On the first day of class when I asked my students to tell me what about studying The Omnivore’s Dilemma most sparked their interest, nutrition immediately came to the forefront. As someone who takes wellness very seriously and often sees students struggle when they first begin making their own nutritional choices at college, I was excited to facilitate this learning experience.
Despite my personal interest, nutrition is definitely not among my areas of academic expertise. So I knew I didn’t want to attempt teach this important lesson. However, I immediately knew on whom I could rely to deliver a great talk founded in research, but accessible and practical for first-year students — Dr. Hedley Freake. He is a strong supporter and instructor of First Year Experience at UConn who currently serves as the Department of Nutritional Science’s Undergraduate Program Coordinator, Global House Living Learning Community’s Faculty Director, Chair of the University Interdisciplinary Courses Committee, and he continues to be a dynamic Professor and researcher on top of all these commitments.
When he joined us last week, my class and I “quickly became immersed in the discussion” that he led informally, perfectly integrating with our classroom culture (Diler Haji, quoted with permission). As the topics seamlessly flowed from personal nutritional choices, to Pollan’s text, then around to scientific research, I knew without a doubt that I had chosen the right scholar to visit. Of the experience Samantha Crystal said, “It was great to be able to talk to someone in person who knows so much about the food industry, especially concerning health aspects of our food” (quoted with permission, emphasis added).
On behalf of my FYE class, I thank Dr. Freake for a great, productive day. And I wish you all happy reading!
By Dana Kringel
Published with permission
Our UNIV class welcomed an expert guest speaker in week 10: Dr. Hedley Freake, Professor in the UConn Department of Nutritional Sciences.
After receiving a firsthand account of what it means to be gluten-free from Shawna, who claimed to be very grateful for the gluten-free obsession that opened up her dietary choices, Freake began the show by asking what sorts of things about nutrition we needed to address.
The students were quick to supply answers, including: cost of food, unequal distribution, sugar intake, obesity, undernutrition, and education about food. In this exercise, we found that we have many questions about one of the most common facets of our life. We sit down and eat three times a day (sometimes more if we’re feeling ambitious) and yet, there are so many gaps in our understanding of food and nutrition.
Freake referred back to “The Ominvore’s Dilemma,” and Pollan’s four-way division of food: Industrial, Organic, Hunger/Gatherer, and Pastoral. He zeroed in particularly on the industrial section, which creates energy-rich but nutrient-poor food, and the hunter/gatherer section, which creates nutrient-rich, but energy-poor food. That is to say, industrial food production brings us all those delicious empty calories – pasta, chips, more pasta – that miraculously keep us running throughout the day but give us no nutritional value at all. Hunter/Gatherer food systems bring back nutrient rich foods – roots, berries, nuts, and other things that most people are only slightly fond of – that do not contain the caloric density to give unlimited energy.
This brought up a lengthy discussion of athletes eating pasta and other “empty calorie” foods before their games. Freake acknowledged that the calories do provide energy, and that’s every coach’s plan when they casually encourage students to gorge themselves at pasta parties the night before their games. (I always knew Penne alla Vodka had some practical use beyond being delicious.) There is more nutritional density in natural foods, but they do not always carry the weighty calories that we burn for energy.
Next, the class took a detour into the difference between eating supermarket meat (industrial-fed cow) and eating natural meat (grass-fed cow). Grass-fed cows do contain less fatty acids and saturated fat, and industrial cows are given antibiotics, but do these things really make a difference in the scheme of things? Freake replied that the question was unanswered, as we don’t know if we eat enough meat for it to really make a difference. What he did answer with a resounding “yes,” however, was the question, “Can you taste the difference?” He asserted that the taste is subjective; however, and preferences vary from person to person.
Looking at the economic perspective, grass-fed cows do yield more expensive meat. We find ourselves in a common predicament once again. It’s like standing outside a plaza that contains a Whole Foods and a Big Y. Big Y probably has cheaper food, but it might not be as good for you. Whole Foods is wholly more expensive, though. Is it really worth the extra money? Once again, it’s up to personal preference.
Freake ended the visit with some of Michael Pollan’s sage advice: “Be the kind of person who takes supplements.” If you’re taking vitamin supplements, you’re probably the kind of person who actually thinks about their nutrition, and you won’t even need them. Basically, think about what you’re putting in your body and take good care of it. Cows may have no choice if they are corn or grass-fed, but we sure do.