Deliciously Fast Summer Reading (and Listening and Watching)
And, Cooking Up Change
Thanks for all the notes of congratulations on my book Franchise winning the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for History. If you are new to the newsletter, I write about fast food and good teaching. These are my two great passions. Hope you enjoy.
This week, I’ll introduce you to the very best in fast food writing (and then some), so you can choose your own adventure for summer reading. Considering the past year was probably a little on the rough side, my summer reading list includes articles, quick takes, hot takes, books, as well as podcasts.
Over at the Heir Mail Substack, Meredith Haggerty gave a few thoughts about the movement to revive the old brand, roadside restaurant Stuckey’s in a recent edition of her newsletter. And, she added a great tidbit on the life of a KFC heiress. Trust me, you want to read this.
Speaking of KFC, you may not know that the Colonel has become a staple of the Japanese Christmas season. Atlas Obscura published a fascinating piece about the origins of a modern tradition, that isn’t really that much of a tradition.
One of the reasons why KFC took off in Japan was it made chicken cheaper to purchase; it had previously been a luxury item. If the price of food is a topic of interest, Substacker MoneyLemma wrote a fantastic post on why bananas are so damn cheap and what it tells us about history and economics.
When we think of fast food, we think of its low price, but rarely do we imagine the highly complicated machines that make the components of our favorite orders. Wired Magazine uncovered the bizarre case of two people who cracked the code of McDonald’s ice cream machines in an effort to fix these frequently broken dessert makers. Then, they got in big trouble. The story was also covered by the Sporkful podcast. It’s a fascinating look into the world of fast food machines, franchisee agreements, and a little bit of corporate intrigue.
If you like to rate and rank fast food and chain restaurants with your friends, you may enjoy the “Doughboys” podcast, in which hosts Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell talk about the franchises of our lives with guests, mostly comedians and writers. From deep dives into Burger King to dissecting the sides menu of Boston Market, this is a great podcast to binge while doing your summer chores.
If you want a complete meal comprising a podcast, short film, and an article to read about fried chicken, Gravy from the Southern Foodways Alliance will fill you up with this package on Mahalia Jackson’s foray into fast food. You can watch the short film below
And, if you are still craving something longer to read, consider these excellent books:
Bryant Simon, The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives examines the 1991 industrial accident that killed dozens of workers at a chicken processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. Simon connects the demand for cheap foods, like the chickens processed at the factory before becoming fried chicken tenders, and the exploitation of labor.
Friend-of-the-Newsletter Adam Chandler’s Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom is now in paperback!
If you have a young reader in your life who is interested in food, consider getting them a copy of Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food, an accessible version of Eric Schlosser’s very important Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of an All-American Meal, which was also fictionalized into a 2006 film. Here’s the trailer:
One of the greatest fictions about being an educator is that you have your summers off. Yes, you aren’t in the classroom on a regular schedule during the summer months, but your care for your students, your new ideas for teaching, and your desire to improve your craft don’t melt away after the Memorial Day holiday. I’ve worked with a number of teachers over the years about improving their teaching, creating more inclusive classrooms, and revamping their curricular content. So, I get a lot of asks from teachers about what to read, often over the summer, to get ready for the following fall start of the school year. After the past 15 months that most educators experienced, I’m always hesitant to assign more summer homework, but teachers are relentless in their desire to be better and do better, so, this is what I can advise: Spend some time thinking about the world your students live in. What does that mean? Think about the demographic of the students you typically teach. How old are they? Where are they from? What is the context in which they exist and, in turn, the context that shapes how they appear in your classroom?
For me, as a professor who often teaches students between the ages of 18 and 22, I’ve prioritized asking and learning about the news outlets they tune into, the popular culture they enjoy, and each year, I make sure I know the cost of the college I work at because the cost of education often informs how students experience it. I read the campus newspaper faithfully, and when students meet with me, I often ask, “What are some of the issues you and your friends are talking about?”
If you haven’t already done so, I recommend you read The New York Times piece from Susan Dominus about the school year for a group of high school students in Columbia, Missouri (where I went to college, and where I taught summer high school for many years). Dominus reports on how COVID-19, as well as other realities of race and class that existed long before the pandemic, framed the school year. This would be an excellent reading to start the school year off for colleagues, as well as students, to help them process the mixed emotions of return. Dominus also reflected on the experience of reporting this piece and her own time as a parent supervising Zoom school.
Whatever resources you have available to you, I implore you to use to think about the world your student inhabits and use this information to guide the illustrations you use in class, make you more sensitive to the stresses they may be under, and select the material you teach. On the college level, students can come from so many different places, that it may seem impossible to fully know all you want, but it’s still a worthwhile enterprise. One of the many barriers to good teaching and fruitful learning is a generation gap. We teachers get older, the students usually stay the same age. There is no way to change that. But, taking a context-centered approach to teaching can help create a stronger common ground for the great exchanges that can happen in the classroom. So, your homework is simple, learn about your students, and I promise they will learn so much more from you.
Until next time,
Your Favorite Prof