Senior seminar. Senior thesis. Capstone class. Whatever you want to call it, the senior (sometimes junior) class that serves as the final paper/project in your major is infamous for all-nighters, gallons of coffee and the need for your roommate to shake you to calm you down. This semester I am doing one of my two senior theses, the senior seminar class for English. I am lucky enough to take this class with one of my favorite English professors, Dr. Scott Pollard, who has sculpted the structure of the class in an atypical but extremely beneficial way. The topic? Food and literature. REALLY, HEAR ME OUT ON THIS ONE! So it sounds unusual, right? Well, it is in a way. Food studies is a relatively new area in academia, squeezed somewhere among psychology, sociology, English and any other liberal arts topic you can think of. During the first six weeks of class, Dr. Pollard introduced us to the world of food studies through the The Odyssey (so much food, it’s shocking), The Tale of Peter Rabbit (you’ll never read it the same …) and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The latter book explores food production in the United States and examines where exactly our food comes from in all of its many stages. But beyond the basic journalistic approach comes the clever ways in which writers insert food into their works to serve a greater purpose. For example, one may examine the ways in which food is prepared in The Odyssey and how that preparation is a reflection on the character’s class and status in society. After we understood how “food is culture,” Dr. Pollard pushed us to examine some of our favorite books or films or even restaurants to see what we could discover. The result? Far more information than was ever thought possible.
With Dr. Pollard’s advice and support toward creating an unusual thesis, my senior seminar paper is not literary analysis, but rather a creative writing piece formatted as a play within a play. The overall idea stems from my two favorite books, Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolfe, and The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath. As the topic of the class is food and literature, and since both women suffered from anorexia and depression, I found links between their writings and their own discomfort with food. For example, the titular character of Mrs. Dalloway throws a dinner party at the end of the novel, yet Woolf was constantly reminded by her husband Leonard to stop writing and actually eat. There are quite few literary articles available showing these connections, so I am using what research I do have along with the two writers’ primary sources to draw connections between these two ideas. Dr. Pollard actually pushes us to pick topics we are interested in, whether or not they have a substantive amount of scholarly research; by doing so, we leave our own mark in the literary research field.
Senior and fellow classmate Stephanie comments on her experiences in this class: “I find the class interesting. I’d never really thought about the importance of food before the class, so it’s definitely given me a new outlook on literature, and life in general. Senior sem is definitely kicking my butt – I like the way Dr. Pollard has organized and formatted the class because it makes sure that I stay on top of the paper; otherwise, I would procrastinate.” Stephanie is writing her paper on Lord of the Flies and how hunger is the factor that ultimately drives the boys to savagery. She argues that the character Beastie is in fact hunger itself, as humans are innately terrified of being hungry, thus forming the children’s fear of Beastie. Dr. Pollard’s class, and all senior seminar classes, push students to think far deeper than they previously have and work to employ the wide range of classes they have taken in order to fully depict their learning process over the past four years. The senior seminar is a class that all students must take, yet we have a wide range of opportunities and choices to pick from. I feel that this truly exemplifies the flexibility of CNU’s curriculum and the overall impact of the liberal learning factors. CNU creates students who can not only think critically, but also deeply and across a large spectrum of studies.