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EVENT TODAY @12:30PM: UNIV 1820 UConn Reads: First-Year Students’ Reflections on Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Today is the last day of UConn Reads for 2015! To go out with a bang we’re hosting our own UConn Reads event in the Storrs Center Co-op  to celebrate our experiences with the book. It has been a long, exciting intellectual journey supported by some stellar faculty and staff.

Course Highlights Include:

  • We visited the Benton Museum’s UConn Read’s exhibit for an exclusive tour.
  • Dr. John Volin taught us about sustainability.
  • Dr. Hedley Freake taught us about nutrition.
  • The Office of Undergraduate Research gave us tips and resources to succeed in developing undergraduate research grants.
  • Dr. Steve Zinn took us on a tour of the farms to teach us about UConn Agriculture.
  • And along the way we developed practical research and professional skills:
    • writing,
    • peer review,
    • community learning, and
    • presentation.

For our final student guest blog, we’re happy to welcome back Quinton with a reflection on one of our final project workshop days of the semester. Please enjoy the blog and consider stopping by the Co-op to hear UConn’s first mini-Pecha Kucha and some compelling artistic interpretations of  student-identified topics of relevance. We’re in for everything from backyard gardening to global politics, and even a few cartoon cows for good measure. We hope to see you there!

By Quinton Carmichall

Published with permission

Mock Grant Proposals

As usual, we were pleasantly treated to a variety of snacks from which to choose when we walked into the classroom, but on the condition that we also took these mysterious animal-themed capsules with us. It was then revealed that each animal represented a question the holder would answer regarding the recent project, charging valuable conversation on our shortcomings but also our potential. Regardless of how applicable a grant proposal is to each of us, in the process of making it and reflecting on it, everybody learned a lesson about their work ethic simply by asking their selves the right question.

Nevertheless, class arguably could not just call itself complete ten minutes in. So, we separated into groups – mostly of two – to discuss our individual approaches to our mock grant proposals. Some of us are doing objective projects while others are tackling more subjective issues, so the degree of relevance to the grant proposal varied, yet the degree of preparedness among classmates seemed unrivaled, when I in turn had a partner who could recite her project by the tip of her tongue. In speaking of the differences between those taking objective measures and those developing artistic responses, it was revealed there would be differences between the two in practice.

Those reporting a study with measurements and results will be following the “Pecha Kucha” presentation style in where each slide has a set amount of time before it transitions to the next, forcing the speaker to be concise. Reasonably, there can only be so much time allotted to any given speaker at the Coffee House discussion, so some restraints ought to be made to give those who need more time just that, while limiting those who do not. So, those conducting an artistic presentation would be granted the extra minutes so as not to limit the dynamism of their creativity.

For those of us presenting an artistic project, even where the mock grant proposal represents an objective analysis of our work, it still reliably portrays our more debilitating deficits on which we can improve over the coming weeks. The end slowly encroaches upon our UConn Reads course. When our finite time as a class has become more apparent, it marks the time to shift gears to keep up with the flow of traffic like which our work steadily will begin to appear.

Toy Farm Animals

College Eating and an Omnivore’s Nutrition: Student Guest Blog

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.

The Benton Museum in Snow

Domestic Cuisine & Sweet Remembrance!: Student Guest Blog

Cookies, Snow, and Materiality

This is a personal and academic tale in two parts. It weaves reflections on struggles and opportunities in the daily life of a college student with a snapshot of The Benton Museum‘s recent UConn Read’s guest lecture by Dorie Greenspan. Thank you to the Benton for offering this event to our community, even in the face of winter weather challenges.

Published with permission.

By Quinton Carmichall

“It was a slow day, and indeed I was needing some motivation to escape an increasingly steeper incline. First the clouds suck the blue out of the sky, then the snow covers the last semblances of green, until all that is left is white, grey, and the uninviting pillars of buildings and shaven trees. It was all testament to a terrible discovery I made that day: my friend lost her father recently, and I am too far away to offer genuine consolation. Clearly a slippery slope for me to climb, it is nevertheless implied a distraction is all we, the youthful, need to retain our footing. The Sweet Sensations event should happen later that day, I noted and realized I should very well still attend if not for the sake of my grade then for the sake of my sanity.

Much less a story of adventure and novelty my tale became as I strolled casually in a barren setting to a scene of anticipated happening. It turns out we will walk good distances through turmoil when we assume anguish is our pause and excitement our resume. When I arrive at the Benton, the workers are already leaving – keys in hand – a foreboding sign that I may be seeking somewhere else for shelter throughout hour. The sign on the door suggested we return tomorrow, yet we the audience are left today craving these “sweet sensations” accompanied by warmth in the advent of a frigid and dehydrated wind.

Given the irrational nature of emotion, one may too quickly resolve that it is an ultimately arbitrary human asset. Rather, I look at the climate surrounding my prophesied “sweet sensations” and think similarly of reality – indulgence in the situation, dependence on circumstance – all a meaningless measure of human capacity. Physicality on which we rely contingently for motivation fails us far too often. Easily, we forget that eventually all that matters leaves in its wake a memory meant to suffice in its place.

It strikes all too bluntly that these resources will not always be available to distract us, even for the short while that it matters. This reliance hurts more than adaptation to the problem; with the allure of materiality do we confuse authenticity. When will we stop worshiping Sweet Sensations and start embracing Sweet Perceptions?”

The next day…

“At the Benton was hosted a sister event to the Omnivore’s Dilemma display of an identical name: “Sweet Sensations.” Weather-related circumstances led to a postponed date (inadvertently almost leading to my absence had it been held any earlier or later than 5 pm), and still its timing was frightfully close to other plans and responsibilities I had previously made on the day. However, an upbeat, soft-spoken woman expressed her gratitude for being able to attend the event even after having made two trips consecutively. What stress I harbored seemed to disappear in light of the delightful interactions between speaker Dorie Greenspan and her audience.

Undoubtedly, she was there to promote her book, Baking Chez Moi, but the back story of its production was fascinating, nonetheless. She told of how she always wished she had been born in Paris, but stressed that one crucial skill she never would have learned had she lived in France would have been how to bake; the French tend to buy everything they serve to guests. On a campaign to collect recipes from families, Dorie discovered that they were reluctant to give their home recipes because they were “too simple.” Dorie intends to persuade us the opposite; no dish should be left to the “professionals,” and her cookbook gives homeowners sufficient instructions as to how to craft their own “sweet sensations” that do not come pre-made and prepackaged.

Dorie was especially fixated on the Parisian “macarons,” or macaroons in English (although macaroons are typically marketed as different, smaller, easier-to-bake versions of the original product). Her producer insisted that her consumers would prefer she included the recipe for macarons even though they require quite an extensive knowledge of baking to prepare. Expressing discontent for its inclusion in the book, she implies that macarons are one example of a treat indeed best left to those professionals after all, but goes on to say that we should feel free to cook whatever we want without feeling pressured to buy from those who market more appealing products and services than us.

On the side were some recipes present in the book crafted by the UConn Bakery, and to the right of that a table at which the author enthusiastically signed books, all which aggregated into a meaningful, pleasant experience regarding the necessity of cuisine. I definitely noticed no criticisms; I had never seen in person a crowd so intimately engaged with their speaker, chocking up their own “mmm’s” and “ahhh’s” at the appetizing pictures of desserts Dorie would flash them from the podium. All of this contributed to a successfully enthralling atmosphere – as well as hunger pangs in my stomach from being a little too late to fetch any food without disrupting the speaker – that constituted sadly a fraction of the allotted time, presumably in lieu of the weather conditions.  Still, the event lives up to its reputation of endorsing sweet sensations, inspiring the little cuisinier in all of us!”

“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.