Thursday, March 26, 2015

Food in the Classroom

A few semesters ago, inspired by one of my colleagues, I began incorporating food into my classes. We read articles about different facets of food, including topics like poverty, agriculture, school meal programs, and culture (National Geographic has a very good series of food-related articles that I incorporate). Students create their own podcasts, a series that is then disseminated through the iTunes store - meaning anyone can subscribe and listen.

We also spend a class or two discussing food in the media. For example, an examination of food advertisements leads to a good introductory discussion of Aristotelian appeals and what constitutes good, persuasive arguments - and how these ideals change.

I also play some short videos; TED talks feature good speakers who integrate humor into their speeches. Jennifer Lee's talk is one I play near the beginning of the semester; it helps segue into a discussion of food, history, identity, and how we define culture.

Similarly, Ron Finley's talk get students thinking about food, poverty, and social justice. In many cases we'll spot check these videos for use of the aforementioned Aristotelian appeals.

One of the more popular assignments in my class, though, are the recipe memoirs. Students write about a family recipe and the memories associated with it, then bring in the food. It's a relatively relaxing class in that aside from the students who cook or bake (and they are highly encouraged to make something from scratch, but not something that is financially exorbitant), students only need to come to class and eat. It tends to be fairly popular; students are very encouraging and like being fed. 

And the food students bring is very good! Today was the second day in the semester in which students presented their food: One student brought in homemade pizza that he had made himself, down to the crust. Other students brought tuna salad, funeral potatoes, and stuffed grape leaves, while various desserts such as flan, zucchini bread, brownies, sugar cookies, and carmelitas were shared. It tends to be a popular class not only because of the free, homemade food, but eating alongside others leads to conversation and, hopefully, relaxed students. With the right group of students, too, it can lead to questions about the students themselves or the recipes (sometimes even a request for the recipe).

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