The most exciting moments as a professor are sometimes the least expected. I am teaching a course this semester that is focusing on modern US history through foodways. At the beginning of the semester when we read Warren Belasco’s Food: The Key Concepts, the students readily embraced his discussions about identity and convenience but were more hesitant to agree with his thoughts on responsibility. We are wrapping up the semester with another Belasco book, Appetite for Change, which examines food and counterculture as well as analogous themes such as the rise of the ecology movement in the 1970s, organic farming, the push for food labeling and the long term impact of what he labels the “countercuisine.”
During the discussion of this book, one student mentioned that taking this class had enabled her for the first time to consider her relationship with the environment. One student commented that he was fixing dinner one night and stopped to really think about a canned ingredient that he was using. Another student ordered grilled chicken at a fast food window instead of the usual burger because it seemed healthier. To me, these experiences were true breakthroughs. Most of the students that I teach grew up in fairly small, rural towns in east Texas that are dominated largely by fast food and convenience foods. Diets are often centered on meat, usually beef, and vegetables are something of an afterthought if they are acknowledged at all. Cost and convenience are crucial to their relationship with food and issues like sustainability or personal responsibility to the environment are pretty new ideas for many of these students. The fact that these students began to seriously consider these concepts in their daily lives struck me as a significant first step. Witnessing students becoming more mindful eaters is the best course evaluation I could ever receive!