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Food Media Syllabus

I am teaching this class at The University of Tulsa in fall 2019. When I first announced it, there was interest in the course from beyond the students enrolled, which makes me so happy! As an experiment to make this course publicly available and to welcome “the public” into our class, I’m sharing the syllabus and the readings here for folks to read and learn along with us. Our class also involves a significant number of virtual guests, who we’ll engage with on Twitter so that, again, anyone interested can follow along too.

Welcome, everyone!

Course Description

Media can be defined very broadly as that which connects humanity, but food media focuses specifically on, well, food. What’s more, food itself “counts” as a medium. In this class, we’ll consider a variety of forms of food media, including food memoir, food porn, Instagram, cookbooks, blogs, dietary advice, TV shows, and films, as well as food writing, criticism, and reporting. We’ll learn through all of our senses, training our palates through in-class tastings and visits to Mother Road Market. Building on this embodied knowledge, we’ll grow our writing skills of description to fully capture in words what foods taste like, whether surprising and new or nostalgic and comforting.

Along the way, we’ll read beautiful and thought-provoking words from writers who describe themselves using different (and at times overlapping) titles, including: academics, public scholars, journalists, food writers, memoirists, activists, and advocates. As we learn about food, food media, the food industry, and the global food system, we’ll deeply consider issues of equity, justice, diversity, and inclusion. Every time we read, we’ll focus not just on what these authors say, but how they say it. We’ll read for enticing titles, opening lines that grip our attention, silky smooth transitions, gorgeously creative descriptions, and satisfying final sentences—and think about how they can inform our own writing.

In addition to the course instructor, Professor Emily Contois, we’ll learn directly from many of the authors (marked in bold color) on this syllabus. Thanks to the generosity of spirit shown by these writers and editors, more than thirty of them (yes, that many wonderful, smart writers!) will engage in conversation with us over Twitter after we read their words. We’ll be using hashtag #foodxmedia to mark and gather our conversations.

Course Learning Objectives

After completing this course, students will be able to:

  1. Consume and produce food media in their everyday (and perhaps professional) lives in critical and thoughtful ways.
  2. Articulate how food itself (and various food media forms) represent and co-produce arrangements of power and categories of identity (such as race, gender, sexuality, and class), including ethical implications.
  3. Critically evaluate connections and disjuncture between our food media history and present.
  4. Communicate clearly, persuasively, and with polished prose and style in writing assignments and oral presentations. This course aims to provide students a supportive space to experiment with new forms of writing and to develop their own unique voice.
  5. Clearly articulate food views regarding taste and flavor, consumption habits, and global food system issues.

Assignments

  • 15% // Food Memoir Essay (due 9/13)
  • 15% // Instagram Posts (10+ during semester) + Photo Challenge (on 10/1)
  • 15% // Mother Road Market Essay (due 11/1)
  • 20% // Revised Essay (due by 12/6)
  • 15% // Summation Paper (due 12/13)
  • 20% // Preparation + Participation + Engagement (every class)

Reading Schedule

Part I. Introduction

In this first part of the course, we’ll introduce one another and some foundational ideas that we’ll build on for the rest of our time together. 

T 8/27: First Day of Class
We’ll spend our first day together reviewing this class’s key questions and objectives, class policies, the syllabus, and getting to know one another.

Th 8/29: Getting Started | Read Our Tweets
What is food media and why should we study it? How is food a medium? What can food and food media teach us about culture, society, identity, and power?

II. Food & You: Expressing Food Lives

In this section of the course we’ll consider how we, food writers, and other food media producers express our inner food lives through food memoir and through representations of food like food porn, especially on Instagram. We’ll also think deeply about the technical and cultural role of Instagram and learn the basics of how to style and photograph food. 

T 9/3: Food Stories and Memoir: First Course | Read Our Tweets
How does food capture and sustain our memories of the past? How do writers communicate these feelings in the genre of food memoir? 

In-Class Mini-Tasting: madeleines

Th 9/5: Food Stories and Memoir: Second Course | Read Our Tweets
How do these authors use food in different ways to share memories and tell stories? How do these readings provide ideas and inspiration for your own food memoir essay? What are your (and/or your family’s) food stories and memories that you’re interested to write about?

T 9/10: Food Porn and “Bad” Food | Read Our Tweets
What is food porn? Why are folks so interested in (and concerned by) it? If we’re obsessed with fantastically beautiful food, where does ugly but tasty food fit into our food culture?

Th 9/12: Food and Instagram | Read Our Tweets
Why do so many folks like taking, sharing, and looking at photos of food on Instagram? What varying perspectives do these authors provide regarding the professional utility, cultural purpose, social problems, and potentials of Instagram? How do they affect how you use (and feel about) food on Instagram?

T 9/17: Food Styling Workshop | Read Our Tweets
In addition to being a PhD Candidate in American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, KC Hysmith has a professional background in food writing, food photography, and recipe testing. In this virtual workshop, she’ll teach us some tricks of the trade, which will come in handy during our Instagram Challenge.  

Th 9/19: Instagram Focus Group with Professors Contois and Kish
Professors Contois and Kish are co-editing a book on food and Instagram, and we’d love to know more about your experiences with Instagram when it comes to food, cooking, and eating. For this class, we’ll have a more structured conversation on these topics.

  • No Reading—Palate Cleanser #1

III. Food & Stories: Reporting on and from the World of Food

In this section of the course, we’ll read (and learn how to write) food stories that matter. As models for inspiration, we’ll read stories about restaurants, food media’s problems with diversity and inclusion, and the food system. 

T 9/24: Reading and Writing Restaurant Stories | Read Our Tweets
How do these writers tell the stories of notable restaurants and chefs here in Oklahoma and around the country? What models do these pieces provide for your essay assignment? 

Th 9/26: Tasting Workshop | Read Our Tweets
One of the requirements of your Mother Road Market essay is to describe food in sensory detail, which is difficult to do well. This workshop will help prepare our palates and our abilities to find the words and phrases to describe food. 

T 10/1: Mother Road Market Visit #1 | Read Our Tweets
Before we visit Mother Road Market, take a moment to learn more about its development, intended purpose, business offerings, and marketing presence within historic Route 66 and the Tulsa community.

Th 10/3: Food Problems and Solutions: Gender, Sexuality, and #metoo | Read Our Tweets
What is the culinary industry’s “woman problem?” How did it come to be and how can it be improved? In addition to sexism, how has homophobia shaped the restaurant industry? What stories do these queer chefs tell? What has the food industry’s role been within the #metoo movement? 

T 10/8: Food Problems and Solutions: Race and Power | Read Our Tweets
How do these pieces critique how race and power operate in the food and restaurant industries? Who seems to have the power to define what “good” food is? What is cultural appropriation and what conversation should we be having about it? 

Th 10/10: Writing on Food Systems and Futures | Read Our Tweets
Beyond culinary boundaries, food writers tell complex and urgently needed stories about our global food system: its workers, its politics, and its future. How do these authors pose academic, legal, and policy questions in accessible prose and with style? 

IV: Food & Flavor, Justice & Access: Finding the Words of Description

This section of the course focuses on specific aspects of food writing—food criticism and how to write well about flavor—to prepare you to complete your Mother Road Market essay. 

T 10/15: Food Criticism
What do food critics do, and how do they write about food? How does food criticism shape food and media culture? How is food criticism changing?

Th 10/17: The Art (and Arc) of the Negative Review, Pete Wells Style
How and why do critics write negative reviews? How has Pete Wells done so in a number of genre-bending ways?

T 10/22: Problems with Food Media & Criticism—and What We Should Do About Them | Read Our Tweets
Food media and criticism have a diversity and inclusion problem. How do these problems shape our collective food culture and media worlds, and how can we transform them? After you’ve read Sara Kay’s article, check out Yelp reviews in Tulsa (or your home city) and compare results. 

Th 10/24: Mother Road Market for Rush Hour Observation and Tasting
During our second visit to Mother Road Market, you’ll gather sensory data for your essay. Make sure you have a draft story idea before we visit. 

  • No reading—Palate Cleanser #2

T 10/29: Hey, What about Alcohol? | Read Our Tweets
How do we describe alcohol, like wine—its flavor, place of origin, production, and cultural meaning? Is this effort different from how we write about food? How do we write about wine for various audiences: resistant, wary, nervous, or enthusiastically knowledgeable? How does alcohol (appreciation and abuse) fit into food and restaurant culture?

Th 10/31: Essay Peer Review Workshop
We’ll spend today’s class giving one another useful feedback on our essay drafts. Please bring a printed copy to class. 

  • No reading—Palate Cleanser #3

V. Food & Texts: Building Connections Across Forms, Time & Space

In this final section, we’ll consider connections between various contemporary food media and historical examples. We’ll examine a number of forms: dietary advice, advertising, cookbooks, blogs, TV, and film. 

T 11/5: Stories about Diet and Health, Then and Now + Why They Matter | Read Our Tweets
How does dietary advice influence what we eat? How does it shape who we are and how others perceive us? What role does nutrition play in U.S. food culture? How does food marketing shape our ideas about nutrition and health? How should we write compelling stories about nutrition and health without fat stigma or racial and class bias? 

Th 11/7: Food Advertising, Design, and Labeling | Read Our Tweets
How does food’s design, labeling, and advertising influence what and how we eat? How does food advertising shape and reflect culture, including notions of identity like gender? 

T 11/12: Cookbooks | Read Our Tweets
Are cookbooks just full of instructions for how to prepare food? (The answer is: no.) Today’s readings show how cookbooks tell us stories about history, technology, culture, and social change.

Th 11/14: In-Class Cookbook Workshop
How can we use cookbooks, historical and contemporary, as research evidence? What stories do they tell us? And why does Professor Contois have so many cookbooks in her office??

Optional Reading:

T 11/19: Visit to TU Special Collections
While Professor Contois has some pretty neat historical cookbooks in her personal research collection, TU’s Special Collections in McFarlin Library has cookbooks, advertisements, posters, menus, and more, which we’ll get to see during our visit. 

  • No reading—Palate Cleanser #4—but make sure to Instagram our visit.

Th 11/21: Deconstructing Thanksgiving
An important part of many holidays and cultural rituals, food plays a central role in the U.S. feasting holiday, Thanksgiving. We’ll ponder this day and its food from a number of complex perspectives.

T 11/26 and Th 11/28: Thanksgiving Break
If you feel comfortable, Instagram and share your Thanksgiving cooking and eating—and take a moment to ponder our “Deconstructing Thanksgiving” readings as you enjoy the holiday.

T 12/3: Food and Film
Who was Julia Child, and why does Professor Contois love her so much? What were Julia Child’s views on food? How does food function in cinema? How do we define the genre of “food films?”

In-Class Viewing: Julie & Julia (2009)

Th 12/5: Food TV (and More Food Film)
What are your impressions of the film, Julie and Julia, directed by Nora Ephron? How does it exhibit the characteristics of a food film? Why is Julia Child important in the history of food TV and of food celebrity? Why are consumers so hungry for food media now? Is Netflix the new Food Network? 

F 12/13: Finals Period to Connect the Dots 
Look back over the syllabus and your notes. Jot down a list of the top 10 things you learned in this class. This could be a concept, an idea, a writing technique, an experience, a flavor, etc. We’ll spend today discussing our lists, co-writing a group listicle, and taking a class selfie (yes, as many of you already know, Professor Contois is that dorky). We’ll connect the dots across our semester together, as we ponder our food and media futures.

  • Watch together: “We Wish You a Metal Christmas,” Aggretsuko, Netflix, 2018.

*For course policies, detailed assignment descriptions, etc. TU students should visit this course’s Harvey site. 

3 Comments

  1. Maki Thomas Livesay says

    Thank you, Emily, for your generosity in sharing this substantive syllabus (described as a WIP)! I look forward to studying along with your students in Tulsa, and to seeing where #foodxmedia takes our interdiciplinary community. Brava!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow this course is so exciting—I want it-just don’t know how to fit it in……….ahhhh. Congratulations on this wonderful course study.

    Liked by 1 person

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