Monday, 13 August 2007

Animal Or Vegetable...?

Reading Joanna Bogle's post on Bramble Cheese, where she explains the importance of making it clear to children where our food actually comes from, reminded me of a lesson I taught a few years ago.

I was teaching a Year 11 class a unit on something vaguely biological (it was a few years ago, so the exact context escapes me) and I realised that their earlier education had gone seriously astray when I was challenged on the statement that "all food is either plant or animal in origin."

Now Year 11 is the final year of GCSEs, (that's a class of 15-16 year-olds for anyone unfamiliar with the UK educational set-up, or Fifth Year to anyone in Britain who was born before1980!) and since most of this class were planning to leave schooling for ever at the end of the year, I realised that I needed to address the issue before they were let loose on an unsuspecting public...

I ditched the lesson plan and opened a discussion. They weren't having any of it. Food couldn't possibly be from just plants and animals... So, I got them to name some foods, and proceeded to demonstrate that they couldn't find a food which wasn't of plant or animal origin. Pizza was a fairly predictable item. Cornflakes was slightly more worrying. And then one student came up with a blinder: "Hah, tomato ketchup! That's not from animals or plants..." My simple rejoinder, "...And tomato ketchup is made of, well..?" was acknowledged with a triumphant "Tomatoes... Oh, yeah... oops" and a sheepish grin.

I had to restrain myself though. One student wanted to know where spaghetti came from, and I was sorely tempted to say that it grew on spaghetti trees... but they might have believed me!


gemoftheocean said...

I have heard...don't tell your students or you will REALLY confuse them...that some people eat dirt.

Just google "eating dirt"

And you'll see a host of items.

Go figure.

I loved your spaghetti tree classic. Wasn't that a BBC april fool's story that sucked in quite a few people?

Karen H. -- San Diego, Ca.

Mac McLernon said...

Karen, some people eat coal too... but it's not counted as "food" (and yes, it would have confused the issue, so I steered well clear!)

...and yes, the BBC April Fool was what came to mind when I thought of spaghetti trees!

Anonymous said...

Does salt count as food? I think it must, since the body can't live without it.


Londiniensis said...

Fungi (and yeasts) are neither plants nor animals, and are classified within their own kingdom. Neither, of course, are water or salt.

Mac McLernon said...

Salt is not a food - it's a mineral. An essential one, but not a food. Yeasts aren't food either, they're used in the processing/production of food (and are usually killed off in that process) Water isn't a food either (technically there is no nutritional content) although it is obviously a vital dietary component.

I'll hold my hand up for the fungi... but to be fair, GCSE science doesn't normally consider the separate kingdoms, and this class of mine didn't accept that humans were biologically classified as animals: the difference between plants and fungi was an area which didn't arise!!

John said...

I'm surprised that your class didn't accept that we humans are animals!
Why! We evolved from apes didn't we?!
Don't tell me that your school taught creationism! I thought that Darwinism was de-rigeur.


Mac McLernon said...

John, you fail to understand the modern teenager... it is precisely because we evolved that we are no longer animals...

No, it didn't make sense to me, either!

I don't think I ever convinced them, despite pointing out that we were definitely not plants (though I had my suspicions that I had one or two vegetables in the group!)

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