The Art (and Application) of Rhetoric

I’m currently enrolled in this really cool MOOC (massive open online course) called Rhetorical Composing, through coursera.org. (Check it out – there are a ton of subjects to choose from, taught by experts from around the country, and best of all – its free education! What a great resource for anyone looking to enhance their skills. Though you won’t get a grade or any college credit, it’s meaningful if you are committed to lifelong learning.)

Being the first time I’ve ever taken a MOOC, I wasn’t sure what to expect when it began. Well, it’s challenging me.

In five weeks we’ve had three major assignments – this last one being the steepest learning curve. We were instructed to produce a PSA about an issue of our choosing, using what we’ve learned about rhetorical appeals: ethos, or credibility of the speaker/author (me, in this case); logos, or backing an argument with facts and statistics; pathos, the use of emotion in persuasion; and kairos, or saying the right thing at the right time for maximum effect. (There is more to the art of rhetoric, but I won’t bore you with that here.)

The PSA was to be in any form of our choosing – postcard, poster, video, photo story. Being a photographer, I should have chosen a photo story. But, ever the ambitious one, I opted to make (my first ever!) video. Here’s the result: You Are What You Eat (opens in new window)

(I wish I knew how to embed this directly into my blog – well, another thing to learn at another time…)

Fortunately we are peer-reviewed on content over quality! Obviously my skills for making videos (with quality audio) are next to zero, but there you have it.

I chose to address the impact meat production has on the environment, animal welfare, and human health. When I began reading about the food industry several years ago, the more I learned, the more convinced I became that the effects of meat are far-reaching. The consumption of meat contributes to both environmental and health crises – two topics that particularly appeal to kairos in an age when we are combating diseases of excess and the degradation of our planet.

While I try not to “preach” to others about the meat industry – people tend to be very sensitive about their food – I do think it is important that consumers understand what effects their food choices can have. My PSA is particularly geared toward a mixed audience of omnivores, “foodies”, and people concerned about the environment, animal welfare, and their own health.

The general consensus by my peers was that the video was a bit longer than a conventional PSA (30-60 seconds), and that I could have benefited from narrowing my audience and focusing on either environment, health, or animal welfare – instead of all three at once. Otherwise, I got fairly good reviews.

The ability to narrow my focus is exactly my problem, and it always has been. I’m not saying they’re wrong – it’s likely that my video could have been more impactful if I had narrowed my scope.

I find I always write too much and can never make decisions. Its part of my struggle as I research grad schools. I want to be able to turn my interests in food – and all that “food” encompasses – into marketable and useful skills in the worlds of policy and health. So, naturally, I’m looking at Public Policy and Public Health programs. Unfortunately my finances will eventually, I’m sure, force me to choose one or the other – I can’t be a student forever, after all.

Do I want to study policy, in an area focused on environmental issues surrounding food production? Or do I want to study public health, so that I can be effective in helping people make healthy food choices? If I were to work in a field related to poverty and nutrition, food deserts and urban access to fresh produce, would I go for an MPP or an MPH? If I wanted to pursue the ethics of marketing and commercialization and how those things affect the way we think about our food – would I need to go in a new direction altogether? I think what I really need is a solid program that encourages lots of interdisciplinary study…

If anyone out in the world wide web can offer me advice, or point me to Masters programs, I’m open to it.

In the meantime, I’m hoping I can hone in on my rhetorical writing skills. Maybe it will make me a better writer. Hopefully though, it makes me a better decision-maker, too.

(Disclaimer: I do not own the template, images, or music in the video linked to above. The video was made for educational purposes only and constitutes Fair Use. I am not making any kind of profit off of this production.)

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