we oversimplify nature’s complexities in destructive agriculture and hunting
eating turns nature into culture:
industrial eating obscures all relationships, connections
costly journey of forgetting: agricultural, ecological, poltical act of eating

1. The Plant: Corn’s Conquest
supermarket landscape teeming w/ (obscured) plants, animals
what am I eating? Where did it come from?
Working definition of industrial food: provenance so complex, obscure requiring expert help
apparently astounding biodiversity of supermarket rests on narrow biological foundation of single species: corn
(1/4 of 45,000 items, incl. non-foods)
“I am maize,” “corn walking”: we are mostly processed corn (vs. Euro “wheat ppl”)
23: agriculture as brilliant/unconscious evolutionary strategy on part of plants and animals to advance their interests
(key idea of Botany of Desire-mislocated agency!)
Indians defeated by biotic army of white man’s “associate species”
Corn dependent on humans for reproduction

(Chapters 2, 3,4: Farm, Elevator, Feedlot)

[did any of you look @ the (shorter or longer clip of the) film, King Corn?

5. Processing Plant; Making Complex Foods
p. 88: elementary science experiment:
breaking the starch molecules down into glucose--> corn refining (let's do it?)

most corn we eat has been heavily processed
processing: technologies liberating food from nature/spoilage/vicissitude
nature a problem: perishable profits
get around troublesome biological fact
(natural limit to food consumption/anemic growth rate)
with complex food systems, practice of “substitutionism”
fool’s game to sell unprocessed food: price falls
natural ingredients created for “non-food purposes; survival/reproduction”!
underlying reductionist premise: food nothing more than sum of nutrients

(Ch. 6, Consumer; 7: Fast Food Meal
…II: Pastoral, 8: All Flesh is Grass

For next Tuesday, read Chapter 9, “Big Organic,” pp. 134-184