Things I Know 47 of 365: I like knowing where stuff comes from

When the shift to push-button telephones happened, my grandparents let me sit at the dining room table with their old rotary-dial and a screwdriver.

I was there for hours.

What the phone did was clear. How the phone did it do it, how the phone came to do it – those were mysteries.

At the end of it all, I had no answers.

I had many more questions.

I wanted to know how it all happened and came together.

These things are important to me. I want not only to know with whom the kernels of my ideas originated, but who jumpstarted my stuff cycle as well.

Friday, the students in my FOOD class will begin watch King Corn, a documentary about the rise and role of corn in American food production. Though I’d seen it before, I previewed it last night. Fascinating.

From high fructose corn syrup to agrinomics to industrial farming, the film traces corn’s role in everyday life.

We’re watching the doc because it sheds light on one of the most ubiquitous ingredients in the American day. I want my students to know what I wanted to know as I pieced apart that telephone.

As I watched the film, it reminded me why it had been hanging in my memory since the first viewing.

“If people only knew where their food comes from,” I irately IMed an unsuspecting friend, “they would be more thoughtful about how they consume.”

I hope I’m correct with that statement.

People buy bottled water because they don’t know about its environmental impact.

Once people read Fast Food Nation, they stop eating at McDonald’s.

When you learned about sweatshops, you stopped wearing Nike.

Or not.

It’s not, right?

People know these things and choose ignorance.

Still, I have to think knowing influences our decisions, at least a little.

Every once in a while, I’ll got back and watch The Story of Stuff to be reminded how connected I am to the rest of the world through the stuff I have and the impact having that stuff has on the world.

While I’m certain King Corn will help my students connect, at least a little, to an understanding of the food they consume, I realize showing a movie about the corn fields of Iowa to a bunch of kids from Philly could just as well be showing them images from the Hubble space telescope.

To combat the disconnect, I’m enlisting the help of SourceMap.org. Throughout the course of the quarter, my students will select their favorite comfort foods and map their sources and impact. They will see the myriad courses their main courses take to end up on their plates.

Knowing where stuff comes from, the origins of not our universal but individuals existences, forces us to be aware. Try as we might, we can’t return to the cave.

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