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Food for Thought: The Omnivore's Dilemma

Giuseppe Arcimboldo,
"Summer" (1573)
Doug Auld, "Golden Girl 2" (1993)

Food for Thought: The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Course Forum
Instructions for Checklist and Final Portfolio

Final Performances (=General Murder and Mayhem)

College Seminar
Bryn Mawr College

Peter Brodfuehrer and Anne Dalke
Fall 2008, T Th 11:30-1
Dalton Hall: Rooms One & Two

"The desire to have it all and the illusion that we can is one of the principal sources of torture of modern affluent free and autonomous thinkers." Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (2003)

“Some philosophers have argued that the very open-endedness of human appetite is responsible for both our savagery and civility, since a creature that could conceive of eating anything (including, notably, other humans) stands in particular need of ethical rules, manners, and rituals.” Michael Pollen. The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006)

This College Seminar was designed by a biologist and a literary critic to explore how we--as “free thinkers” with “open-ended human appetites”--might learn to make thoughtful decisions in a world that we may experience alternatively as both too-constrained and too-bountiful. We will draw on disciplines ranging from statistics to food studies--including anthropology, neurobiology, philosophy, psychology and literary interpretation--in our search for guidance in how to select among our options in what
• to eat?
• data to attend to?
• interpretations to accept?
• counts as ethical behavior?

Readings will also include two contemporary novels: Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer and a selection from Sena Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife. Students will be posting weekly comments in an on-line forum. Forty pages of more formal writing will also be required in the course of the semester: a sequence of linked weekly writing assignments will culminate in a paper on an ethical dilemma of the students' own choosing.

Weeks 1-3: Choosing Our Food

1. Tues, Sept. 2 Introduction to the course: from food to philosophy

By 10 a.m. Thursday: introduce yourself & your favorite food on the course forum

Thurs, Sept. 4
Michael Pollan. “Our Natural Eating Disorder,” The Plant: Corn’s Conquest” and “The
Processing Plant: Making Complex Foods.” The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin: 2006. 1-31, 85-99.

Independent Lens: King Corn (Shorter Clip) and (Longer Clip)

Fri, Sept. 5: 3-pp. paper describing a typical family meal @ your house

2. Tues, Sept. 9
Michael Pollan. “Big Organic.” The Omnivore’s Dilemma. 134-184.

Writing Conferences Begin….

Thurs, Sept. 11
By 9 a.m. (every Thursday morning) post a comment on course forum

Michael Pollan.“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and "The Ethics of Eating Animals." 287-333.

Fri, Sept. 12: 3-pp paper analyzing your family meal through the lens provided by Pollan:
What are its pleasures, and what are its (economic, emotional, political, social) costs?

3. Tues, Sept. 16
Andrew Revkin. Dot Earth. New York Times.
“Energy, an Ingredient in Local Food and Global Food.” December 11, 2007.
“Can People Have Meat and a Planet, Too?” April 11, 2008.

Thurs, Sept. 18
Elisabeth Rosenthal. “Environmental Cost of Shipping Groceries Around the World.”
New York Times. April 26, 2008

Alex Wiliams. "That Buzz in Your Ear May be Green Noise." New York Times. June 15, 2008.

Fri, Sept. 19: 3-pp. paper EITHER analyzing the global environmental dimensions of your family meal (how far can you take this?) OR, preferably: move on to your new life, examining the backstory to the way you are now eating away from home. You might research one of the "sustainability" topics on the BMC Dining Services ' website as a way of answering this question. How is Bryn Mawr feeding you? How *should* it be? The Bryn Mawr College Dining Services website reports that they are committed to providing the most environmentally friendly dining program possible and one that supports the BMC Community." You might investigate how a current offering reflects that goal. Are there hidden costs to reaching it?

Weeks 4-6: Selecting Our Data
4. Tues, Sept. 23

Gary Taubes. “Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?” New York Times Magazine. September 16, 2007.

Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?” Letters to New York Times Magazine. September 30, 2007.

Abigail Zugar. "Achieving Wellness, Whatever That Is." New York Times. June 24, 2008.

Thurs, Sept. 25
Lisa Belkin. "Coincidence in an Age of Conspiracy," or "The Odds of That.New York Times Magazine. August 11, 2002

Fri, Sept. 26: 3-pp. paper describing one of the health choices (besides eating--we're done with that!) you have made since you have been living on your own, @ college: what are your sleeping/exercising/working habits? How have you made these choices? What information did you rely on to make this decision? What was its source (intuition, family and friends, "expert" advice....)? Why do you believe what you do--and act as you are? How does your behavior appear to you, now that you've read (Zugar's account) of Halder's debunking of "most medical truths"?

5. Tues, Sept. 30
Barry Schwartz. Part I: “When We Choose” and (part of ) Part II: "How We Choose." The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. Ecco, 2003. 1-75.

Thurs, Oct. 2
Barry Schwartz. Part IV: "What We Can Do." The Paradox of Choice. 221-236.

Fri, Oct. 3--
3-pp. paper reporting on current studies done on your health choice:
how are most college students handling the choice you are confronting?
how best to present the information you find?
find three web sources; look @ HOW they present the info
(causes? correlations? text? table?)
how do you fit in the statistics? why are you located where you are?
do you expect to find that these numbers hold @ Bryn Mawr?

6. Tues, Oct. 7
Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Introduction. "Biases and Blunders," "Privitizing Marriage," and "Objections." Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. 1-39, 215-226, 236-251.

Thurs, Oct. 9
Wil Franklin, Do Caterpillars Make Choices?

And catching up….
including re-writing our metaphors for writing

October 14-16 Fall Break (read Prodigal Summer)

Mon, Oct. 20: reporting on local data-collection
(your floor? your sports team? your work team? your CSem class?):
how is this group of women handling the choice you are confronting?
come up w/ 5 questions, to ask 15 people & (instead of writing a paper)
present your information in graph or table form on line--& to us in class

Weeks 7-10: Making Our Interpretations
7. Tues, Oct. 21 (Combined Classes)

Ambiguous Figures--"Reality": Construction, Deconstruction, and Reconstruction

Illusions, ambiguous figures, and impossible figures: informed guessing and beyond.

Pop-Art Quiz

Natalie Angier. “Blind to Change, Even as it Stares us in the Face.” The Science Times.
New York Times.
April 1, 2008.

Thurs, Oct. 23
Benedict Carey. "While a Magician Works, the Mind Does the Tricks." The New York Times. August 22, 2008.

Stephen Macknik, Mac King, James Rand, Apollo Robbins, Teller, John Thompson and Susana Martinez-Conde. "Attention and Awareness in Stage Magic: Turning Tricks into Research." Nature Reviews Neuroscience. July 30, 2008.

Fri, Oct. 24: present in our on-line forum both the data you have
gathered about ambiguous figures, change blindness or magic tricks

8. Tues, Oct. 28
Lewis Hyde. “Slipping the Trap of Appetite” and “That’s My Way, Coyote, Not Your Way.” Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998. 17-54.

Paula Gunn Allen. "Kochinnenako in Academe: Three Approaches to Interpreting a Keres Indian Tale." The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. 222-244.

Thurs, Oct. 30
Barbara Kingsolver. Prodigal Summer: A Novel. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

Fri, Oct. 31: 3-pp. paper interpreting
Prodigal Summer from the point of view of Paula Gunn Allen, Lewis Hyde, Michael Pollan, Barry Schwartz, or some other critic we've read this semester. If this critic were writing a review of the novel, what would s/he say about it: how it works, what's going on, what's important? (i.e.: what would Allen say about the structure of foreground/background? what does Hyde's coyote have to do w/ the coyotes in the novel? what would Schwartz's take be on the presentation of choice? or Pollan's on the treatment of the food chain?).

9. Tues, Nov. 4
Barbara Kingsolver. Prodigal Summer.

Thurs, Nov. 6
Barbara Kingsolver. Prodigal Summer.

Fri, Nov. 7: 6-pp. paper expanding on your original reading of
Prodigal Summer:
can you "turn" the argument (use Kingsolver to critique the critic?)
can you "enter" the conversation yourself? where do you stand on the debate
you set up, last week, between novelist and critic?

Weeks 10-14: Facing Ethical Dilemmas
10. Tues, Nov. 11

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Thurs, Nov. 13
Garrett Hardin. "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science 162 (1968). 1243-1248.

Benedict Carey. "Decades Later, Still Asking: Would I Pull That Switch?" The New York Times. July 1, 2008.

Fri, Nov. 14: 3-pp. proposal for your final paper, identifying an ethical dilemma you'd like to spend the next month thinking/writing about: what's the issue? why are you interested in it? (what motivates you to explore it further?) how is conventionally/currently framed? (for example: is it zero or non-zero sum?) how might you experiment with framing it differently? what will you need to research, to find out more about the issue? how will you do that?
list three sources, in standard bibliographic form, that you will consult

11. Tues, Nov. 18
Jared Diamond. “Living Through the Donner Party.” Discover. March 1, 1992.

Thurs, Nov. 20
Jonathan Haidt. “The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment.Psychological Review 108 (2001): 814-834.

Fri, Nov. 21: Your assignment this week is to write, collaboratively, a new three-page proposal for a 6-pp. paper that you will write, also collaboratively, after we return from Thanksgiving. Consult w/ your teammates to figure out what your topics might have in common, and together re-define your shared question. SHARE YOUR GUT REACTIONS to the question (and some possible answers?) and then figure out how you are going to split up the work that will need to be done by Dec. 5th. By this Friday @ 5 p.m. submit a joint report on your evolving task: what your (now shared) question is, what your gut responses are to the range of possible answers, how you will tackle the project, and who will do what.

12. Tues, Nov. 25

Sena Jeter Naslund. Chapters 25-28. Ahab’s Wife; or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel. Harper Perennial, 2000. 142-167.

November 26 Thanksgiving Break

13. Tues, Dec. 2
Sena Naslund. Chapters 29-37. Ahab’s Wife. 168-209.

Thurs, Dec. 4
Sena Naslund. Chapters 38-54. Ahab’s Wife. 209-253.

Fri, Dec. 5: Collaboratively-written 6 pp. paper
in which you creatively re-frame an ethical dilemma

14. Tues, Dec. 9
Group Conferenes on your collaborative papers

Thurs, Dec. 11 Final Performances

All work due 12:30 p.m. Friday, December 19, including checklist &
portfolio with self-evaluation, summary, all postings and
papers already written for the course (and revision, if desired....)

To print off all your forum comments, logic in; type /exchange/mycomments;
select "printer-friendly version" (@ top) and print.

Course Roster
Anne's class notes
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