One of the main benefits of studying abroad has always been the new perspective that immersion in another culture provides on one’s own. We understood that back in the fourth grade, when we were taken to see the workings of the instant pudding factory upstate, a field trip as exotic and exciting to us as the Grand Tour. (I can’t find mention of the factory on Google, so it might have been this place.) Just breathing in all that artificial-banana dust hanging in the air made us feel more sophisticated.
The Atlantic has an article on a “month-long…bike trip 150 students at Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences took across Northern Italy last fall following the valley of the once-mighty Po…designed to explore what remains of the riverine culture.” How cool is that? Though nominally the topic is gastronomy, Carlo Petrini, Slow Food’s founder, considers the course actually to be about “economics, environmental science, history, biology…anthropology…and social justice….” Light classes were held en route, and students got to talk with “artisanal and industrial producers who cure ham and sausage, roast coffee, make pasta, press olive oil, brew craft beer, and the like.” (This is the region of prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano.)
That’s terrific for those who can study abroad or guest-teach in that program, but the rest of us need something closer to home, the perspective that studying our own countryside more closely, the roots and processes of our own culture, might bring. So I’ve approached LAS about teaching a course that would include a cultural bike tour of our little piece of Midwest, and it’s shaping up like this:
Weeks 1-12: Interdisciplinary classroom work.
Week 13: Pedal out of Inner Station, try to turn back when hit by insane blasting winds filled with agribusiness nitrates, but forced to dodge tornadoes created by freak microclimate of intersecting highways. Carry bikes through fecal swamps surrounding industrial feedlots.
Week 14: Sample delicious varieties of commodity corn grown on 99.99% of state's acreage. Though it’s grown only to manufacture ethanol and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), who could resist munching several ears of E2207HXLL® (106 Day), E2490YGCB® (110 Day), or E2607HXLL® (110 Day with good ear flex)? Pass the butter!
Week 15: Bloated hog corpse at the end of a driveway.
Week 16: Final exam.