Tag Archives: ” fast food

“When one eats fast food…”

I’m going to consider this Horror the third in the Unnecessary Sentences sequence, although it could arguably stand alone.

Here it is in all its glory:

“When one eats fast food, the oil, fat, sugar, salt, and other contents of the food go directly into the body.”

Where else it might go first I cannot imagine, unless “eating” can include “spilling on tie,” “playing with on dish,” and “putting in the refrigerator for later,” all of which activities do involve a detour between bag and mouth. But once it’s in the mouth, food can pretty much be said to have gone directly into the body (assuming no physical abnormality of the mouth).

I THINK my student meant that all those “contents” are broken down into substances that will enter and affect the various systems and components of the body—structurally kind of like the lament sometimes heard at birthday parties, “That cupcake will go directly to my hips,” an hyperbolic utterance bemoaning the speaker’s propensity for putting on fat. As in that example, so for my student: it’s enough to say the “contents” of food go directly into the body; the intermediate steps can be assumed. But if that’s what she means, how is fast food different from other foods?

She might mean that we should worry because fast food contains excessive amounts of things that are bad in excess—oil, fat, sugar, salt—and we are putting those things into our bodies. That would be a likely idea in an essay about the unhealthy effects of a McDonald’s diet, and that’s what this essay was. But that isn’t what she has offered the reader. Maybe she thought the worry part was obvious.

And of course it is. Of course I knew what she meant. How to prevent invasion by these substances? When you eat fast food, this happens—so don’t eat fast food. And that was her essay’s message, so maybe the sentence is doing its job, sort of, after all.

But I’m still sitting here thinking about ways in which food might go into the mouth and then take some side excursion before entering the body. And I don’t really want to think about it!

Well, I wish I hadn't decided to put a picture in here. Now I'm hungry. But if I eat this food, will it go directly into my body? Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_pattern_diet

Well, I wish I hadn’t decided to put a picture in here. Now I’m hungry. But if I eat this food, will it go directly into my body? Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_pattern_diet

“This short-term pleasure will only last so long.”

I am ashamed of myself for neglecting my blog for virtually the entire month of December. I have been grading and grading and grading as those student essays, projects, major papers, portfolios, and finals juggernaut in.

The bright side is More Grist for the Mill.

My student was writing about the role of pleasure in the formation of unhealthy eating habits. She meant to say that the pleasure of appetite gratification is temporary, while the bad effects accrue over time and produce lasting suffering. Very true. But instead of saying “That Big Mac with cheese is only a short-term pleasure,” she began with “This short-term pleasure …” and then sought a verb that would emphasize the point. The point, of course, was that the pleasure was only short-term, and so unless she was going contrast it with long-term something-or-other the sentence really had nowhere to go, other than to double back on itself. Rather than start the sentence over, or express the other half of the thought, back she doubled.

And so she didn’t really write what she meant, or at least she didn’t manage to write all of what she meant.

What she DID write was a poignant, if self-defining, reminder of the ephemeral nature of pleasure (in this life of pain and toil). So young and yet so wise, or so disillusioned….

On the other hand, we might view her statement as less a cri de coeur than a carpe diem, and in that sense it’s not a bad reminder for the approaching family gatherings; parties; exchanges of gifts; lightings of candles and fireworks; quaffings of nogs, punches, and champagnes; samplings of cookies and candies; singings of auld-lang-synes: this short-term pleasure will last only so long [note that I myself prefer to place the modifier as close as possible to the word modified], so enter into the joy of the season whole-heartedly, appreciate the pleasures to the full. There’s a lot of winter yet to come, and the warm, bright memories will flicker still even into the darks and damps of January and February.

Especially if you’ve turned in your grades.

“The question that is always wondered in everyone’s mind is…”

So the verb here is “to be wondered.” Do we have yet another inanimate agent? Not sure, because the question is wondered; that is, it is wondered by something, and that thing is the agent. The agent is certainly unclear, though: the wondering takes place in everyone’s mind, so the mind itself can’t be doing the wondering. Could the question be presenting itself to be wondered…by whatever else happens to be in the mind?

I suppose if my student had included a preposition—”the question that is always wondered about“—the phrase wouldn’t seem quite so bizarre, although the matter of agent would still be up for grabs, or for gropes in the dim recesses of the mind. Wondered about by whom or what?

Perhaps one of my readers more thoroughly informed in grammatical terminology can name this error. I throw up my hands, then put them down again and grab a pen so I can write “awkward and unclear” in the margin and move on.

And so, on to the question itself:

“The question that is always wondered in everyone’s mind is ‘Whose fault is obesity?'”

I had assigned five essays on the “American obesity epidemic” for the week’s reading. Apparently my student generalized from those examples and assumed that everyone was thinking about the issue, all the time. Now, as a perennially-dieting person from the age of eleven on, I probably think about obesity more than a lot of other people do—and I don’t think about it all that much, at least compared to the other things I think about. I especially don’t spend a lot of time wondering whose fault it is. Two or three of the assigned readings did place blame: one accused the weak-willed or perverse individual; one accused pleasure-pushing fast-food joints; a third accused a hurried and thoughtless society that offered few convenient alternatives to junk food. It’s tempting here to echo a wonderful song by Jo Carol Pierce (Bad Girls Upset with the Truth) and add “I blame GOD!” But none of the readings did that…

So my student wasn’t really far off the mark, and an effort at more precise diction would have produced a more effective opening to a (probably accurate-enough) essay of his own. The quarrel I have with him is that he spawned that horribly awkward and unclear noun clause and then went blithely on with his verb of being and ill-defined predicate-nominative question. And that’s the sentence he used to launch an essay that staggered its way through a similarly awkward and ill-defined discussion.

I really, really believe that taking more time on that first sentence would have given him some control as he went forward.

Did he read what he had written? In the small draft-reading circles, did any of his partners object to, or ask about, this sentence? Or, horrible to contemplate, was this phrasing the result of polishing something even rougher as he finalized his paper to turn in?

All these speculations are too depressing as the second week of the semester chugs along and my brand-new first-years toil over Essay Number One, Draft One.

Many years ago, a professor on whom I had a blinding, suffocating crush came into class the day after, we later learned, his wife had left him and commented à propos of nothing that “Hope was the last thing released from Pandora’s Box…the last evil, and the worst.” I tell myself this characterization was as wrong as it was unorthodox, as I gaze hopefully at my students.

“Instead of limiting choices…”

Just one more in the inanimate-object-as-agent series.

This sentence came from an essay on fast-food consumption and obesity. My student was arguing that fast-food restaurants shouldn’t have to offer “healthy” choices and cut back on the burgers; individuals should exercise control over their eating choices.

But in her sentence, people aren’t really doing much; it’s an intangible force that has to make an effort:

“Instead of limiting choices, a sense of responsibility should try to be instilled into people’s minds for their own health.”

That sense of responsibility has to try to be instilled in these people, or rather in their minds. So far, it evidently isn’t succeeding, but that doesn’t mean it should give up, I’m sure. Maybe the minds are closed, and being instilled is therefore difficult—my student doesn’t explain. She does note, however, that something is “for their own health.” The position of this modifying prepositional phrase makes its application ambiguous: Does she mean that for their own health, a sense of responsibility has to be instilled? Or does she mean that a sense of responsibility for their own health has to be instilled? Or is it the act of being instilled that is for their own health? I would imagine that if the sense of responsibility isn’t sure what the modifier modifies, instillation (I just looked that up, and it IS a word!) cannot be accomplished, regardless of effort.

She doesn’t say how the sense of responsibility is to accomplish its mission, either. It has to do the trying, but something else must do the actual instilling (“try to be instilled”…by what or whom?). Can it instill itself?

If people made the effort, they might develop a sense of responsibility. But for my student, they’re just lying there, waiting for that s. of r. to get some gumption and try to get instilled in their minds!

Hmm. Fast food plus lying around…probably not a good combination for anybody’s own health.

“There are millions of McDonald’s, Taco Bells, and Wendy’s that are continually being caught…”

Alert! We are again in the wonderful world of freshman comp, where inanimate objects are agents. But before I reveal the agent of today’s Horror, I must pause to pick two nits:

Writing instructors at the middle- and high-school levels deploy several nonce-rules that students clutch permanently to their bosoms: for example, “Never start a sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But'”; “NEVER start a sentence with ‘Because'”; “Never say ‘I'”…. Persuading students that these were temporary rules meant to break habits rather than three of the Ten Commandments of Writing is nearly impossible.

On the other hand, MY nonce-rules, announced as such, don’t stick at all. One of them is “When writing for my class, do NOT begin a sentence with ‘There is’ or ‘There are.'” I have a brief demo where I first lay out the non-content quality of “there” and the static nature of “is,” writing two sentences on the board that say basically the same thing: for example, There is a murderer behind the curtain and A murderer is hiding behind the curtain. Students tend to agree that the second version gets the important information out in front. Then I talk briefly about the most common structure in English: Subject, verb, object. John hit the ball. And I point out that the first two words carry the main action and the main energy of the sentence in this structure. Then I go to the door of the classroom, exit, and come back in backward, saying “There was a ball that was hit by John.” And then I ask them if they really want their sentences to back into the room, blowing all the energy on a pronoun and a verb of being. And then I say again, “PLEASE do not begin any sentences with ‘There is’ or ‘There are’ while writing for my class!”

But then the next set of papers comes in, and quite often the very first sentence of half the papers begins with “There is…” Ah well.

I also have a problem with “every day person.” For that word cluster to function as an adjective, it should be either fused or hyphenated. But in this case it still wouldn’t serve—”everyday” and “ordinary” may be in the same realm of meaning, but they aren’t straight synonyms that can be plugged with equal ease into any old sentence.

And now let’s move on, with those two nits lying dead on the sink edge, little feet in the air.

Well, the sentence for today began an essay on fast-food restaurants and obesity in America. My student’s point was that NOT going into a fast-food restaurant is very hard.

So here’s the whole sentence:

“There are millions of McDonald’s, Taco Bells, and Wendy’s that are continually being caught by the eye of an every day person.”

A sudden vision of an eye being used as a fishing lure suddenly crosses my mind. Enough to kill my appetite! I don’t know who the “every day person” who uses such a disgusting method of catching things might be, but I certainly don’t want to meet him or her.

But do you see what I mean about agency? Here, the eye is the active agent, busily out there catching millions of restaurants. And here the muckamucks of the fast-food managements thought the garish paint jobs on their buildings and signs would catch people’s eyes, and those people would follow their eyes directly into the eatery. But my student seems to think that the paint jobs, signage, play spaces, unfunny clowns, plastic toys, and easy parking all just sit there…until that eye is cast their way and catches them, continually, perhaps to bring them home to the every day person.

It’s not the eaters being hooked by those Whoppers; the Whopper-providers are being hooked by the eaters, wily anglers with very strange bait on their hooks.

“This view is held to be true by many, namely Radley Balko.”

Last semester’s textbook They Say/I Say includes a section of articles on American obesity, fast food, and related social issues. I asked students to develop a thesis for an argument that would use materials from two or three of those articles for support.

Radley Balko, author of one of the articles, maintained that people should be held responsible for the consequences of their choices and therefore insurance companies and the government should not be forced to pay for their healthcare, and fast-food restaurants should not be found liable in health-related lawsuits. My student was referring to his article, and to him, in her essay.

What my student fails to realize (that’s Student Speak–writers who choose not to say something always are assumed to “fail to realize” that thing) is that the term “namely” does not mean “for example.”

Hence this marvelous assertion that equates one man with many. Perhaps Mr. Balko would be pleased that his voice carries so much, and such wide, authority.

I can say no more! But I welcome your comments, as ever.

“Although the fast food path may be easier, it is diffidently not the only path out there.”

Is this perhaps a variation on Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”? Many readers assume that Frost is serious that taking “the one less traveled by” has “made all the difference” for Frost; but clearly once a person has chosen a road he is going to know only the consequences of that choice, and hence cannot gauge the “difference” it has made; his poem also says the roads actually look pretty much the same, at least from the spot where the choice must be made. Implied is that neither road puts itself forward and says “choose me! choose me!”

In the “Fast Food Path” variation, we are also assured, no path asserts itself. The fast-food one “may be easier,” the writer says, making clear that this is an impression rather than a fact; furthermore, this path is modest, unassuming—far from assertive, it is “diffident,” or at least diffident in allowing the writer to notice other paths “out there.” A quick check of Webster’s adds a dimension of hesitation, lack of self-confidence, to the path. “The Fast Food Path” creates an ironic tension between the screamingly bright colors and large graphics most readers associate with fast-food restaurants and the shyness of this “easier” path as observed by the writer. The vastness of the American landscape, embodied in the phrase “out there,” underscores the diffidence of the fast food path against this larger and multi-pathed vista.

Okay, enough LitCrit.

Why my student chose a “path” metaphor I cannot say, especially since so many fast-food restaurants jostle each other along the shoulders of major highways and local thoroughfares. For me it’s impossible to picture a BurgerKing or MacDonald’s nestled among trees, streams, stone walls, and other bucolic bric-a-brac beside the path. What grows beside paths, as any reader of the Romantic poets knows, is violets.

Once the path is established, though, I suppose it could work all right…if my student had known the difference between “diffidently” and “definitely.” Again, the likelihood that this error is a mere typo is small, with so few letters coincident. This is a plain old mistake.

I guess we have to go with the spirit rather than the letter. Take the harder path (uphill? rocky?), of which there is at least one; the path of fast food, paved as it probably is with ketchup and grease, will get you where you may not actually want to go. The exercise of the harder path will be good for you!