Most foods were domesticated in prehistoric times by Stone Age peoples. This activity helps students gain an understanding of point of origin and domestication, as well as an understanding of the debt that we owe to our early ancestors.
A cheeseburger and a cola (or other foods) purchased from a local fast-food chain; a map of the world; access to an encyclopedia (in the class, school library, on-line or at home); you may wish to purchase or request that your school library acquire Reay Tannahill' s Food in History (New York: Crown, 1988). It is the single best history of food.
Place the food on your desk. When the class has begun, take each item out of its packaging. Ask students if they have ever consumed these foods. The majority will report that they have done so, and some will report that they eat them regularly. Some students may report that they don't eat these foods due to religious restrictions, health concerns, or ethical reasons. Others may not for reasons of taste.
Ask students to list the components that go into making cheeseburgers and colas. List these ingredients on the chalk board. Brainstorm or examine the food products. Have students look up ingredients listed in Handout #1.
Ask students to identify the geographic area of origin or domestication of each ingredient. Most students will have no idea, but encourage students to make guesses. Ask students to copy the list of products from the chalkboard. Assign groups of 3 or 4 students to find out when and where each product originated or was domesticated. If you have resources in the classroom, this can be an in-class activity; if not, request that students go to the library to seek answers or use the Internet if they have access. Please note that not all products have a single point of origin (such as salt). Some products have one point of origin and another point of domestication (such as the tomato which originated in South America, but was domesticated in Central America). For some foods, their points of origin and domestication are unknown or disputed. After students have conducted their research, have them report on their findings. Distribute Handout #l and discuss differences where appropriate.
While the cheeseburger and cola were purchased locally, not one of the vegetables or animals used in making them originated in or were domesticated in North America. Since the last Ice Age did not end until 10,000 years ago in North America, few foods originated or were domesticated in what is today the United States. The main exceptions are blueberries, sunflowers, cranberries and Jerusalem artichokes. Hence, most of the foods that we eat arrived from Europe, Africa, Asia, South America or Mesoamerica. This activity helps students understand some of the historical events and trends that contributed to what we eat today.
A world map; a large sheet of acetate over the map; markers.
Using Handout #l as a reference ask students about
the probable geographical origins of the foods listed. Students should observe
that none of the foods on this list originated in the
Ask the students how these products that originated elsewhere were brought
Botanists report that over 15,000 plants or parts of plants can be consumed by humankind. From this great potential culinary diversity, most cultures base their cookery on a few dozen plants. However, cultures that base their food on similar foods produce very different food products. Wheat, for instance, can be used to make hamburger buns, pasta, tortillas or alcohol. Despite this diversity, the foods we eat have been influenced by other cultures at different times. Our examples, cheeseburgers and colas, contain component products that have been affected by many people in different times.
World map used in previous activities and Handout #3.
Ask students to identify the compound or manufactured products in Handout #1. This list should include items such as bread, cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, etc. Discuss when these products were first made and where. Either assign students the research task of looking up each of these listed products or distribute Handout#3. Assign students to answer the questions: Who manufactures this product today? How is it made today? What are the components that go into the commercial product? Students can find out information from parents, encyclopedias, or by examining products in their homes or local grocery stores. Ask students to bring in labels from various products to demonstrate the various products used in processing or manufacturing foods. Commercial products contain a large number of "other ingredients" including emulsifiers, flavor enhancers and preservatives. If you wish to explore "additives" you might wish to acquire a book containing descriptions of these products, such as Ruth Winter' s A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives: Definitions for the Layman of Ingredients Harmful and Desirable Found in Packaged Foods, with Complete Information for the Consumer.
"Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are," said the French food philosopher Brillat-Savarin. While you may want to quibble with some implications of his aphorism, none can deny that what and how we eat is an extremely important part of our lives. Despite the significance of food, most of us have little understanding of the influence of food on our lives. This activity focuses on nutritional aspects of fast-foods and soft drinks.
Copies of Handout #6; copies of
books on nutrition.
Ask students to list the foods that they eat at fast-food restaurants. Ask students about the nutritional qualities of fast-foods. Using a reference source on nutrition, ask students to count up the amount of calories, fat and salt in the foods that they listed. The nutrition guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend a maximum of 2,400 calories per day for adults, with 2,000 milligrams of sodium, 150-250 milligrams of cholesterol. If you just want to focus on cheeseburgers and colas, distribute Handout #5. You might wish to point out the following relationships among food consumption and health issues:
PLEASE NOTE: The intent of this activity is not to make students feel guilty about eating fast- food or soft drinks. Occasionally dining at fast-food restaurants will not cause any harm. In fact, many healthy foods are available at fast-food establishments. For instance, McDonald' s serves no-fat bran muffins, low-fat "McLean" burgers, low-fat milkshakes, salads, and carrot and celery sticks. The effects of eating at a fast-food restaurant also depends on what else the student consumes. The purpose of this activity is to help students become more conscious of what they eat, and understand that what they eat affects their health.
In addition to the sale of health-foods, fast-food chains have been sensitive to a variety of health and environmental issues. For instance, McDonald's has reduced the fat content of its hamburgers, encourages recycling in some restaurants, refuses to buy beef from Brazil, and has switched to more biodegradable coverings for Big Macs and Quarter Pounders. As there are 160,000 fast-food restaurants, it is estimated that the first job for one out of ten Americans is in a fast-food establishment. Research assignment: Ask students to collect advertisements in newspapers, magazines for fast-food and soft drinks. Ask students to examine television stations to find out how many commercials appear on a particular channel between specified hours or days.
This activity is intended to place the soft drink and fast-food experience within the broader context of American culture. American trends at the turn of the 20th century contributed to the growth of the soft drink industry. American trends after World War II produced the conditions in which fast-food establishments thrived. Conversely, soft drinks and fast-food have contributed to America' s growing pop culture and consumer ideology. Without question soft drinks and fast-food have had an astounding influence on us, and are one of the most influential developments in 20th century America.
Copies of Handout #7 for entire class; collected print advertisements for soft drinks and fast-foods.
Show students examples of advertisements for soft drinks and fast-foods. Ask them what messages are conveyed in these advertisements. Ask them how these advertisements might affect their lives. Using the data brought in by students, make up a chart showing the frequency of advertisements as well as their content.
Distribute Handout #7. After students have read the handout ask them why fast-food restaurants have expanded so rapidly in the United States. Potential answers include: 1) fast-food dining fits our flexible life-style that puts a premium on efficiency; 2) low-cost image of fast-food; 3) advertising by fast-food chains; 4) travel by automobile for business and vacation; 5) the attraction of children to fast-food restaurants makes them appealing for harried and overworked single parents or homes in which both parents work; and 6) the dependability and uniformity of fast-food chains.
Discuss with students does advertising contributes to our consumer culture. How are other industries capitalizing on the fast-food industry?
Frequently American corporations complain that they are unable to operate successfully in other countries due to local and national restrictions. Fast-food chains and soft drink industries, clearly American in inception, have easily penetrated other cultures and nations. The soft drink and fast-food industries are no longer just an American phenomena. This activity focuses on the growing global phenomena of pop-food.
Copies of Handout #8 for entire class.
Distribute copies of Handout #8. Discuss with students why these industries wanted to expand into other countries. Discuss with students why fast-food and soft drink industries have been so successful in penetrating other cultures and nations. In addition to the same answers generated in previous activities (efficient service, etc.), students should understand that soft drinks and fast-food establishments are associated through advertising with many aspects of the pop culture. Discuss how the success of fast-food and soft drinks might influence local and national cultures. What adaptions might these companies make in particular countries? Why might people in other countries oppose the expansion of fast-food and soft drinks? Why might people in other countries support their expansion? Compare and contrast this with views from the United States
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