Event Flier

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.


Food Matters, so Let’s Start Acting Like It: Student Guest Blogs

Welcome back from UConn spring vacation, readers! This week I’ll be giving the spotlight to two students’ reflections on their academic experiences outside of the classroom at a Benton Museum panel titled “Food Matters, The True Cost of Industrializing the Food Supply.”

As we discussed today in class, an important practice for proactive learners is to engage with intellectual interests regularly beyond the classroom. Here at the University of Connecticut we’re lucky enough to have access to a wide variety of in-person panels, lectures, workshops, film screenings, and other events every day. Please enjoy these four perspectives on food in the United States, nested within two student perspectives on one such Omnivore’s academic adventure.

Sorry, I didn’t have a three. Happy reading!

Published with permission.

By Jessica Mathieu 

The Benton Museum of Art is hosting “Sweet Sensations,” an exhibit of art held in conjunction with the UConn Reads’ initiative of reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan to strike up conversation about American food consumption. Throughout his book, Pollan makes points that help us peel back the wrappers and see what Americans are really consuming. At “Food Matters: the Cost of Industrializing our Food Supply,” a panel hosted by the Benton, the speakers were asked to add tinder to this conversation about the food industry that America is feeding and what that industry really looks like.

Nutritionist Shoshana Levinson moderated this panel. She began by speaking to this system of industrialized food by saying it is “a system that values profit over health and sustainability.” Of course, the food industry is an industry, after all. When your lens is shaped like a dollar sign when trying to rethink and reform your product, your problem solving skills go directly to figuring out how to make as much of it for as little as possible. Thanks, American capitalism! But on the other side of that phrase, the food industry, the idea of an industry has a very specific context that should (but often time does not) consider the value of what makes up their products; not in cost, but in nutrition.

The “quantity over quality” mentality has never set the stage for the production of sustainable goods, as Levinson gets at with that statement; nothing, especially in a powerful corporate setting, is built to last. I don’t mean last in terms of time (after all, the Twinkie’s lifespan is probably longer than the average American’s), but in the product’s ability to fully and sensibly serve its purpose. Sure, a single box of Twinkies could be passed down to your children and grandchildren, but how does that translate when it’s actually consumed? This is what Levinson expresses to us as she introduces the panelists. She wants us to be aware of all perspectives and motivations of the food industry and its consumers. We can do so by critiquing the relationship this industry has set up between consumer and producer: it is heavily one-sided. We buy and buy from companies that supply us with so many (empty!) calories and sugars that end up stressing our bodies out more than properly sustaining them. As the food industry stands currently, it’s as though we are feeding them more than they are feeding us. Each of the panelists present at “Food Matters” express their passions in deconstructing that relationship and giving it a healthier, level-ground. This is the exact system they seem to reject in the quest for sustainable food. 

Levinson opens the floor to Rudd Center representative Renee Gross, who explains the Rudd Center’s initiative to change policies to restrict some of the legal liberties that food corporations take advantage of. Not only are they looking to tighten the reins on bigger corporations, but to make the sensible choices more widely available. Gross goes on to tell us that these sensible options are not equally available to all; factors such as low socioeconomic status are heavily restrictive on the kind of foods a person can purchase. Something that the Rudd Center works toward is making it so food stamps are accepted in a variety of places (the ultimate goal being everywhere). When we talk about being informed consumers, that knowledge can only take us so far if we do not have access to the choices we would ideally like to make. Another point that Gross emphasized was the way these sugary goods are being marketed: toward children. While using childhood obesity to drive her point, Gross encourages us to examine the way marketing targets children; it keeps them in the dark and has them running toward what their favorite cartoon characters are endorsing, like juices pumped with high fructose corn syrup. She tells us that the Rudd Center wants to focus energy on a demographic that often times cannot make their own decisions on what they’re consuming, informed or not.

The third panelist was a sociology professor at UConn, Phoebe Godfrey. She expressed that her focus was mainly on the cost of our industrialized food source claiming that said is cost is “not something singular”; they are not isolated and in fact, are many. The way we have managed to build this food industry is poisonous for many aspects of life that are not immediately visible to us. Among other facets of life, our communities, animals, and land are all extorted by the food powerhouse of America. As an industry situated in a capitalist society such as America, it is inherently cost/profit driven. They think cost in terms of their own; the consequences everyone and everything else faces due to this extortion are simply water under the bridge as long as revenue comes in at a steady rate, if not an escalating one. Professor Godfrey gathered students together to wear brightly colored shirts to help drive her point forward. They sat among the audience with various costs the food industry presents us with written on the backs of these shirts. She called on them, and one by one they stood and spoke to the individual cost they represented. Among them were: climate change, the overall environment, dairy cows and animals in general, global inequalities, and the extortion of laborers. The way the food industry has been built and is sustained takes without looking to give back. There are food laborers who will never see the finished product of their labor, or even be able to afford said product (I’ve known this to be from Marx’s alienation theory). Dairy cows’ bodies are constantly strained, the demand for milk is larger than what these dairy cows are capable of producing without exhausting and harming their bodies. Smog and general wastes from factories and packaging plants contribute pollution and its harmful effects on our environment. Food corporations are blind to these costs; many affluent CEO’s and other employees of said corporations are very much removed those costs, never having to feel them immediately or directly. We need to consider, as Gross mentioned formerly in the Rudd Center initiative, how to pull these corporations in to limit their ability to extort these resources. There must be a way to feed America in an ethical way; by changing policies and creating restrictions we can force this industry to get creative in that aspect.

Endocrinologist Dr. Fadi A. Al Khayer was the last to speak on this panel. He spoke to bring us back to what food is supposed to do to begin with, and that’s to sustain our lives and keep us healthy. He began by telling us the astounding statistic surrounding diabetes and young Americans born in the year 2000 and onward: there is a 1/3 chance that a child born in that time will be diagnosed with diabetes in their life time. Imagine that! Could you imagine one in every three people you encountered were bogged down by that chronic illness simply because of America’s food culture? That is the reality we, and this industry, are shaping. For an industry that is supposed to be about sustaining life and keeping America healthy, its methods are counterproductive. However, there is still responsibility on consumers (who have that agency) to understand their choices and what they are putting on their, and their family members’, plates.  Dr. Al Khayer emphasizes the need to differentiate between the types of diabetes in this conversation about the harm of American food culture. One type, type 2, is the one we need to be focusing on for this discussion, for it the one we are helping to cultivate. That doesn’t goes to say that the way the food industry is set up in general does not make things difficult for all diabetics, because it certainly does. Speaking as a person with type 1 diabetes, I can say that there is a lot I must do on my part to assure my health is in check. When I am fixed in a world obsessed with sugar intake, it is challenging to keep my head high and my options open.

Dr. Al Khayer presents us with this thought: as we are attempting to become a nation that is more aware of the dangers of excessive sugar intake, we also need to reconsider our approach to solving this problem. Often times, companies try to bank on “diet” things; diet this, diet that, and none of it “tastes diet”! Well, of course not, because artificial sweeteners are being pumped into these products to satisfy that sweet tooth. These artificial sweeteners ultimately confuse our bodies and do nothing to solve the actual problem. We are still feeding this sweetness addiction of America, and we have done so in a way that we think is “healthy” and “beneficial”. If anything, they are equally as harmful. Dr. Al Khayer tells us that as we exhaust our bodies’ ability to produce insulin (a hormone that help the body convert carbohydrates to energy) by consuming sugar, that loophole we’ve created does not get us out of risk of diabetes. Diet sodas cause insulin resistance almost as much as sugary sodas and foods.  Artificial sweeteners are just another way to keep America satisfied and to keep them buying as obesity and other health risk awareness spreads, doing so in a way that makes us think we are doing our bodies good when this substitute causes its own set of health problems. 

These panelists made profound contributions to this conversation our campus is having about rethinking our food sources. They provided us with many different perspectives, showing us who is benefiting and who faces the drawbacks. There is an astounding amount of damage being done to our communities, bodies, and planet. The American food industry needs to be redirected in a way where it provides for our communities and does not extort them. There are many different approaches to solving this problem; none of them being easy or immediate. We need to consider the words of these professionals and find ways that each of us can be a smart consumer, making the best choices when we can. So, in short, food matters…so when are we going to start acting like it?

Published with permission.

By Jordan Angel

 Attending the Food Matters Discussion Panel allowed me to gain a new perspective and understanding of why America is such an overweight country as a whole. The most disturbing part of the obesity epidemic is that one of the most-at-risk demographics for obesity is children. What is even worse is that this is due greatly to our own marketing and habits as a country. For example, as Renee M. Gross, the coordinator of Legal Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, pointed out, the average child sees 13 food commercials per day. Most of these commercials advertised are for foods that are very high in fat or added sugars like Chips Ahoy! Or Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Children are extremely vulnerable to creative and manipulative advertising, which often uses popular celebrities, athletes, or cartoon characters to entice children to eat the often very unhealthy product. In contrast, the average child sees only one “healthy” commercial per week (which are commercials that urge children to eat healthier or be more active). Despite Michelle Obama’s nationwide program, Let’s Move!, which is aimed at combating childhood obesity, childhood obesity remains to be a major problem in the United States.

Another major reason for obesity among Americans that was discussed by the panel was the lack of exercise, we as a nation get. One older member of the audience noted that she was 88 years old, and stated that she used to walk everywhere as a kid, “I remember my dad picking me up once from school in my entire life because it was absolutely pouring out! Today, everyone drives everywhere – you never see people out walking anymore!” Fadi Al Khayer, an M.D. in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, was one of the panelists in the discussion. He compared the United States with the Western half of Europe, which he explained was most like America in terms of culture and socioeconomic status. When comparing the two, one thing that sticks out is how much more people in Western Europe walk then Americans. Khayer explained that on average, Western Europeans walk about 5 kilometers per day while Americans only walk 1000 ft. per day!

Khayer, along with Phoebe Godfrey, a UConn Professor of Sociology who teaches a course on food, climate change, sustainability, and social justice, tried to emphasize the extreme costs of the unhealthy American diet. Khayer focused on the more economic costs of obesity, stating that Type II diabetes will literally bankrupt the United States. As a whole, the cost of healthcare for all people affected from Type II Diabetes whether that be health costs, inability to work, etc. is astronomical and only growing! In fact, Khayer exclaimed that the only way China will not become far more powerful than the US in the upcoming years is because, they have the same problem with childhood obesity and Type II Diabetes and it will severely stunt their economic growth. Godfrey, as well as her students all discussed other costs of obesity throughout the U.S. One student spoke of child slave labor and explained that many children are being forced to work for far below minimum wages in third-world countries in order to process foods like chocolate, for the rich. Other costs include food deserts, as many people living in urban areas lack the ability to purchase affordable and healthy food, and well-being of the animals. In conclusion, this discussion was an exciting way to hear first-hand about medical news from established and respected doctors, as opposed to on TV or the Internet.

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.

What do you value?: A Question of Higher Education and Food

“What do you value?” As I was reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma for the second time to help me select course topics for the semester it struck me that any discussion of the text will push readers to consider this question from a variety on angles. What kinds of foods do we want to put into our bodies? What are we willing to sacrifice for economic gain or convenience? Is it important to know from where your food comes and the ramifications of those details? Is a second story porch in a chicken coop a meaningful add to their lives or your meal? As the countdown to the semester continues I’m increasingly excited to engage in these types of discussions and debates with my class.

This week, however, I’ve spent thinking about what the students will value in their college education. Because this is a First Year Experience (FYE) course I’ve built the skeleton of the class around transferable academic skills and engagement with the university. This includes writing workshops, undergraduate grant application support, participation in campus academic events, public speaking, and (of course) talking about the book. Together this content accounts for about 70% of the course lessons. What about the other 30%? Students will use Poll Everywhere to vote on the remaining course content and to actively shape each of their assignments as individuals so that our community’s experiences and every assignment the students complete will give them the opportunity to explore topics of relevance to them.

Design Your Own Course Options

(Students will democratically select at least one from each category on the first day of class.)

Guest Experts Instructor-Led Content Hands-on Learning
Natural Resources and the Environment Intersectionality (Race, Class, Gender) and the Politics of Food Thomas J. Dodd Research Center
Nutrition at College War and Food UConn’s Spring Valley Farm (Off Campus Trip)
Food and Illness Food and Labor, Human Relationships to Food UConn Cows – Campus Agriculture
Fuel, Science, and the Environment Food Security and Human Rights The Art and Economics of Food Presentation
Climate Change and Food Literature and Food Policy Film Screening of The Botany of Desire (120 minutes)

In my Blackboard course introduction learning module I told my students that “What do you value?” will be the guiding question for UNIV 1820, UConn Reads this semester. Yes, the topics in The Omnivore’s Dilemma will drive the class. But the underlying, hopefully lasting, conversation will be about what they value for their lives in and beyond college. Whatever they feel would add value to their academic journey, it is my wish that they will all leave with excitement and tools that will get them there.

My question for readers this week is looking back, what do you value most from your college education, and what did you need to make it possible? One of the main reasons I teach this course is because for me the life-changing part of my Bachelor’s Degree was undergraduate research. None of that work would have been possible without grants funded by the University of North Carolina, Wilmington’s English Department and Honors Program, especially the contributions of donor Charles Green III, and the guidance of my Professors Dr. Keith Newlin and Dr. Christopher Gould. So I close this week’s post by thanking them for seeing value in what I could achieve and for making it possible for me to pay it forward.