I thoroughly enjoyed teaching Food Media at The University of Tulsa this semester. The majority of my twelve students were media studies majors, but others are majoring in music, psychology, political science, and accounting. None of them had taken a food-studies-type course before. Some of them weren’t all that interested in food at the beginning of our semester, though that would change!
On our last day of class, we enjoyed a final meal together and worked on a top ten list of what we learned over the course of the semester. Our list includes particular readings, concepts, experiences, skills, and feelings.
Here’s what resonated most with my students this semester:
- Food is more than just food. We should study it seriously.
- Food reveals a great deal about the structural (in)equalities and (in)justice of the societies in which we live.
- Food is gendered, from the theorization of food porn to “the woman problem” of the culinary industry to the ongoing inequitable divide of domestic food labor.
- “Authentic” and “ethnic” are complicated and problematic terms that we’ll never think about the same way. Some of us will refrain from using them altogether.
- Ideas about nutrition and health, eating for pleasure and the moralization of food have shifted over time. This has added both deep meaning and anxious conflicts to our individual eating behaviors and our broader food culture.
- From our amazing food styling and photography workshop with KC Hysmith, we learned to take better food photos and to think critically about the visuality of our food culture.
- Instagramming our food for a semester made us rethink what we eat—and what we post, and why. We will never forget Laura Shapiro’s charge for us to Instagram our leftovers and capture the mundane truths of our food lives so to create a useful archive for the historians of the future.
- The work of writing, editing, and revising is (still) difficult, but we learned more about these processes from chatting with dozens of professional writers on Twitter, who were voluntarily part of our class. Their lessons (and their generosity of spirit) made us better and bolder writers, especially as we took on creative and new (to us) genres like food memoir and food writing.
- We worked on our personal relationships with food. Some of us worked through our pasts with eating disorders, hunger, or picky eating. Others chewed on our right to access veg-friendly meals. We described in great sensory detail our favorite foods: coffee, burgers (with no condiments!), and French fries, from the haute to the fast. We all thought more deeply about what we eat, where it comes from, what stories it tells, and why it matters.
- We developed one of the strongest and dearest class communities we’ve ever experienced, bonds forged through in-class food tastings, our #foodxmedia Instagram space, and our meals shared around a common table.
I will hugely miss this special group of students!
For any instructors wanting to do a similar “last class top 10” activity, here’s how we created our list:
- Students prepared their own rankings before class as a homework assignment from the prompt: Look back over the syllabus, your notes, and our class Twitter threads. 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 and co-writing a group listicle. We’ll connect the dots across our semester together as we ponder our food and media futures.
- In-class, students discussed their individual lists in groups of two or three, condensing their list of twenty or thirty down to ten.
- Then, each group presented their top ten to the class, which I wrote into a master list.
- Our master list ended up being 25 items long, since many groups already found resonance in similar key learnings. We discussed how some items on the list could perhaps be condensed into one other. Then we voted on each one, working our way as low as we could get toward a nice summary of the big things we’ll take with us from this class.