“What should we have for dinner?” and Other Deceptively Simple Questions

“What should we have for dinner?” (Pollan 1)

“What should I eat?” … “What am I eating? And where did it come from? (Pollan 17)

In the opening chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A History of Four Meals (2006) Michael Pollan poses these deceptively simple questions. By the end of Pollan’s, and the reader’s, journey through food chains of the United States most of these questions are exposed as much more complicated than they first appear. I say most because by the end of the first chapter it becomes clear that the answer to “What am I eating?” is probably corn.

For a short introduction to the book and its impact on readers you can watch the video below. It walks you through the three sections — “Industrial: Corn,” “Pastoral: Grass,” and “Personal: The Forest” — and introduces you to the author.

“America’s Food Crisis: THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA” – THNKR

Published on YouTube July 1, 2012

This second video takes you on a trip through the grocery store that’s reminiscent of Chapter 1’s “A Naturalist in the Supermarket” (Pollan 15-19).

“Navigating the Supermarket Aisles with Michael Pollen and Michael Moss” – New York Times

Published on YouTube May 1, 2013

Pollan characterizes his book as a story “about the pleasures if eating, the kinds of pleasure that are only deepened by knowledge” (11). Today in UNIV 1820, UConn Reads we officially began the pursuit of knowledge about the origins of our food while sharing two giant bags of popcorn. (I just couldn’t resist.) In addition to reading the book and presenting on chapters in class each student will explore their connection to food in a way that’s meaningful and of value to them.

This individualized semester project is the core of the course. It consists of three components to be completed throughout the semester: 1) a preliminary interpretive project, 2) a mock grant proposal, 3) a public coffee house presentation event. Proposed topics include the origins of Hershey’s chocolate, steak around the word, and monoculture. Follow my blog to hear more about these and other Omnivore’s inspired intellectual adventures.

If you haven’t already picked up a copy of the book to join in the nation-wide UConn Reads initiative I hope this post will encourage you to give it a try.

3 thoughts on ““What should we have for dinner?” and Other Deceptively Simple Questions

  1. Kristyn G. says:

    Hey! I love that you are reading this book! I was wondering if you could elaborate more on the public coffee house presentation event. It sounds like a very clever way to get your students to relate what they are learning in class to actual life and to disseminate what they are learning to the general public.

    • shawnalesseur says:

      Thanks for the great question, Kristyn. The overarching goal of this class is to help first-year students succeed as engaged scholars so that they can make the most of their college education. Below are the specific learning objectives.

      1: Students will apply critical and creative thinking to the analysis of, and hands-on engagement with, the UConn Reads text for the year, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
      2: Students will engage actively with the UConn Reads initiative on campus through participation in events, group work, and presentation of individualized academic interpretation.
      3: Students will work collaboratively to create an original grant proposal for a mock or potential research project.
      4: Students will experiment with themes from the text to create their own original interpretive project.
      5: Students will practice transferable skills of proposal development, project planning, peer review, revision, and presentation.

      Whenever possible I work to create assignments that are applicable to real life. Because the mission of UConn Reads is to bring together the academic community, a public “coffee house” style event at the UConn Co-op in Storrs Center felt like an authentic way to close out the semester.

      Already this semester each student has been challenged to identify a question inspired by the text that is of personal or academic interest to them and “follow it down the rabbit hole.” Their initial project will be the written product of their intellectual exploration. And the mock grant proposal will be their opportunity to learn how an exciting question becomes college-level research. The coffee house event will give each student an intellectually supportive space to share their work and the most important things they’ve learned (about the topic, themselves as intellectuals, and/or the experience). Just like their projects, every students’ presentation will be different and tailored to fit their strengths, opportunities for growth, and academic goals.

      My undergraduate FYE Mentor (TA) and I will also present them with a book of their compiled projects and a couple of awards to recognize excellence. Because the event space is adjacent to a UConn cafe, guests and students will be encouraged to stay after for coffee and discussion. It will definitely be a highlight of my year.

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