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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Making Visible the People Who Feed Us: Exploring Student Responses to Multicultural Texts About Food Workers
by Yamashita, Lina, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2017, 244; 10285172
Abstract (Summary)

There is growing interest in teaching K-16 students where food comes from and how it is grown, as evidenced by school gardens, farm-to-school programs, majors related to food systems, student farms on college campuses, and campus sustainable food projects. Many of these programs, however, do not necessarily highlight social inequities embedded in food systems or engage with the people who feed us, including slaughterhouse workers and restaurant workers. Moreover, there is currently little documentation and analysis of the few programs that highlight food workers and their experiences. Given the dearth of research on the practice of critical food systems education, I designed and researched a 10-week, seminar-style undergraduate course titled “Making Visible the People Who Feed Us: Labor in the Food System” that I taught over three academic quarters. Using teacher research methodology, this qualitative study explores how three cohorts of 18 students in the course responded to multicultural texts that reflect diverse, marginalized perspectives of food workers, many of whom are people of color, women, and/or undocumented. Following the reflective and reflexive tradition of teacher research, I also reflect on my teaching practices, consider how my biases affected my teaching, and elaborate on tensions that emerged as I taught the course. Data sources included student work, field notes of each class session, post-course and 6-11-month follow-up interviews, and entries in my reflection journal.

Findings from this study indicated a wide range in terms of how students responded to multicultural texts about food workers, depending on students’ prior knowledge and experiences. Some students showed a variety of emotions, from frustration to sadness, or expressed appreciation or respect toward the workers, especially if the workers’ experiences resonated with the students in some way. Other students took a critical, analytical stance, drawing on their prior knowledge of structural inequities. Still other students, especially those who had prior knowledge of the food system, showed resistance, whether by questioning the actions of the people in the texts or questioning the content and authors of the texts. In addition, some students showed evidence of taking on different perspectives that conflicted with their prior beliefs, whether with respect to immigration or the American Dream.

Ultimately, I advance three arguments in this dissertation. One is that multicultural texts about food workers have the potential to encourage students to make a wide range of connections with their prior knowledge or experiences and to try on or entertain multiple perspectives that underlie labor and social justice issues more broadly. Another is that the food system is a rich context for inviting students to think critically about a variety of social justice issues embedded in society. And a third is that educators who teach about labor and social justice issues in the food system need to be both reflective and reflexive with respect to their own teaching practices and grapple with pedagogical questions that have ethical implications.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Trexler, Cary J.
Commitee: Athanases, Steven Z., Galt, Ryan E.
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Education
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 79/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Multicultural Education, Adult education, Social studies education
Keywords: Critical food literacy, Food labor, Food systems education, Multicultural texts
Publication Number: 10285172
ISBN: 978-0-355-15151-0
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