Whats for Dinner?: Purchasing and Preparing an Organic, locally grown Meal
Having read Michael Pollan's The Omnivores Dilemma, students in "Land, Food, and Sustainable Agriculture" are divided into groups of five and instructed to a) design a dinner menu featuring organically or naturally grown food (points for locally grown); b) "track to source" all items they purchase, and present detailed menu notes about origins and conditions of production; c) prepare the meal together; and d) serve each other (and the instructor); write a short review of the meal, and a longer, collaborative essay based upon group discussion about what they learned in doing the project. The project/activity connects students to naturally grown food sources, alternatives to industrial agricultural production, slow food preparation, and social engagement through food ceremonies.
One goal is to model a reflective way of life that includes appreciation of health, good nutrition, and social enrichment organized around thoughtful food preparation. A second goal asks students to connect appreciation with awareness of different methods of food production, and self-consciousness as consumers of food about what choice may imply. The assignment involves cooperative planning and discussion, investigative thinking, analysis, evaluation and reflection.
Context for Use
Course context is a senior-level Integrated Studies course capstone in General Education in which students come from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds. The site can be a college-owned house kitchen or the instructor's at home. Student planning typically takes two weeks. Groups of five are optimal in dividing responsibilities: purchases, components of evaluation, menu preparation, etc. The assignment comes in the last half of the course, after readings and analysis of both industrial and alternative farming methods, and a reading of Pollan's book.
Description and Teaching Materials
Students get together outside of class to decide on a meal and menu, and assign responsibilities for the several aspects of the assignment. On the appointed evening, they arrive with receipts and receive reimbursement for expenses incurred, prepare the meal with or without the instructor's help, and serve it to each other. Dinner conversation includes commentary and discussion that will culminate in the reflective, collaborative essay the group writes.
Teaching Notes and Tips
A useful workshop suggestion: structure research assignments tracking food-to-source comparatively, asking students to compare and contrast, for instance, environmental impact costs of "shipped" produce with impact costs of locally grown produce.
1. Observation of group activity
2. Written student evaluations of fellow students contributions to the activity (form).
3. Written materials: menu, review, collaborative essay.
4. Student evaluations of the the experience (final evaluations)
References and Resources