Critical Thinking on Sustainable Food Production and Consumer Habits

Michael Faucette, Seattle Central Community College

Summary

Students are required to consider their own consumption and the importance of both globalization and local production. The process will include research, writing, and a presentation.

Learning Goals

Students are required to consider their own consumption and the importance of both globalization and local production. By thinking about daily diet choices and where their food comes from students learn to consider the environmental and economic impact of their food. Students are assigned to take a position on the complex issue of sustainable food production and consumer habits. Students learn to read critically, write in response to texts, use the writing process, compose a thesis statement, use specific support for the thesis, use smooth transitions, write with awareness of audience and purpose, produce clear and correct prose, use appropriate diction, reflect appropriate tone and style, and integrate sources to avoid plagiarism.

Context for Use

This is a writing assignment for English 101 that allows for practice of appropriate formal writing, encourages critical thinking, and has clear connections to the world around us.

From start to finish, this assignment requires nine class sessions (50 minutes each) and is scheduled early in the quarter.

Possible Use in Other Courses: With slight modification, this activity could be used in a sociology or political science class.

Description and Teaching Materials

The Learning Activities

Day One Journal Activity: Think of foods in your diet that come from far away. Is the product easily available? Is it expensive? What impact might its availability to you have on its country of origin?

Note: We begin this activity as we conclude our previous unit, so the journal activity is the stimulus for the following day's discussion. In giving the assignment, I briefly discuss the fact that I have a banana with breakfast almost every day-even though they come from far away.


Day Two:We discuss whether or not it was difficult for students to think of foods for the journal assignment, allowing several students to comment. Because of the large number of international students in my classes, I am careful to provide opportunities for them to respond to questions or comments (calling on them to help them become more comfortable speaking in class). We then discuss the students' responses to the journal assignment. We compile a list of the foods students have chosen, looking for patterns or other aspects of interest. (For example, most of the foods are unprocessed produce.)


Journal Assignment:

What considerations might lead a populace to export foods that are important to the local diet? Who do you think would get the best quality? Could such exports come at the expense of the local diet? Is it realistic, or fair, to expect food from far away to be constantly available to us at a low price? What might this mean for the producers?


Day Three: We meet in a library classroom, discuss the previous night's assignment, and go over the essay assignment. After reviewing our guidelines for assessing the reliability of sources, we use the library resources to deepen the discussion with data, examples, and explanations. With the teacher and a librarian to help, students research the topic and take notes.

Paper Assignment

I ask my students to: Take a position on the complex issue of sustainable food production and consumer habits. You will argue directly for that position, using the Five Point Position structure. Your final narrowed topic will stem from class discussion and your research. For this assignment, you will undertake formal research and engage in critical thinking. For a quick reminder of what these terms mean, you may consult your course packet or review your notes from Week One, Day Three. You must cite a minimum of three sources. The rough draft should be a minimum of three pages in length; the final draft should be five pages. All work must be typed or computer-generated.

As we have discussed in class, we all expect that certain foods we like will be easily available to us at low cost-even though they come from distant lands. We will engage in research to explore whether or not this common expectation is sustainable. That is, can we realistically count on this ease of access? What are the real costs of this ease? Who benefits, and who pays a price we might not have expected?

Your research and thinking may lead you to foods other than the one(s) you listed in your journal entry; this is fine. Of course, you will become an expert on your subject as you proceed in your research. Be careful to maintain a balance between not providing enough information for your reader to follow your thinking and overwhelming the reader with too much information. (Consider the examples in the course packet. Which one of the three is most effective?)
At any point, as questions or challenges surface, note them in your journal. What strategies will you use to find answers? (You can certainly ask questions in class, consult a librarian, meet with a tutor, etc. What are you learning about yourself as a writer?)

In Class:Compose a brief annotated list of sources, using MLA format. This will be due (along with your extended outline) on Friday during our individual conferences.

Day Four Discussion:In groups, students will use their textbook and library guide to place the following list of sources in MLA format:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7178876.stm
BBC, 09 January 2008 entitled "South Asia Hit by Food Shortages" (Impact of skyrocketing rice and wheat prices in South Asia)

http://www.financialpost.com/story.html?id=213343
"Forget Oil, the New Global Crisis Is Food". The Financial Post, 07 January 2008, Alia McMullen.
(Impact of growing middle classes in China and India and their changing food demands)

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080131-warming-crops.html
"Warming May Cause Crop Failures, Food Shortages by 2030"
Mason Inman, National Geographic News. (Higher temperatures and less water could reduce crop yields even further)

"Why a Rice Shortage in the Philippines?"
Mong Palatino, UPI Asis Online, 02 April 2008. (An example of how export possibilities can determine what is grown)

Assignment: Complete the extended outline. As questions or challenges surface, note them in your journal. What strategies will you use to find answers? (You can certainly ask questions in class, consult a librarian, meet with a tutor, etc. What are you learning about yourself as a writer?)

Day Five: In brief individual conferences, I review each student's bibliography and outline. Students may work in the classroom, library or computer lab. To have adequate time to meet with each student, I use our class hour and am available in my office in the morning and afternoon.
Assignment: Complete the rough draft. Bring three copies of the draft to our next class for peer review.

Day Six: Three copies of draft are due in class for peer review.
Assignment: Complete final draft for submission during Day Nine.

Day Seven: Work in class on final draft. Especially for working students with limited time, it is also possible to schedule an appointment with a writing tutor for today's class hour.
Assignment: Complete final draft for submission on Thursday.

Day Eight: Work in class on final draft. Especially for working students with limited time, it is also possible to schedule an appointment with a writing tutor for today's class hour.
Assignment: Complete final draft for submission during our next class.

Day Nine: Final draft of essay due (with extended outline, annotated bibliography, preliminary draft, journal, and peer review sheets)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The topic has worked well. Students felt talking about food was less "stressful" and allowed them to feel more comfortable in class and with each other. By the time it felt like a serious topic to them, we were well on our way. My international students, many of whom are not at all comfortable speaking in class, are finding it easier to engage with their classmates on this activity. As fate would have it, during our preliminary work, the current global food crisis made the topic real for the students. When local retailers, for example, limited the amount of shoppers could purchase, this writing assignment became much more than an academic exercise. Of course, I plan to continue refining the activity with future classes.

Assessment

Successful students writers demonstrate the ability to read critically, write in response to texts, use the writing process, compose a thesis statement, use specific support for the thesis, use smooth transitions, write with awareness of audience and purpose, produce clear and correct prose, use appropriate diction, reflect appropriate tone and style, and integrate sources to avoid plagiarism.

In addition to meeting individually with students, I also keep extensive notes on each studentís progress from idea to completed revised draft. In the individual conference on day five, I provide feedback on the outline and bibliography. Later that day, in an individual email message to each student, I provide a progress report with additional guidance and suggestions for the developing paper. I make a point of praising the strong points and commenting on the studentís engagement with our topic.

References and Resources

I provide a list of articles to students as part of an exercise to familiarize them with the MLA format; these are also timely articles that provide important background information and serve as a stimulus for class discussion. Our library, our librarians, our text, and fellow class members are all important resources.

Evergreen State College