How to Prepare an “A,’ and Other Grades: A Tongue in Cheek Look at the Culinary Classification of Grades

Grades are a difficult subject for both faculty and students. For faculty, how do we judge the work of another person? How do we guide students towards excellence in so many different areas, balancing various Western academic requirements while encouraging students to find their own place culturally and conceptually? How do we use grades to motivate students to work harder versus driving them to give up? How do we reward perseverance and hard work as well as excellence? What is fair for students in different circumstances?

For students, how do I meet the expectations of the class? What are my personal strengths and interests and how can I call on them in this class? How much time can I, or do I want to, spend on this assignment? How do I get my point across to the faculty and fellow students? Do I have to give up pieces of myself to get a good grade?

In my classes there are many ways to get an “A’ and the path will be different for each student. Personally, I like to think of grades in culinary terms. We all love food and we all need food to grow and thrive, but we can’t always get or prepare the food we want. So, here is my culinary classification of grades based on some of my culinary experiences.

An “A’ grade is the highest level of excellence: the pinnacle of taste, skill, and nutrition.

  • A gourmet four course meal with a fancy dessert (any cuisine, but for the dessert something decadent with dark chocolate is my preference, in case, like, you wanted to cook for me). However, if you start making me bacon foam or deconstructed something you had better be able to link your theoretical food to real world applications. And if you start telling me that reindeer MUST be cooked such and such a way because Science (or Tradition, or your personal preference) I’m going to ask you to examine and define your theoretical paradigm. Actually, I’ll ask you to do that anyways.
  • Fresh frozen whitefish dipped in seal oil.
  • A culinary fusion of traditional and modern flavors. I once had lemon pepper mikiaq (fermented whale meat) that totally blew my mind, and my taste buds.
  • Just trih (troth, masru, mousefood, Indian potato, Eskimo potato). Simple, basic, but so good and you harvested it yourself.
  • Indian ice cream made with moose meat and ch’aghwah ghwąįį (bone grease) and whipped by hand. Never had it, but the process sounds pretty impressive.

A “B’ grade is still very good and it also can be earned in many ways. I think of a “B’ grade as the comfort food of grades.

  • Moose soup. Now, some will say this is an “A’ and sometimes it is, but your basic moose soup is comforting and warm. Not too fancy, but good to make and eat whenever you need a good meal.
  • Homemade macaroni and cheese. Seriously, I’ve loved it since I was a kid. Don’t judge me.
  • Bella biscuits (You Fort Yukoners know what I mean).
  • That Jell-O and fruit salad your sister always makes for the holidays. Actually, not my favorite, but my husband really likes it.
  • Fry bread. Not the most nutritious, but hard to make right and oh so delicious.   You know you love it.

“C’ grades are ok. Still acceptable, and often the best you can do at that particular time. There’s no shame in that. A “C’ grade is the quick packed lunch, just getting something good in the belly of grades.

  • Pilot bread and jarred salmon. Now, if you jarred the salmon yourself that might be a higher grade, but sometimes you have to just grab what your grandma gave you out of the cupboard and go.
  • A veggie tray that you selected the veggies and chopped yourself with a couple of good dips. If you grabbed a pre-chopped veggie tray from the supermarket I’m going to appreciate the healthy vegetable angle, but I expect a bit more effort.
  • A homemade meat and cheese sandwich with mayo and mustard (the good kind) on store bought bread. Yeah, you slapped it together, but it’s still pretty tasty and gets the job done. Homemade bread may elevate this.

A “D’ grade is not so good, but it does happen occasionally, and there aren’t that many ways to get one. A “D’ grade is the fast food of grades (I expect some people will disagree with me on this).

  • That pre-cut veggie tray from the supermarket. Or the pre-made sandwiches. Or the frozen cheesecake bites. I know they can be great for a potluck, but they definitely aren’t the star and you only do it when you are really short on time.
  • Anything from McDonald’s. Or Taco Bell. Or any of the others. I may like the taste of McDonald’s fries, but they give me a serious stomach ache.

An “F’ grade says either something came up that kept you from putting in effort or you simply couldn’t be bothered. An “F’ grade is the spoiled food of grades.

  • That freezer burned fish from three years ago you found in the corner of your chest freezer that your teenager missed when he was supposed to be cleaning it out last summer.
  • Thanksgiving leftovers a week later. Are they still edible? I don’t want to risk it. This usually happens when you don’t plan to use your leftovers in a timely manner. Yes, this happens to me all the time.

We may disagree about what actually qualifies as an “A,’ “B,’ “C,’ or “D’ grade (I think most of us agree about what makes an “F’). Some of us are all about the flavor. Others care more about how hard it is to prepare or that you harvested it in the correct way. A good meal can be brought low if you use canned peas (for me, anyway). A quick snack can be elevated when you use the wild blueberry jam you jarred last fall. We may want to sit down to a great meal every day or we may only enjoy them once in a while. Every faculty is different and every student is different, but we can all sit down for a good meal at the table together.

What are your favorite foods and where would you put them on the culinary classification of grades?

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