Sunday, May 6, 2012

Where does our food come from?

I'm back from a Friday writer's conference that reminded me (as it always has) that I am a writer as much as I am a teacher. Too bad I don't have as much time for the writing as I'd like...

That being said, I am taking a break from a gorgeous and sunny Sunday to reflect a bit on what happened in my classroom when we started looking at the packaging on a variety of processed foods (crackers, cereal, bread, rice cakes, and so on).

First off, the focus and interest the group as a whole had while watching the Nourish video clip and analyzing the food systems diagrams, well, it went out the window. I think taking time to delve into what's in our foods is fascinating, but from the behaviors I saw, about half of my students are not in agreement. Maybe it wasn't specific enough for them, although the worksheet I gave them really walked them through the steps of looking at main ingredients, thinking about what plants/animals they came from, and trying to figure out where in the country/world they may have come from. Then I wonder if some of them didn't have adequate background knowledge of something or other they needed to truly grasp the task. We did spend several months on US Geography in the fall and winter, but many kids had trouble accessing information that would help them track their ingredients (Great Plains = lots of corn and wheat farming = possibly where those ingredients came from). Maybe it was just a couple of warm afternoons in May and the collective class focus was somewhere else.

By the time we got to Thursday at 2:30, I was feeling very ready to finish up this exploration. Pairs of kids shared basic information about what they'd discovered about their food item, and we noted that about half of the foods had a corn product listed as a top three ingredient. Almost every product had some sort of sweetener in the top three. No one seemed particularly surprised, interested, or concerned about these discoveries.

A couple interesting things came up:
1) One loaf of bread came in a plastic bag that is recyclable. Raising the question: Why aren't all plastic bread wrappers recyclable?
2) You can email almost any company's customer service to ask about the product. At the request of a few students, I sent emails to ask about where Quaker Rice Cakes are manufactured, where the wheat for Vermont Bread Company bread is grown and milled, and where the yeast in Fleischman yeast cakes is grown/created/cultured. Did you ever stop to wonder where those packets of yeast came from?? I have gotten responses back from all three companies, but I haven't had a chance to share with my students yet. So you'll have to wait too.

Coming soon: The answers to all the questions posed in #2 above, a recap of a double blind taste taste of local v. non-local apples and carrots, and some pictures from the camera I left at school over the weekend.

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