The students read a chapter on the history of ketchup from Dan Jurafsky’s The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu. During class, each student received a package of ketchup and a napkin, with the mandate to open the packet and smell or taste the contents, and finally free-write whatever came to mind. I had anticipated a kind of Proustian moment for the students springing out of this exercise, although I told them to refrain from writing a novel in the 5-6 minutes I had allotted for this activity.
After they finished writing ketchup-related prose, I asked them to distill and repackage the essence of their free-write into a haiku. The goal was to help the students participate in the process of adjusting information to meet the requirements of the communication task and its implied audience(s).
One of my students, Jordan, gave me permission to show what he produced through this exercise:
Vinegar. The first flavor that comes through above all others in Ketchup [sic]. You don’t even have to put it to your tongue and the smell has already made your mouth tangy and watery. After the vinegar taste has past, a burst of tomato rushes through. It is almost as though a juicy red tomato blew up in your mouth.
Now though, all I want is some waffle fries to go with this ketchup. There is just something about fresh fried potatoes in that famous waffle pattern along with classic Heinz ketchup. It must be a match made in heaven because the flavors go together so well. As you bite into a fresh fry covered in ketchup, you get a rush of vinegar and tomato followed by the oily starchy salty goodness of potato fresh out of the fryer. You can’t just stop at one. No, you have to eat the whole pack and then go back to the counter for more.
While ketchup goes great with fries, not all of the fries must have ketchup. Variety is the spice of life, and so too it is with fries. Sometimes there is more ketchup than fry while others remain completely clean of that red paste. Each fry is still good though, and in the end the…
Afterwards, he revised his paragraphs into the conventional 5-7-5 form:
Salty waffle fries
Covered in ketchup so sweet
Just one more fry please
I would have brought a bottle of ketchup from home instead of dashing to the Chik-Fil-A in the Student Commons to grab enough ketchup packets for my whole class. This action would have saved me time and the $4.49 I spent on the chicken biscuit combo I purchased out of guilt for taking so many packets.
I could have, instead, assigned the students to read “Ice Cream” by Anne Fadiman and made peanut butter milkshakes in what probably would have been the single-most memorable class period of my students’ burgeoning academic careers.