A Very Strange Movie for a Vegan…

     Well, of course I am back in school!  And needless to say, busier than ever. As Spring Break ended, our school launched our yearly traditional All School Unit, in which all the students and staff are scrambled and reorganized into really multiaged groups (ages 5 – 14), and then all study the same thing.  This year’s topic is Food for Thought.  This week our students rotated through six concentric circle groups/topics to reflect on how food is experienced on many levels.  If you picture a set of circles-within-circles (this is how we chose to envision our topic), the experience starts with "self." Students went to two one-hour "circle groups" each day for three days; one day was a field trip day, and today we had guest speakers.
I was in the "Self" group with two other teachers.  We used our activity period to look at the different Food Pyramids (including the Vegan Food Pyramid, of course!) and the way we can all make  good choices when we eat.  We also served the kids small portions of healthy foods to get them to try something that might be new to them.  In this case, it was rice pasta, tofu hot dogs, English cucumbers, kumquats and dates.  I had a lot of fun with this!
     The next step out in the circles was "family."  The family group organized students at tables and fed them rice, but it was different at each table.  At the East Asian table the students learned to use chopsticks, including good chopstick etiquette, and also sampled spicy pickled vegetables.  At the Western table, they ate with forks and had conventional dinnertime discussions.  At the South Asian table the students ate with their hands, but only their right hands!  And they learned about the culture in India and surrounding area.
     After "family" was "local."  The Local group emphasized foods from Wisconsin, all grown within 100 miles from Madison.  They identified many root vegetables, ate them cooked in a stew, and tried a variety of fresh sprouts and herb teas.
     The next group was "national."  This group decided that the "national" beverage was milk…. but what kinds of milk?  Students sampled dairy, rice, soy and almond milks while blindfolded (and of course, teachers knew ahead of time who shouldn’t have what!), and then learned how each of them are produced.
     The "global" group learned about spices from around the world.  They crushed the spices in mortar and pestles, then mixed them with olive oil and drizzled it on bread.  Guess how popular that station was? 
     Finally, the "future" group looked at two possible scenarios for the future of our food consumption.  Either farms could continue growing larger and larger until they are fully corporatized, and more like factories than they already are, or the trend toward small farms and CSA’s could dominate and win out. 
     Our field trip just happened to be farm-related, as the University of Wisconsin’s annual CALS Day for Kids was going on during our unit.  We spent a few hours at the UW Stock Pavilion petting baby calves, piglets, chicks and lambs (while I kept my mouth shut about what was going to happen to those cute babies).  (And anyway, many of my kids are quite aware — two are vegetarian and one is vegan.)  We also learned about how corn and other crops are grown, how cows are milked, and played games with healthy food choices.
     Today’s guest speakers were a dairy farmer, a vegetable farmer, a dietitian (I went to that one, and fortunately she didn’t tell kids how unhealthy a vegan diet was, like the last one did!), a pediatrician, and the chef from the local food coop that makes our hot lunches.  At the end of the day, we were treated to a concert from the Mara Rosenbloom Quartet (Mara is an alum).  Needless to say, it was an exhilarating and exhausting week!  Next week, my group will look more deeply into the components of a healthy diet: calories, fats, sugars, carbs, vitamins and minerals, etc.  We’ll exercise and we’ll take a field trip to a new supermarket in Madison where each product (including vegetables) has a number rating to let shoppers know how healthy it is.
      With such a busy week, you’d think I’d come home ready to plotz… well, I was too busy to do that!  First of all, I spent time in the evenings preparing the foods we would serve (that’s two groups of 24 kids per day for three days…..).  Second, I had a lot going on, including a really interesting, unusual, and sad movie at the Wisconsin Film Festival.  The movie was called Cooking History.  It was a documentary made in eastern Europe, and it focused on the men and women who cooked the food for soldiers who fought the many wars in that region over the past fifty or sixty years.  This film took a long look at extremely elderly chefs making their signature dishes, and as they cooked they talked about their experiences.  Many of the chefs’ sequences were juxtaposed, and the scenes switched back and forth between, for instance, a woman who cooked for the Soviet Air Force, whose soldiers ate her food before heading out to bomb Germany, and a German bread baker who waxed poetic about the bread but grimly remembered his time occupying Russia. In one horrifying clip, a concentration camp survivor recalls how he baked arsenic into bread served to German soldiers following the war.  The reason I titled this post "a very strange movie…" is that many of the chefs start right at the very beginning when they make their meals, and that includes the killing of the animal.  For someone who has been a vegetarian since 1972, I always knew that meat came from dead animals but have never had the occasion to watch how those animals get that way.  I covered my eyes a lot, but always knew what was going on.  I think, actually, that more people should see something like this so they really know!
     So what’s up for this weekend?  Well, I have lots of homework and lessons to plan for next week…. but also one more movie at the film festival.  Claudia and I are going to see The Wild River, a film as old as we are… so there! Any ideas as to what I should do with the leftover kumquats?


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4 Responses to A Very Strange Movie for a Vegan…

  1. Anonymous says:

    I loved reading about your amazing school week — even made Ken read it, and will send it to Noah and Taryn. Ken was suitably impressed and I’m sure the others will be too.
    I’ve always been very fond of the word “plotz.” It really captures the sentiment perfectly, don’t you think?
    So I see I’m missing the film festival. After seeing an extreme number of depressing movies in 2008, last year I tried not to schedule any depressing films, but if you see more than three, that’s probably not possible. I did pretty well, though. It sounds like you’re seeing some excellent films. Enjoy!
    Today we went to the opening of a new store in Seattle that sells vegan shoes and chocolate. How cool is that?

  2. wei_k says:

    This unit sounds fantastic! It’s so great these kinds of things are happening at Wingra, and that the kids there are part of it. And sounds not unenjoyable for you too. 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:

    wow, that sounds like a lot of work! I’m sure that your students love it! I know I would have. very very cool that your school is so flexible.

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