Even with technology and so much food, most are ‘food ignorant’

college students and technology
Smartphones and tablets are a lifeline to college students. But even with all that technology in hand, this generation is borderline clueless of what it takes to produce food, and even more clueless at what it takes to feed 7+ billion people on a daily basis.

I do many things in my work at Ohio State University; one of them is teaching. We have talented students coming from many states throughout the United States and also from many foreign countries. Most are keen learners, but none seem to think and function the way I do.

A phone is a phone

Take, for example, a cell phone. For me, it is simply a phone. If I need to see what time it is, then I look at my watch. To check my emails, I have two computers: a desktop and a laptop. If I need to calculate something, I use a calculator. And I very much enjoy reading things printed on paper, like Farm and Dairy. This way, I can scribble in the margins and tear off interesting articles. Most of the time when I walk on a sidewalk, the phone is in my pocket, or my book bag, or wherever I left it last.

But for the current crop of students, a phone is not a phone, but a life-coordinating center. Their cell phone tells them the time of the day; alarms are apparently easily set, although they still arrive late to class. They don’t use email much anymore — too slow and old-fashioned. They don’t read news on printed paper anymore; I’m not really sure whether they care about the news or, if they do, where they get it from.

Because of the constant demand to post and read stuff on Facebook (or whatever else might have replaced it by now), they cannot walk without fidgeting their cell phone with both hands.


You might remember these days in high school and college when large three-ring binders were the norm. We scribbled reams of paper, all filled with notes taken during class and handouts that the teacher had reproduced using a complicated (it seems that way anyway) alcohol-based machine that only printed in blue (that was before the invention of the photocopier). The class nerds generally carried two or three of these binders in their book bags.

Well, not anymore! Class notes are taken electronically on snazzy laptops or electronic tablets; professors provide most of the material electronically anyway.

Weekend plans

In high school and college, plans for Friday evenings had to be set at least a few days in advance. We had no mean of calling everyone on the spur of the moment. Not anymore! Parties are literally improvised and the crowd is instantly informed — it must be via Facebook or something similar.

Different times

This generation I teach has never experienced a world without computers, cell phones, and the Internet. But that’s OK. Our great-grandparents saw the first man-made flying things in the sky; our grandparents were born in a world without phones (or if they had a phone, it had a cord); our parents witnessed the birth of the television (in black and white).

Although technology used to evolve slowly centuries ago, scientific advances and discoveries are now occurring much, much faster. These bright kids who are to replace us on this planet are far better than us at adapting to faster changes.

The frightening thing, however, is that these same kids have never experienced hunger, or even just a day without fresh fruits and vegetables. They have never awakened on Christmas morning to find an orange in their Christmas sock. They never had to swallow cod liver oil to get their vitamins. For these kids, food is like the Library of Congress.

A food library

I never had the chance to visit the Library of Congress, but I have seen pictures and read statistics about it: 27 million books, 160 million items, all stored on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. If someone wrote something somewhere, then it is probably stored in the Library of Congress. In short, you can get a book dealing on just about any topics, in any color, and in any size.

That’s pretty close to the way our college kids look at food. They’re not only content to see supermarkets stocked with 15 varieties of apples, but they must also be available as organic, non-GMOs and gluten-free, and preferably without DNA or other nasty genetic stuff.

Some are somewhat surprised to learn that pretty much all food contains DNA. They have to be reminded that even if you eat tons of chicken, you still don’t grow a chicken comb. Genes are just not transferred this way. Some will pay more for gluten-free milk although all milk is gluten-free until it possibly hits a bowl of cereal.

You read and heard this before: This generation is borderline clueless of what it takes to produce food, and even more clueless at what it takes to feed 7+ billion people on a daily basis.

Thanksgiving hope

Americans just celebrated a wonderful holiday centered on a large meal taken with family. I grew up in the Great White North — you know this country by the name of ‘Canada.’ For us, Thanksgiving was a lonely day in October when we had a TV dinner and (yippee) no schoolwork. But for Americans, Thanksgiving marks the exodus of millions of people heading home to savor turkey (with plenty of stuffing), mashed potatoes (properly covered with gravy), sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving is the one day where just about everyone in this nation is reminded of the abundance of food in this country and to be thankful for the dedicated people who produce it in such quantity and quality.

As for me, I had a double serving of ice cream to honor my dairymen friends!


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Normand St-Pierre is an Extension dairy specialist at Ohio State University. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.



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