Confession: I’m a foodie and a passionate home cook. I consider today’s office holiday potluck a competitive throwdown. I am drawn in equal measure to local farmers’ market fare and gorgeous Italian and Spanish imports. The Zingerman’s mail order brochure is my Sears and Roebuck Wish Book.
So when I heard LSA associate dean and professor Phil Deloria talk about his new class called “22 Ways To Think About Food,” I was hooked.
But you know what surprised me the most when I attended the final session in Room 1400 of the Chemistry Building yesterday afternoon? This wasn’t just a class about food. It was a class about how to think. And a class about life.
Let’s start with a basic description. Phil invited 22 professors from a wide range of liberal arts disciplines to examine the subject of food; each class featured a different voice. This multidisciplinary array also offered a sampler of research methodologies. Phil described the importance of understanding a range of approaches to critical thinking and scholarship. Or, as he put it, “how we figure stuff out.”
Phil’s lively summary lecture brought his 70 students back to the major themes they’ve discussed in class: industrial food production and systems; consumption and consequence; and how we use food to make meaning. The class studied food language through poetry; the social and political implications of food distribution systems; food as commodity and as reflection of culture; the religious tenet of transubstantiation; the physics of calories; what starvation looks like.
As the clock ticked closer to the end of the lecture, Phil and his students moved to an even bigger picture: what it means to have a liberal arts education. He talked about the ability to think deeply within a discipline, through your concentration, as well as the necessity of looking at problem-solving in an interdisciplinary way. He described the value of a liberal arts view of the world on a planet ever more in need of creative thinking, new understanding and self-reflection.
As he spoke, Phil showed the next PowerPoint slide: a picture of a green field and a white bucket filled with strawberries. “When I was a kid, I picked strawberries in the summer to earn a few bucks. We’d fill six or seven buckets a day in between goofing around and throwing berries at one another. But I remember the migrant workers who slept in their cars, picking alongside us. They could pick 35 buckets a day, because that income was all they’d have to live on.” It was a personal food lesson about inequality, hard work and putting bread on the table.
Phil urged his students to consider carefully the academic and extracurricular choices they’ll make while at Michigan. He believes passionately that the multidisciplinary richness available here is the key to his students’ future success, both for their careers and for a rewarding life.
What was my impression of a course that runs the gamut from famine and food science to a bucket of strawberries? Inspired pedagogy that leaves students not just better informed, but wiser.
I had my camera with me in class yesterday, and though the lighting wasn’t ideal for photography you can see some of Phil’s interesting slides (as well as a few shots of the Diag as I walked back to the Fleming Building) on my Flickr photostream here. You can also watch a video produced by News Service about the course.
Posted in Teaching and Learning |