Looking into the future

Today’s Actual Wisdom: Shamus Khan, expert on farm to table food, authenticity, and not being an asshole. 

1. Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer.

I teach. Every year I have a chance to influence how hundreds of young people understand the world and themselves. Cheesy? Yes. But I love it (most of the time).

2. Your claim to fame (what makes you special?):

I think what I’m most proud of recently is helping to start farm to table food collective. It’s part of a local food scene in Wisconsin. We did stuff like raise our own animals (and then slaughter them — intense!), and work with local farmers to help build a greater market for and interest in their produce. Now it’s a restaurant and butcher shop, which I’m still somewhat involved in. It’s hardly fame (though we were written up in the NY Times!). But it employs a bunch of people at a living wage. And we work hard to make sure it’s an ethical, local business. So I’m super proud of it. If you’re ever in Madison, go there, and tell them Shamus sent you!

3. What’s your most valuable or unexpected college experience?

I learned that I wasn’t the smartest most amazing person ever. Perhaps not unexpected. But definitely valuable.

4. What’s the craziest student excuse/extension story you’ve heard?

Like all faculty members, this time of year I learn how willing students are to kill off their grandparents to get a few extra days to do their work. It’s sad. I’ve also had students bring me their alarm clock to prove it really was broken (it wasn’t). I’ve had students claim to be terribly sick, only to greet them on the street later in the day as they carried home two 30-packs of Keystone Light (remember: faculty live here too). And I’ve had students describe, in excruciating detail, how they were chained to the toilet seat (except, apparently, to email me). The best excuse involved a pregnancy scare (where the young gentlemen escorted his “most recent friend” to a doctor’s appointment – his words, not mine). I used to get more worked up about this. But now I tend to chuckle. Because basically, people who have a legitimate excuse usually do a great job making up for it, and those who are just making excuses will continue to find creative ways not to do their work. And in the end, those folks rarely do a decent job if they ever do get it together enough to make up their work.

5. Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese?

Who would answer this any other way than, “No! I would not!”? Except maybe vegans. And nuns. And I am neither. But if I had to, I’d become a vegan before I’d become a nun.

6. Back in my day…

Everything was so much more awesome. And authentic. And now it’s all totally fake.

7. Three things you learned at Columbia:

1.) My colleagues are pretty amazing. If I need to know something, chances are there’s an expert somewhere I can talk to. The Columbia faculty blow me away on a regular basis. They’re one of the best parts of my job. I feel super lucky to be able to do what I do, and to be here.

2.) Morningside is a wonderful neighborhood to return to, which you only discover if you make the effort to leave it from time to time.

3.) The two best libraries to work at on campus are the East Asian Library and the Union Theological Seminary library. I go there during the summer when you’re not here. I love you. But it’s nice to have some quiet.

8. What’s your advice to students/academics/the human race in general?

I give my grad students the same advice every time they head out for a job interview: no one wants to work with an asshole. So my advice is: don’t be an asshole. The rest should take care of itself.

Shamus Khan via Columbia