P Is For Bacon


A couple of weeks I hosted a workshop at my school on the subject of parsnips. Parsnip is an acronym standing for the subjects that coursebook writers are allegedly supposed to avoid:








We had a really interesting discussion on the subject, looking into the reasons behind why this happens and the result of this decision to omit what many people would consider to be some of the fundamental building blocks of life. For our homework, we took a parsnip each and created an activity which we could share in the following week’s workshop. I decided to try and create a pork lesson plan.

Pork is perhaps the parsnip which stands out the most on the list. For many people, at first sight it takes a moment or two to figure why it’s even there at all. Then the realisation hits, and you remember that for a large proportion of the world, food from a pig is a serious taboo. But in a culture such as the one I teach in where pork is not so much forbidden as it is a national dish, was it possible to create an interesting and challenging lesson plan that effectively communicated this issue?

Well that’s what I tried to do. I haven’t had the chance to teach it yet, but I think it would provoke some interesting reactions, some cross cultural awareness and of course, some meaningful learning opportunities. And if you have any feedback for me, please leave it in the comments below.

1. Ask the students to discuss this questions in small groups:

  • Do you have any food taboos? Is there anything that you would never eat? Why?
  • In some areas of the world, there are foods that are not allowed. Do you know any of these  places and the foods that are banned?

2. List these religions on the board and ask the students to match them to the banned possible foods:





frogs / hot drinks / cat / blood / pig / cow / onion / crocodile

Answers (make sure the students know these answers are in some cases generalisations, such as onion and hot drinks):

Judaism – Frogs / Crocodile / cats /
Islam – cats / blood / pig
Hinduism – cow / onion
Mormons – Hot drinks

3. Tell students “You’re going to watch an interview with a man who was raised a Muslim. He’s talking about bacon. What do you think he will say about it?” Students discuss in groups.

4. Give the students a handout with this group of sentence stems repeated on it three times.

“One of the other waiters dared me to eat bacon, and he dared me because he knew I was a Muslim and it was a forbidden thing, and …………………………………………………………………………………………………”

“We have a choice ………………..………………………………………………………….”

“Eating pork for me is ………………………………………………………………………..”

Ask them to predict how he will finish the sentences.

5. Now tell the students “If I told you that the man now considered himself an atheist, how would you now finish the sentences?”. Ask them to try and finish the sentences again with a new version.

6. Students watch the video and then compare their predictions with his answers.

7. Ask them to watch the video again and try to write his actual answers.

8. Discuss in groups your reaction to the video. (Possible discussion questions: Did you realise that a food could be so meaningful to someone? Is there anything like this is your culture, food or otherwise? How do you think his friends and family reacted to his decision. How do you think his co-workers reacted when he ate the bacon?)

9. Follow up written activity – ask students to write his diary entry for that day, describing the incident and how he felt after.

Pigs in blankets
I am indebted to Clive Elsmore (@CliveSir) for the video that this post is based on. It was originally posted in the comments of this blog post: http://esolinshetland.blogspot.com/2012/07/pork-and-final-parsnip.html
Photo credits:
Crispy – Photo taken from http://flickr.com/ by @cookbookman17, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/
Pigs in Blankets – Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @sandymillin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

7 thoughts on “P Is For Bacon

  1. Great way to get a discussion going!

    The fact that coursebook writers aren't allowed to include all the 'controversial' topics is a real boon for us teachers. As long as we handle the topics with sensitivity, it's a rich vein of content that can be extremely engaging for our students!

    Thanks for the ideas 🙂

  2. Hello,
    I really like the idea. I have already discussed such matters with my students in the classroom and I see that this method is really effective. For the video, I'm quite sure that it will be harshly criticised by Muslims because it indirectly supports the conversion from Islam to Atheism. Thus, I suggest using another one in order to avoid supporting some creeds at the expense of others.
    All the best!

  3. Yes, even though I know pork is forbidden by many cultures, it's always remained hard for me to consider it worthy of the list.

    As I was thinking about the sentence prompts, there was little to the first that helped be predict what he'd say. I'm sure you'd get a wide variety of possible answers.

    Mmmm. Bacon.

  4. Your title makes me hungry. 🙂 I'm a sucker for bacon. We have a couple of Muslims in our country. You won't see these kind of discussions in the coursebooks because of fear of offending students. I welcome discussing controversial topics in my class.

  5. I think you should be able to talk about these topics. Some pupils might live in a situation where these topics occur on daily basis. If you don't talk about these topics these pupils might feel left out.

  6. I think that the publishers are wrong about this. I think we should talk about these topics more than about any other. I think that otherwise our pupils will become xenophobes who don't know about the world and even their own country.

    As a teacher you can't give your opinion, that's a fact, but can't the pupils give theirs? Can't they debate with each other to improve their speaking skills and their world view. Maybe they will change their minds about some subjects when they hear others talk about it. You can do a lot of things with these parsnips: talk about the history, let them watch a movie or a clip about it, let them watch the news (these are daily news items)…

    I think we should be aware about the fact that a teacher must be objective and these are hard topics to do that, but isn't it a challenge as well?

  7. Thanks Amelie, you raise some interesting points and I agree with you on most of them. Just because we show them something like this doesn't mean that we are endorsing it. It's up to them how they respond.

    I don't agree when you say that teachers can't give their opinions, it really depends on who you are teaching, the subject and your relationship with them. I hope that in my classroom there is enough mutual respect between the learners, and the learners and me, that we can be honest, in a tactful and polite way, and have our opinions respected. That's what I aim for, anyway.

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