On Teaching, Eating, and Iowa – Dear Senator Grassley (R-IA):
Honestly, sir, no offense really, but you’re coming across a little Strom-ish about now.
For the sake of transparency, I have to admit that I live in Iowa City, which is arguably the highest density area of liberals, vegans, and hipsters in America’s Midwest. I’m also a public-school teacher, entrepreneur, and dedicated locavore. I graduated with degrees from the University of Iowa, married an Iowan, had babies here, and grew up middle class in Cedar Rapids.
As an Iowan, I believe that we have an intimate responsibility to the way our country feeds itself both vegetable and animal matter.
To some of us, it’s pretty obvious that the agricultural practices common to factory farms and confinement livestock operations are not sustainable. I mean “sustainable” in the most denotative sense of the word; we absolutely, literally can’t keep eating the way we do (meat at every meal, corn in every product), and Iowa’s future is dependent on it. However, to some, these practices are necessary collateral damages in the mission to feed everyone cheaply.
How can we reconcile our love of our state, the dire status of American nutrition, and the need to provide affordable, nutritious food for our country? Welcome to my classroom.
So, Senator Grassley (and/or Staffer), before you stop reading this as the musings of just another Johnson County lib, please keep in mind that it is my duty as a school teacher and Iowan to call “shenanigans” on this whole Meatless Mondays-PR fiasco you’re in, and help both sides understand each other.
I would love for you to come visit my school in rural Solon (lots of Republicans to meet!) and see what a teacher does to address these issues without coming across as biased.
Here’s a taste of just a few days in my science class that help Iowa’s students become better stewards of Iowa’s land:
Heart Disease and Corn-fed Cattle:
This topic has some fantastic Iowa CORE biology standards overlaps. We can talk very lucidly about evolution when we talk about corn-fed beef.
First and foremost, is feeding corn to cattle bad? Certainly for Iowa it’s a windfall considering the amount of corn we grow, but evolution has some other things to add to the discussion.
Students are given the opportunity to discuss what is an appropriate amount of beef to eat, where our calories should be coming from, and how these rules play out given the evolution of humans and cattle.
We would love for you to come and ponder evolution and saturated fats with us!
Antibiotic Resistance and Transference of Pathogens:
MRSA and other antiobiotic-resistant bacteria are going to be this generation of young Iowan’s AIDS epidemic. Our students need to be educated and informed about how to stem this growing issue, and they especially need to understand the ancillary sources of such bugs.
With feed lots confining turkeys, pigs, cattle, and chickens all taking up residence in our state (and the surrounding region) I think it’s our job as Iowans to figure out how to do this without having to over-use the miracle drugs that antibiotics once were.
Feel free to drop by to discuss how we zone and certify confinement operations. Most feed lots don’t have the staff to answer questions from students, but I’m willing to bet that you have access to such information, Senator! Thanks a bunch in advance!
The Omnivore’s Dilemma:
Reading Pollan’s modern classic is a great gateway into discussions and research projects for students interested in the good and bad of factory farming. Most students assume that if the FDA allows it, it must be safe. This kind of tacit belief in safety is not democratic, but, of course, neither is paranoia.
Students often branch off and do projects that help them understand the supply chain that produces their favorite foods; often to surprising results!
As Iowans, it’s absurd to not understand how High Fructose Corn Syrup is made, or why the corn sugar industry would like these things renamed. Students love to debate whether either side of this market is being smeared by the other; all the while they gain knowledge of our food system, biology, and how our local economy interfaces with national and global markets.
Senator, we would love you to do a book study with us!
Did you know that Monsanto is one of the most vilified companies in the world, and many of its business holdings are right here in Iowa! I bet you did, but my students usually don’t.
The films King Corn and Food Inc. do a sensational job of making Monsanto out to be a real bad guy. Is this so? You’d be amazed at the quality of Iowa’s students’ questions about this topic.
Agent Orange’s Monsanto connection is a real surprising find for most students!
There are many, many more lessons that I won’t flesh out here: we learn about the Farm Bill and its requisite subsidies, we learn about how small market changes can drive huge ones through chaos-theory mathematics, we learn about fossil-fuel costs in producing corn and fertilizers, and so on.
I love creating home-grown, Iowa-loving students, and your presence could help lend some credibility to my classroom!
Feel free to drop by any time when school’s in session. My students would love to know why one of our senators can eat as much meat as he wants while people starve the world over; even in Iowa!
Solon High School – Room 201
600 West Fifth St
Solon, IA 52333