Evaluating Learning

Student Assessments

Shoppers at Farmer's Market

Slow Food Nutrition Assignment: Why we know what we know

Pre-Class Eating Habits Questionnaire (Acrobat (PDF) 120kB Jul15 08)

This is a Library nutrition scavenger hunt.

Go to the library. Chris Johnson, the Reference Librarian, will provide the class with guidance. The task is to find 3 articles from peer reviewed medical journals on good nutrition or the benefits of nutrition in disease prevention.

One article can be a review article.

One should be written before 1995.

At least one should report the results from a large epidemiological study with at least 1000 participants.

The task is to summarize the articles read and be able to present the findings to the class. These articles will be used to discuss and to establish some of the guidelines for healthy eating.

Student with Poster

Slow foods connections

Choose one of the Guiding Principles of Slow Food USA. Use at least 3 examples from the readings and/or other research to illustrate the principle chosen.

For each example, describe the situation and its implications. Provide a summary conclusion that integrates the included examples to justify the importance of this principle.

Here are the steps that will be used for evaluation:

  1. Identify the principle and describe it in the student's own words using a personal or local example. (1/2 to 1 page long)\
  2. Identify 3 relevant readings and explain why they relate to this theme. Each reading may be discussed separately, or, better yet, integrate them into the discussion. This section of the paper should be at least 3 pages long.
  3. Make a concept map that links together the ideas discussed.
  4. Write a summary and conclusion. (This should be one page long)

Course assessments

Students were asked to reflect on how the class had changed their perspectives. Here are selected excerpts from these papers.

Slow Food: End of Semester Reflections, Beloit College, 2005

"One idea brought up in class that I had known of but given little thought to is the idea of local foods. I had known of local food enthusiast and had frequented my town's Farmer's market; however, I did not realize the impact local versus corporate international food supplies on a diverse area of interests. I did not realize the effects of producing nationally circulating produce or manufactured food products. The transportation wastes were shocking to me. I never thought of the connection from food to oil and vehicle waste. I also see the relationship between nationally organized food corporations and the outsourced power of the working class. There are definite sociological factors impacted by the bureaucracy and facelessness of Sysco and Kraft. Before this class, I had separated my interest in the factory worker, blue-collar working class from organic food shops and health stores. I believed the five dollar milk cartons and other expensive items were laughable in the faces of the food insecure working class and poor. Now I see the helpful connection between the two. The earnest humanity of local food has been exposed, along with its heart that produces because of the poor because of the knowledge of what atrocities are committed on the poor by the food companies they depend on. I saw Kraft and Kellogg as grounding for one people organic food ignored, but aside from price tag comparison, I see the amazing neglect on the part of big companies to examine systemic problems."

Male Student with Poster

"The slow food principle of sustainability was one thing that really interests me. Sustainability is concerned with promoting healthy, season, and organic foods as well as recognizing the connections between consumer, forces, earth and the relationships therein. This made me look at food differently because while investigating the relationships between consumers and their farmers, I began to see food as a tool for building strong communities. If we begin to really focus on eating locally, and forming a strong relationship with our framers, we will begin to realize this principle. The work we did with the Beloit Farmer's Market was a great opportunity to see the relationship small, local farmers have with their community."

"Before this class I didn't really have a concept of 'slow food.' I liked to cook and I liked food, but I never really took the time to think about slow food. Near the beginning of the semester when we visited the farms my perspective on the farming community changed drastically. I knew farming was 'hard' but I had never seen the process of it, especially the process of an organic farm."

"The process was interesting to me because we got to see it first hand. My understanding of "organic" was whole foods, and now it has a whole different meaning. I'd never been on a farm before so the experience really stuck with me."

"The mass produced foods are supposed to be cheaper. However, we do not pay for the overall effect. We do not pay for the greenhouse gases, the poor displace, indigenous peoples, or the extinct animals and plant species. Even if that cost were to be factored in, how can money-paper-heal dead birds, people and earth? It cannot. The negative effects are environmental, as they degrade the environment. Social as the poor cannot afford this food or grow their own, and gastronomical, as the food itself loses taste, nutrition and ceremony. Slow, locally grown food seems to me to be the answer."

"Food insecurity in the U.S. was never something I thought affected the U.S. at such a large scale. Whey does the U.S. that is so rich do so little to get its people out of poverty? This is an outrage. Even though food insecurity strays away from the topic of slow food it is still a topic that is important to me. Doing the paper on hunger really helped us get a grasp on what is going on in the real world. It made us think about others and how we can help them."

"The distance that food travels is an idea that will stick with me for a long time. The fact that most food I eat probably doesn't even come from the state that I'm in is scary. This country is built on a vast infrastructure held together with oily glue we call oil. What insures that this system will not get a wrench tossed into its gears and completely destruct? Our food and most of the country's food will not make it to our homes. People will have no means to provide for themselves and some/most will likely starve to death. This problem can be solved or at least brought under control by localizing as much food as possible. Bring people back to where their food is. Promote local sustainable agriculture. This process will be very difficult; fighting the uphill battle against corporate America is not easy. They employ mass tools such as advertising which small local organizations can only dream about. It is imperative that something be done and CSA's along with farmer's markets are a start. But they are not good enough. More needs to be done. By creating laws that would make it mandatory to use local food whenever possible, the government would take a big step towards sustainability. By encouraging people to think more critically about money and how they spend it, a lot would be willing to spend it locally rather than nationally, because it would mean that it stays in their community. Another thing about the distance that food travels that is disturbing is the chemicals and preservatives that are added. Apparently a hamburger from McDonald's will take weeks to go rancid, a Twinkie can survive a nuclear explosion and tomatoes are picked green and than artificially ripened after being shipped to their destination."

Farmer with Students in Field

"Junk food has created an obesity epidemic in the U.S. Foods such as McDonalds, Burger King, Oreos, candy, sugar and just about anything that comes in plastic ads to this problem. This is a problem which is fueled by greedy capitalists who care nothing about the health of people. Paul Stitt is convinced that they put additives into food to make it addicting. According to a brain scan study the same receptors in a person's brain go off when they see Oreos as when a crack addict sees a crack pipe. In Supersize me, Spurlock seems to go through symptoms of withdrawal when he isn't eating and experiences euphoria when eating. So do food companies such as Kraft and McDonalds' add addictive chemicals to food? Probably. And even if they don't add addictive chemicals, their volume of commercials has to make a significant impression on ones self guidance on what to eat. The average person seems more than 100 advertisements a day. Imagine where we would be a society if those were advertisements teaching us to care for ourselves."

"It has been suggested that Kraft is trying to employ tools of its big brother company Phillip Morris. Most people would suggest that this is outrageous. But what would some people do for money?"

"For the health and well being of the citizens of this country, the government should step in and at least put greater effort into telling people that McDonalds is bad for them if not actually hold McDonald's accountable. But it doesn't seem like anything will be done anytime soon so until then I will not eat any possibly addictive food."

Conclusion and Reflections

Two Students with Poster

I am teaching this course again in Fall 2007. The new course will focus more on nutrition, agriculture, and policy and less on culture. This direction is suggested clearly in the comments above. Students were more engaged with issues of food supply and sustainability than with the history of our food habits. I will use Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006), as a text and as a launching point to ask questions and read research about land use (corn vs crops), high fructose corn syrup, energy metabolism and obesity. Because the Farm Bill will be voted on this year, we will spend time investigating the bill and its impact on ecology, land use, and health, particularly in Wisconsin. We will also use our policy focus to ask questions about food stamps and WIC and other hunger abatement programs and look at the interaction between policy and health.

The photos in this document really tell the story of the Slow Food course taught at Beloit College in 2005. During New Student Days we visited two organic farms, Kinnickinick Farms and Angelic Organics (the farm in the documentary, "The Real Dirt on Farmer John"). Students helped pick vegetables and ate tomatoes fresh from the field. We made multiple trips to Beloit's Farmer's Market, to study it, to shop and to volunteer at the Halloween Parade. We presented posters of our Farmer's Market survey to representatives of the Downtown Beloit Association and to other students. Finally, we cooked and ate together.

Discussions of Slow Food in workshops at the SENCER 2006 meeting and at the Wisconsin Regional meeting in 2007 have identified many ways to expand this topic and to adapt it to environmental studies curricula. Some of these include:

  • Survey design, data collection, graphing
  • Nutrition basics and metabolism
  • Energy
  • Potential topics suggested at SENCER workshops
  • Sustainability
  • Corn as a major crop, and its evolution
  • Fertilizers, pesticides and growth
  • Geography and transportation
  • Organic vs. non-organic values: Is it better to eat organic or local?