Ahh, food. At last  a subject that can't be made into a school lesson, or so you would think. Sure, food tastes good, and for some people preparing it is fun. But food also tells us a lot about the people who eat—and don't eat—it.
For students: We hope this guide sharpens your reading skills and deepens your understanding.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from AramcoWorld, by teachers at any level.
Common Core Standards met in this lesson: RI.9-10.1, W9-10.1, W9-10.2, W9-10.3 (see details below).
—The Editors

Do you have comments? I'd be pleased to hear from you at [email protected].
—Julie Weiss

The Culinary Camel

Ahh, food. At last, a subject that can't be made into a school lesson, or so you would think. Sure, food tastes good, and for some people preparing it is fun. But food also tells us a lot about the people who eat—and don't eat—it. "The Culinary Camel," by Sara Al-Bassam, entertains readers with its brief stories about the author's encounters with camels, camel milk and camel meat. You'll read the article, explore what it tells you about the cultures of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and then write your own entertaining anthropological account of an animal that's part of your own culture. By the time you read the article and complete the activities, you will be able to:
  • Describe the many roles camels play in the lives of some people in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • Explain why camel meat has not, until recently, been a big part of people's diets.
  • Summarize each section of "The Culinary Camel" and identify main points of each.
  • Analyze your own culture's relationship with an animal in a way that's similar to Al-Bassam's analysis of camels.
  • Write your own vignette(s) about that animal, using the article as a model.
Summarizing and Outlining the Article

"The Culinary Camel" is delightful to read, so read it through once just to enjoy it. Make notes about anything in it that you find particularly interesting or amusing. (Did you smile, for example, at the repeated references to camel tasting like lamb?) Share your notes with another student and talk for a minute about what you liked and or didn't like about the article.

The article is divided into 22 vignettes. You'll recognize each vignette by a preceding camel icon. Working alone or with a partner, write the numbers 1 to 22 down the left-hand side of the page so that you can make a list. Now, read the first vignette. For this activity, we'll call number 1 the section after the writer's and photographer's bylines. What is the main idea? Write it in a phrase or sentence. Here are the first two to get you started:
  1. We don't eat camel often.
  2. Camels are pets, but we also eat their meat.
You get the idea. When you finish, you'll have a kind of summary of the article, which will make it easier for you to analyze its content.

Trays of camel meat with rice make for traditional far for owners, breeders and family members at the annual King Abdulaziz Camel Festival near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The meat of a single camel can feed up to several hundred people. Before registration this meant that a camel would be slaughtered only for a major event.
Being an Anthropologist

Anthropologists study the societies and cultures of groups of people. That includes their food. Take on the role of an anthropologist who is exploring how people in Saudi Arabia and the UAE think about, live with and use camels. Use your summary list to guide you to the parts of the article that will help you on your quest. As you work, keep a written record of what you're finding out about the role of camels in these societies. Share your written record with another student (or pair of students if you're working in pairs). Then, with the other student(s), answer these questions to clarify your thinking:
  • What roles do camels play in the lives of the people Sara Al-Bassam interviewed?
  • How do decisions get made about what role(s) specific camels will fill?
  • How do people at the Camel Festival feel about their ways of preparing camel meat? What evidence leads you to that conclusions?
  • Why do so few cookbooks include camel-meat recipes?
  • Why have people only recently started eating more camel meat that they ate in the past?
  • What evidence suggests that the role of camels is changing? What is it becoming?
With the other student(s), identify three significant things you've learned as you've been an anthropologist in this exercise. If time permits, write a single paragraph that summarizes your findings.

Writing Your Own Article

Sometimes people think that anthropology is only good for examining societies and cultures that are far from their own. But being an anthropologist of your own society—stepping back from the everydayness to get a different perspective on it—can be illuminating. As a class, choose an animal that is part of your culture or a nearby culture. For example, you might choose to focus on goats, sheep or chickens. Say you choose chickens. Ask yourselves if you or people near you raise chickens, if schoolchildren hatch chickens in warm incubators, if people in your community eat chickens and so on. You can do this activity individually, in which case you can limit the number of vignettes you are writing to maybe four or five, or you can do this as a class, with each student or student pair responsible for writing one or two vignettes that you can then assemble into a piece that is similar in form to "The Culinary Camel." One note: You might choose an animal that is not considered food, such as cats. If you do, see what other aspects of the animal-human relationship you can include in your collection. When you get your stories, read them all, and as a class, decide on the order in which you want them. Have the original writers revise to make the sections work well together. Like "The Culinary Camel," the sections don't need to be connected as tightly as they would be in an essay or story, but they should make sense together.
This lesson meets these Common Core Standards:

RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

W9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

W9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization and analysis of content.

W9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.