My ESL class has been studying the Canadian Food Guide lately. So, we’ve been learning that there are four food groups: Vegetables and Fruit, Grain Products, Milk & Alternatives, and Meat & Alternatives. Tricky situations do emerge. Why are nuts meat? Why are eggs meat? Why are lentils meat? Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Aren’t potatoes a grain? What are chickpeas? What’s a date? Would you like to go on a date? Fortunately, we were able to wade through these questions.
Bread and grains became our focus (yes I am student centred, but, I am also me-centred – and I grew up on a farm). I brought small baggies of a bunch of grains from bulk barn and we assigned one to each student. An African student brought Cassava as well, and a Pakistani student brought chickpea flour. We end up having 15 grains. We analyzed each grain according to four categories: nutrients, country of origin, food that we make with this grain, and the name in other languages. We tried a bread recipe out in my bread machine at the beginning of class as well. Our lone Asian student complained that we should be analyzing rice but the rest of the class was more used to bread.
Students go nuts when you study this kind of thing. They get very excited. Why is that? I think for students who grew up in agrarian societies, the planting, watering, tending, the smell, harvesting, threshing, hulling, grinding, kneading, baking, and finally… EATING, were a big part of their lives. Students not only miss back home, but they miss how food was grown and prepared. They have had a more intimate relationship with their food than most North Americans. Students have some beefs with Canadian food, I`ve found. A common complaint from students is that Canadian food has too many chemicals (scroll down for a longer list of students’ complains about Canadian food; a good list you can try to create with your own class), so students like the organic, unprocessed discussion and they can lead the way for us Canadians in some of their healthy habits: like not liking canned food – though my wife insists canned corn/peas/beans are fine. For the icing on the cake, we invited another class to join us for this activity and pulled up some African bongo music from youtube. I had to immediately quell a dance form breaking out, and we had a hoot explaining our 15 grains, one for each of us, to our enthusiastic guests. Just as class ended, ding-ding-ding, my wholesome whole-wheat bread we’d started at the beginning of the day was ready to come out of my bread machine. Even our Asian student, from Vietnam, tried a piece, much to her chagrin. In fact, we made her try first!
Some things I learned in this nutrition unit:
- Some students either were very lazy in their food journals or they really do eat hardly anything at all.
A western African student never drinks milk but only mixes in powder milk
- Lots of my African students from Congo and area love Fufu which is Cassava flour made
into a kind of bread.
- Lots of people love plantains and I’ve never had one in my house.
List of common complaints from ESL students about Canadian Food:
- too sugary
- too salty
- too many cans
- too much fast food
- too many chemicals
- too long expiration dates
- too expensive
- not enough fish
- too expensive fish
- too much was on apples
James has taught ESL/ELL for 13 years and currently teaches at Columbia College – Calgary, AB