La Comida y la Cultura

Author: Sean Carr

Year: 2019

Seminar: Learning about America and the World from McDonald’s

Grade Level: 9-12

School Subject(s): Arts, History

This curriculum unit examines the relationship between food and culture in the context of a Spanish 1 classroom. It focuses on the important role that food and its associated products and practices have played in the development of culture in the Spanish-speaking world. In particular, students will examine the relationship between food and culture throughout history and into the present-day in Mexico and Peru. It builds interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational communication skills through engaging activities including a menu project and restaurant roleplay. Finally, student learning is measured with an integrated performance assessment.

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Full Unit Text
Content Objectives

This curriculum unit aims to address many of the obstacles that are commonly faced in a world language classroom by examining food and its relationship to culture and language in the Spanish-speaking world. World language classes often have difficulty interacting with cultural competence and understanding. For example, a Spanish teacher can attempt to implement culture into the classroom by requiring students to write a report about a famous Hispanic person, but this fails to relate cultural practices, products, and perspectives to the lives of our students. This unit will incorporate culture into the Spanish classroom with a focus on food and its associated cultural products and practices. In particular, students will examine the relationship between food and culture throughout time in the Spanish-speaking countries of Mexico and Peru. They will examine the unique influence that food has had on culture change in these countries beginning in their ancient pasts, through European contact, and into the present day. This unit will also encourage students to engage in communicative activities using the target language. Far too often, the majority of instructional time in a world language class is consumed by learning unwieldy grammatical concepts through activities such as verb conjugation charts. This unit will aim to overcome this problem through learning activities that encourage interpersonal communication in the target language. Furthermore, this unit will encourage language-learning through authentic contexts. It will accomplish this task through the implementation of texts and materials that are written by Spanish speakers and intended for Spanish-speaking audiences. Rather than the use of textbook materials that are not relatable to my students and their daily lives, this unit will encourage language-learning in practical, everyday contexts. For example, students will use their new knowledge of food and culture in Spanish-speaking countries to create food menus and simulate ordering at restaurants. This curriculum unit will overcome the obstacles that world language classrooms traditionally face through the implementation of communicative activities, using the language in authentic contexts, and interacting with cultural competence and understanding. Approaching these problems through a curriculum unit about food provides the perfect context to accomplish these goals since food plays a central role in our everyday lives.

This unit will examine the relationship between food and culture in the context of a Spanish classroom. Therefore, it is important that the teacher first has the appropriate background knowledge of the topic. A great deal of research has been done to examine the interplay of food and culture. Claude Levi-Strauss wrote that “cooking which, it has never been sufficiently emphasized, is with language a truly universal form of human activity: if there is no society without a language, nor is there any which does not cook in some manner at least some of its food” (Levi-Strauss, 2012, pg. 36). He argued that food and its associated practices formed a structural component of culture. Barthes (2012) formed a similar argument to Levi-Strauss and claimed that food had an important role in culture. He claimed that food could be viewed as a system of communication that did not simply satisfy biological needs, but also served social and cultural purposes. While Douglas (1972) agreed that food and meals have a great deal of social and cultural significance, she is more concerned with the ability to use food to understand culture at a smaller scale than the structural arguments made by Levi-Strauss. More recently, scholars have highlighted how food is reflective of modern culture and even plays an important role in culture change (Visser 1999). Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Fernandez (2003) write about the process of “indigenization” of food that occurs when various foods and associated practices are introduced into and eventually become an integral part of a culture. Dusselier (2009) highlights the important role that food plays in identity formation. Research about the relationship between food and culture has evolved a great deal over the past half-century from Levi-Strauss’ structuralism to a more recent focus on processes such as identity formation and indigenization. This unit examines how these theories can be applied to culture in the Spanish-speaking world. In particular, it examines the relationship between food and culture in Mexico and Peru.

In the context of a Spanish classroom, the relationship between food and culture can be highlighted with specific examples from cultures in the past and present contexts of Spanish-speaking countries. Food played a major role in the development of social complexity in the Latin American regions of Mesoamerica and the Andes. Sanders (1962) examines the important role that ecological conditions amenable to agriculture, and therefore food production, played in the development of civilization in ancient Mesoamerica. Cuellar (2013, pg. 3) views food as a “window” into society in the pre-Hispanic Andes. She argues that food reflects social and economic differentiation. From the prehistoric past into the present day, it is clear that food and culture are deeply intertwined and reflective of each other. This interconnection is particularly true of many Spanish-speaking cultures. This curriculum unit will make connections between food, culture, and the Spanish language. In particular, it will examine the deep connections between food and culture from ancient history and into the present-day of two Spanish-speaking countries: Mexico and Peru.

Food has played a critical role in the development of culture in Mexico for thousands of years. Cowgill (2015) explains that humans arrived in the culture area known as Mesoamerica over 13,000 years ago and subsisted on hunting and gathering foods that were available in their natural environment. The colossal impact that food had on the development of cultural complexity in Mexico began when a wild grass known as teosinte was domesticated. The domestic species of teosinte is known as maize (maíz in Spanish), or more commonly as corn. The discovery of maize agriculture had a monumental impact on the development of all complex civilizations in Ancient Mexico, including the Olmecs, Zapotecs, Teotihuacanos, Mayas, Toltecs, and Aztecs. While corn was the major staple crop upon which these cultures were built, other agricultural products such as squash, beans, tomatoes, avocados, nopales, maguey, chiles, and chocolate supplemented the ancient Mexican diet. In addition to the aforementioned crops, ancient Mexican cuisine incorporated dogs, turkeys, deer, and insects into their diets. Europeans that witnessed these ancient cultures firsthand during the Spanish Conquest such as Bernal Diaz del Castillo (2013) and Bernardino de Sahagun wrote extensively about the cuisine of the people that they encountered. They detailed the countless vendors that sold an enormous variety of food in the main Aztec market at Tlaltelolco, and they described the immense feasts that were hosted by the Emperor Montezuma. Clearly, the development of agriculture and an associated cuisine played an important role in the development of ancient Mexican culture.

The legacy of ancient Mexican food and cuisine is overtly present in modern-day Mexican culture. Pilcher (1996) writes about the significance of cuisine in the formation of the Mexican national identity. Food serves as an important symbol of nationality and culture in various instances throughout the world. Pilcher explains that modern Mexican cuisine combines elements from both the ancient Mesoamerican and European roots of Mexico’s past. He further highlights that food choices often reflected the conflict between race and class in Mexico’s history. While corn and tortillas were associated with poor and indigenous people, wheat and bread were seen as symbols of wealthy Europeans. After the Mexican Revolution, the mestizo, or mixed, race was championed as part of the Mexican national identity. Not coincidentally, both corn and wheat were finally accepted as food that was associated with the mestizo people.

Today, the Mesoamerican and European influences on Mexican cuisine and their importance in national cultural identity are ever present. Dishes such as tamales, quesadillas, enchiladas, barbacoa, chile relleno, mole poblano, and tacos are deeply engrained in Mexican cuisine and are synonymous with Mexican culture. These dishes often combine elements from both the ancient Mesoamerican and European traditions that blended to form the mestizo culture and Mexican national identity. Many of these foods combine pre-Columbian ingredients such as corn, tortillas, tomatoes, and chilies with European ingredients such as chicken, pork, beef, and wheat. The development of Mexican cuisine from its ancient roots to the modern-day significance it plays as part of the national identity serves as a perfect example of the important relationship between food and culture in a Spanish-speaking country.

Peru serves as another case study of the role that food plays in the development of culture. Cuellar (2013) examines the important relationship between food and cultural complexity in the ancient Andean region beginning in the Archaic period around 8000 BC. The earliest evidence for at this time indicates that squash, peanuts, manioc, quinoa, and beans were cultivated to supplement the hunter-gatherer diet of land and marine resources. There is also evidence that ritual cannibalism Around 3000 BC, the main subsistence strategy shifted to agriculture, and as a result, society became more complex. At large, complex sites such as Caral, stable isotope analysis of individuals provides evidence that the diet relied less on gathered marine resources and more on agricultural products. Complex, state-level societies such as the Wari, Tiwanaku, and Inca incorporated a wide variety of agricultural products and domestic animals in their diet. Jacoby (2012, pg. 299) notes that maize was an important staple crop in the pre-Columbian Andes. In addition, the potato is an important staple has its origins in the Andes. Unlike in ancient Mexico, the diet of the Andean culture-area heavily relied on domesticated animals including llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs. Even after the advent of agriculture and complex societies, fish and other marine resources were gathered for food. Fruits and vegetables such as avocados, pineapples, quinoa, and amaranth were an important part of the ancient Peruvian diet. Without the development of agriculture and the implementation of these ingredients into the diet, it would be difficult to imagine the development of complex society in the region.

As in Mexico, the cuisine of Peru reflects the integration of its ancient diet with European ingredients as a result of the Spanish conquest. Jacoby (2012, pg. 300) explains that the Spanish introduced important ingredients including leafy vegetables, garlic, olives, onions, grapes, oranges, limes, and apples. They also introduced more domestic animals including cattle, poultry, and rabbits. These ingredients combined with ancient Peruvian staples and those of Africa as a result of the slave trade to form a unique, Peruvian cuisine.

Today, Peruvian food is a product of its ancient past combined with European influence as a result of the conquest. Dishes such as tamales and anticuchos reflect the country’s long history. Cuy, or guinea pig, remains a delicacy in in the Andes. Furthermore, the influence of Asian ingredients as a result of more recent immigration cannot be understated. Popular dishes such as lomo saltado incorporate soy sauce and ginger with stir-fried beef. There are over 20,000 Chinese-style restaurants known as chifa in Peru (Jacoby, 2012, pg. 300). Japanese influence helped create the wildly popular dish of raw fish marinated in lime juice known as ceviche. The cuisine of Peru reflects the long history of the relationship between food and culture in the country.
Mexico and Peru serve as useful examples for the relationship between food and culture in the Spanish-speaking world. It is important to note that these examples can be used to convey that food and culture are deeply interrelated. This relationship has no geographical or temporal boundaries. Food provides a window through which culture can be understood. This important relationship remains important and visible today. Belasco (2008, pg. 7) writes that food studies can provide insight into political, historical, economic, sociocultural, and scientific issues.

McDonald’s serves as a good example of how food provides insight into modern culture at a global level. Kottak (1978, pg. 376). writes that “McDonald’s has become one of the many new and powerful elements of American culture that provide common expectations, experience, and behavior-overriding region, class, formal religious affiliation, political sentiments, gender, age, ethnic group, sexual preference, and urban, suburban, or rural residence.” McDonald’s reflects the phenomenon of globalization. There are McDonald’s restaurants in hundreds of countries throughout the world. These restaurants are fairly standardized and reliable serve American food. They serve as a symbol of America and its global presence. McDonald’s restaurants in international locations also often make adaptations to the local culture and cuisine. For example, in Mexico, the Egg McMuffin a la Mexicana contains refried beans and peppers. While McDonald’s makes small efforts to adapt to the culture of their locale, it still reflects the omnipresence of American business in the global economy. McDonald’s serves as one important example of how food can be used to comprehend components of culture across geographic and temporal boundaries.

Teaching Strategies

A great deal of literature examines the important role that culture should play in the world language classroom. Genc and Bada (2005) stress the important relationship between language and culture. They advocate for the instruction about the target culture in world language classrooms and suggest that lessons about culture are beneficial to language skills. Culture provides an engaging context to learn how to communicate in the target language. To support their argument, they conducted a survey of students learning English in Turkey. The results of their questionnaire support their claim that cultural studies benefit language skills and the learner’s ability to communicate in the target language. Byram and Kramsch (2008) address the difficulties of using culture to teach in the world language classroom. They list the fear of stereotypes, teachers’ lack of cultural knowledge, and communicative imperatives in foreign language pedagogy as the main reasons why culture is not appropriately incorporated into world language classrooms. Neff and Rucynski (2013) posit that culture plays an important role in the world language classroom. They provide a methodology to better integrate culture into lessons that relies on restaurant roleplay as a way to build cultural and communicative skills through the study of food and its associated practices. Restaurant roleplay is a familiar and engaging context for language learners to develop communication skills in the target language. Their example of food and its related practices as a means to incorporate cultural knowledge in a world language classroom is important for this curriculum unit.

This unit’s goal of using the target language to understand the relationship between food and culture in Spanish-speaking countries is aligned with the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (2015). These standards are focused on addressing the ‘Five C’s’ of communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. The communication goal area addresses the standards of interpersonal communication, interpretive communication, and presentational communication. Interpersonal communication requires learners to conduct informal interaction and share information and opinions through spoken and written communication. Interpretive communication requires learners to comprehend, interpret, and analyze information that is hear or read. Presentational communication requires learners to present, explain, persuade, or narrate information to different audiences. The cultures goal area requires learners to use the target language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the cultural practices and products of Spanish-speaking peoples. The connections goal area requires learners to connect what they have learned to other content areas and to use the language to acquire information and diverse perspectives. The comparisons goal area requires learners to compare the language and culture of Spanish-speaking peoples to their own language and culture. Finally, the communities goal area requires learners to use what they have learned within their school and community both during the school year and for the rest of their lives. Each of these standards will be covered throughout this curriculum unit.

The curriculum unit also incorporates standards from the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education’s EfS Standards (2019). In particular, it addresses two standards. The cultural preservation and transformation standard requires learners to use what they have learned about different cultures to contribute to sustainable communities. The multiple perspectives standard requires students to draw upon different perspectives to collaborate with different people for a sustainable future. This unit’s use of food to examine different Spanish-speaking cultures provides students with the tools to accomplish the Education for Sustainability Standards.

This curriculum addresses many of the learning objectives that are defined in the School District of Philadelphia’s World Language Level 1 Planning and Scheduling Timeline (2010). In particular, it expands upon the food unit that is outlined and incorporates its required learning objectives that are aligned with the World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. Students will be able to identify food vocabulary for meals and snacks, describe food, ask and answer appropriate questions about food, organize and present conversations when ordering food, compare and contrast food and meals, analyze and solve situational dilemmas that may occur in restaurants, use idiomatic expressions appropriately, prepare invitations orally and in writing, understand and use situational responses in answering invitations, research customs and traditions concerning food and mealtime, and communicate actions that take place in restaurants. Each of these learning objectives will be addressed and expanded upon with a particular examination of the relationship between food and culture.

Student progress towards the learning standards and objectives will be measured using the “prochievement format” (Shrum & Glisan, 2010). This framework uses assessments to measure student progress on a proficiency continuum. Student learning will be measured on a daily basis through a variety of assessments, including daily do now activities and exit tickets. These will permit the teacher to measure achievement and gauge language-learning on a daily basis. The teacher can then adjust instruction based on the feedback they receive. Designing assessments with the prochievement format permits teachers to measure language-learning more accurately and design their instruction based on the individual needs of their students.

This unit will teach and assess interpersonal communication, interpretive communication, presentational communication, and cultural knowledge through the Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) model (Shrum & Glisan, 2010). The American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages defines each of these modes of communication (The National Standards Collaborative Board, 2015). Interpersonal communication requires learners to interact and negotiate meaning in spoken, signed, or written conversations to share information, reactions, feelings, and opinions. Interpretive communication requires learners to understand, interpret, and analyze what is heard, read, or viewed on a variety of topics. Presentational communication requires learners to present information, concepts and ideas to inform, explain, persuade, and narrate on a variety of topics using appropriate media and adapting to various audiences of listeners, readers, or viewers. IPAs require students to demonstrate these three modes of communication in authentic, real-world scenarios. Students will engage with the content and produce materials in the target language. Classroom activities will be scaffolded in a way that will permit students to build fluency. The unit will culminate with a project that assesses interpersonal communication, interpretive communication, and presentational communication in authentic contexts. Assessments will be graded with the use of scoring rubrics. These will measure student performance objectively and along a continuum.

Classroom Activities

Food and Culture in Mexico and Peru Lesson Plan

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