Raisin the Bar: Contemplative Practices to Facilitate Learning

I’ll admit that I was slightly taken aback and heartily amused when Professor Liftin proposed such a meditative approach to consuming a raisin. It was perfect; the lights were dim, the mood was set, and after having just watched the contrasting videos on raisin production before and after industrialization, I was ready to eat that raisin. Granted, I’m a raisin fan. I dare say some days I’d choose an oatmeal raisin cookie over chocolate chip one. However, I’ve never stopped to consider the processes that went into putting this little, dried fruit on the shelf for my consumption.

What I think is so compelling about using contemplative practices during class isn’t necessarily what you get out of it in the moment, but rather reflecting on it after the fact. I’m sure a handful of people could get a significant understanding at the moment as well, but the lesson didn’t fully settle with me until I was able to reflect on the process as a whole. If that doesn’t quite make sense, I’ll offer up my experience as an example.

During the practice, I tried my best to focus on Liftin’s voice while the other twenty or so things on my mind tried to get in on the action. Part of me thought “why this” and “can we not,” while yet another part thought “chew the raisin,” and “I could sleep RIGHT here.” Ultimately, I thought I got the message: this raisin came a long way. But it wasn’t until that night, while my roommates and I were cooking dinner, did I start to think “wait… where did all this food come from.” This ultimately reminded me of lecture, which I was excited to tell my roommates about because it was quirky and something I hadn’t done in a lecture before. From there we launched into a discussion about food insecurity, globalization, and industrialization.

Much like the active learning and discussions my biology professors use, contemplative practices are a way to physically and verbally connect with the material, and get you to stretch your mind beyond just listening to a lecture. They facilitate original thought and help you form your own interpretations and understanding of the material.

5 thoughts on “Raisin the Bar: Contemplative Practices to Facilitate Learning

  1. Gabrielle Rivera

    Emily, I experienced contemplative practices in the same way! While I don’t think I would ever choose the oatmeal raisin cookie over the chocolate chip and I was the student that primarily thought to just chew the dang raisin and half-sleep for about ten minutes, I totally get what you mean about experiencing it AFTER the fact. Sometimes I think that timing of the class makes it difficult for me to experience it in the moment, but Professor Liftin’s comments about the journey of the raisin definitely stuck with me. I started wondering the same thought of “where did all this food come from” after I finished my analysis for the Hungry Planet paper. Taking the time to really see the similarities and differences in brands of foods, types of food, and prices of foods, I thought about the journey that different foods take—just like that little raisin! For example, both of the countries that I looked at had fast food. And while the fast food, may not have traveled on a journey in the same way as the raisin, I did start to wonder about the travel of that idea to really commercialize a brand of food. How and why did the American brand of fast food (notable for its food production efficiency and low cost) cross borders to build upon American capitalism to create a dominant food chain? How do the transnational food brands deter local food sustainability, yet still remain a popular consumer choice? This really prepared me mentally to think about globalization and industrialization of food, and the idea of food security in a critical way. Contemplative practices set you up to take on the content of the lectures with your own understandings about the world of food around you. It’s in interesting practice indeed!

  2. Sydney Schrader

    Response 1: First of all, thank God there’s another person who likes raisins and oatmeal raisin cookies besides me. Everyone usually tells me I’m crazy for liking them and I was starting to worry that I was the only one out there who could appreciate a raisin, though I certainly don’t seem to appreciate them as much as you because I ate my raisin right away instead of actually performing the contemplative practice in the way Litfin wanted us to. You were actually able to focus on the practice, which led to a deeper understanding of the material and the point Litfin wanted to get across, which led to you and your roommates having a deeper discussion about it later. My experience was not similar at all because I snarffed my raisin down the second I got it as if I hadn’t eaten in three days. We’ve seen several examples of people who are starving and live off less than one dollar per week, but my tubby butt can’t even wait two minutes before eating a raisin. Due to our different experiences, it makes sense that we took different things away from the practice. You were able to think things through and discuss things later on with your roommates, which also furthered their knowledge and understanding of where their food comes from, whereas the only thing I learned was that I have no self control, which I already knew, so technically I didn’t learn anything. In my defense, I ate the raisin before Litfin told us to wait, but I probably should have expected that we would be doing more than just eating raisins. Litfin wouldn’t feed us out of the kindness of her heart, she would only feed us if it means she can teach us a lesson, a lesson that you seem to have learned whereas I have not. Congratulations on being better than me, you over achiever. (Also, I thought your title was clever.)

  3. Elena S Spasova

    You put the experience of the raisin contemplative practice into words very well! I had roughly the same thought process where at first I was taken aback that we were going to be spending so much time on a simple raisin, and it wasn’t until the aftermath that I chose to understand the greater importance that our food has, and that this contemplative practice allowed me to see. I admire how you brought this conversation from inside the classroom to your roommates so you could share your learning with them, and I especially appreciate how you mentioned it sparked a discussion between friends! I think Professor Litfin should be very proud that she was able to reach a student with the content of her class, and to interest them so much so that they bring that topic of conversation with them when they leave. Ultimately, nothing we learn in the classroom is important until it gets applied to the real world, and to the world outside of academia so I think this is a fantastic example of pure curiosity to learn.
    I too found myself questioning the origins of my food much more thanks to the raisin exercise we did, and now that you’ve mentioned it, I too am going to bring that conversation to my friends and see if they feel the same. Your learning has inspired my own, and I thank you for it!
    Further building off of your thinking, I think we can expand this conversation more by talking to more students on campus about where they believe their food comes from. UW Farm is a great place that does a fine job of trying to connect students to their food more from a growing standpoint. Perhaps there are other similar RSOs on campus (or the need for one?) at which food origins can be discussed and calculated. At the very least, bringing up the conversation with peers is something we can do so more people start thinking about the origins of their food. This kind of systemic thinking will probably lead more people to research the industrialization of food, disagree with it, and start eating differently because of it. In this way, we can conduct a lot of change by sparking up one conversation. This is the power of people having access to information. They then get to form their own opinions, and fight for what they think is right. But they can only do this if we prod them a little before giving them the resources, and simply ask them: Where do you think your food comes from?

  4. Lauren Klotz

    I agree with your statement that the raisin activity left you asking where your food came from when you began cooking dinner later that day. I want to compare this to the almond eating activity done later in the quarter. Eating the raisin directly after watching the videos on the various farm and factorial steps that were taken to produce the raisin created an eating experience that differed from most experiences Americans have with food. I was recently watching an American television show and while sitting down for dinner the son said he wasn’t hungry and the father responded, “Sit down, this is America we don’t eat because were hungry.” This statement was amusing because it is true in a lot of places of America. Eating the raisin was one of the few moments where I appreciated the food I was eating.
    In American society, meals and food has become so industrialized and manufactured that people are so easily able to overlook the human labor behind what they are eating because they just assume it was mass produced in a factory. Along with bringing a face to the labor behind producing the food I eat, eating the almond after talking about it’s origins in California made me realize the environment is a crucial factor in the food process also. That activity was the first time I appreciated environmental aspects that allow a food to grow and be made.

  5. Bailey Sipes

    Response 2:

    I completely agree with you about this experience since mine was very similar. I to scoffed at the idea of sucking on a raisin in the dark while my professor read us a poem. To me and to most people in that moment it was indeed just a raisin. And until a few days later did it become more than that. I shared a similar experience with you when I made my way to the HUB for lunch and later began cooking dinner, thinking “where did all of this come from, and how did it get here?” I think that is when this contemplative practice really began to make an impact.

    Every week when we do another contemplative practice I slowly find myself becoming more aware of the reason behind them, much more than the first time. I have been able to take these few moments of my day and make them reoccur when I eat my breakfast or go to the grocery store. I actually think about my food, instead of just yearning to taste it and “get it over with” so I can move onto another activity. It is rare for people to actually sit down and enjoy their food let alone think about its origination, which is why I agree that these practices are very helpful and insightful, potentially even life changing.

    Furthering your thoughts, I have begun to ask more students about where they believe their food to come from, mostly that which is found around campus. Many have to think on it for a while before producing an answer that mostly sounds like” I don’t know, some local farm?” This has allowed me to really take Professor Litfin’s ideas into the world when I realize the truth of the matter, that no one pays attention. We find ourselves eating food sourced in unethical ways that is not even healthy in many forms, but then come to a class and complain about the food system that we are perpetuating!

    The only way we can stop this cycle is to produce more thinkers into our consumer culture and begin to ask questions and provide material for those who are lost. And maybe someday contemplative practices will be more common outside of our classroom than in.


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