Please note, this “Food Media” syllabus is currently a work in progress.
I will teach 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.
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:
- Consume and produce food media in their everyday (and perhaps professional) lives in critical and thoughtful ways.
- 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.
- Critically evaluate connections and disjuncture between our food media history and present.
- 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.
- Clearly articulate food views regarding taste and flavor, consumption habits, and global food system issues.
- 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)
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.
- Emily Contois, “What is Food Studies?” and “Thinking through Food and Media,” emilycontois.com, March 2, 2017.
Th 8/29: Getting Started
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?
- Warren Belasco, Chapter 1, “Why Study Food,” (pp. 1-13) in Food: The Key Concepts (New York: Berg, 2008).
- Alison Alkon, “Anthony Bourdain, America’s Gastrodiplomat,” The New Food Economy, June 12, 2018.
- Michael Twitty, “An Open Letter to Paula Deen,” Afroculinaria, June 25, 2013.
- John Birdsall, “America, Your Food Is So Gay,” Lucky Peach, April 13, 2014.
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
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
- Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (1913-27); excerpt available here.
- Edmund Levin, “The Way the Cookie Crumbles: How Much Did Proust Know About Madeleines?” Slate, May 11, 2005.
- Watch: “Anton Ego’s Ratatouille Memory,” Pixar, 2007.
- M.F.K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me (1943); excerpt from: NPR, June 27, 2007.
- Ruth Reichl, “Ruth Reichl on M.F.K. Fisher’s Lifetime of Joyous Eating,” Lit Hub, July 3, 2019.
- Edna Lewis, “What is Southern?” Gourmet, originally published January 2008; written years before.
- Keziah Weir, “Ruth Reichl’s New Memoir Is a Delicious Insider Account of the Gritty, Glamorous World of Food Culture,” Vanity Fair, April 12, 2019.
Th 9/5: Food Stories and Memoir: Second Course
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?
- Anthony Bourdain, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” The New Yorker, April 19, 1999.
- Marissa Higgins, “The Struggle of ‘Eating Well’ When You’re Poor,” Catapult, October 30, 2017.
- Nandita Godbole, “My Tiered Tiffin Box,” The Bangalore Review, September 2018.
- Cynthia R. Greenlee, “My Grandmother’s Very Specific Meat-Related Rule for Finding Love,” Bon Appétit, February 14, 2018.
T 9/10: Food Porn and “Bad” Food
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?
- Anne Mcbride, “Food Porn,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 10, no. 1 (Winter 2010), pp. 38-46.
- Tisha Dejmanee, “‘Food Porn’ as Postfeminist Play: Digital Femininity and the Female Body on Food Blogs,” Television & New Media 17, no. 5 (2016): 429–448.
- Irina Dumitrescu, “The Curious Appeal of ‘Bad’ Food,” The Atlantic, August 5, 2016.
Th 9/12: Food and Instagram
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?
- Amanda Mull, “Instagram Food Is a Sad, Sparkly Lie,” Eater, July 6, 2017.
- Laura Shapiro, “Instagram Your Leftovers: History Depends on It,” The New York Times, September 2, 2017.
- Robin Caldwell, “A Hunger Not Found on Instagram,” Ark Republic, December 18, 2017.
- Katie Ayoub, “Instagram Moments: Developing Menu Items That Are Begging for a Close-Up Is a Smart Social Strategy,” Flavor & the Menu, November 20, 2018.
- Gabby Mata, “Life as an Influencer,” San Antonio Lovelist. August 2019.
T 9/17: Food Styling Workshop with Special Expert Guest, KC Hysmith
In addition to being a PhD Candidate in American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, KC 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.
- Francine Matalon-degni, “Trends in Food Photography: A Prop Stylist’s View,” Gastronomica 10, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 70-83.
- Angelina Chapin, “WD-40 and microwaved tampons: secrets of food photography revealed,” The Guardian, January 4, 2016.
- John F. Carafoli, “Tempting the Palate: The Food Stylist’s Art,” Gastronomica 3, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 94-97.
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
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?
- Hillary Dixler Canavan (editor), “The 16 Best New Restaurants in America,” Eater, July 2019.
- Carolyn Malcoun, “Provence: 10 Riders, One Inspiring Chef, An Historic Château, and Endless Food and Wine. Does It Get Any Better?” EatingWell, March/April 2017.
- Andrew Knowlton, “Nonesuch, Oklahoma City: How did a 22-seat tasting-menu spot from three chefs whom no one has ever heard of, in a city that no national critic has ever paid attention to, become America’s best new restaurant?” Bon Appétit, 2018.
- Judy Allen, “Oren: A Chef Comes Full Circle,” Edible Tulsa, March 19, 2018.
- Soleil Ho, “Words You’ll Never See Me Use in Restaurant Reviews,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 2019.
- Watch: Kae Lani Palmisano, “Schwartz’s Deli: Montreal-Style Smoked Meat Sandwich,” USA Today 10Best.
Th 9/26: Tasting Workshop
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.
- Christy Spackman and Marianne DeLaet, “Science and the Senses,” Correspondences, Society for Cultural Anthropology, February 2, 2017.
T 10/1: Mother Road Market Visit #1 (+ Instagram Photo Challenge)
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.
- Brady Whisenhunt, “Get Your Fix,” The Tulsa Voice, July-B, 2018.
- Annie Martin, “Everything You Need to Know About Mother Road Market,” Spoon University, 2018.
- Thoroughly click through the Mother Road Market website and Instagram account
Th 10/3: Food Problems and Solutions: Gender, Sexuality, and #metoo
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?
- Deborah Harris, “Opinion: Can We Finally Address the ‘Woman Problem’ in the Culinary Industry?” James Beard Foundation Blog, March 8, 2017.
- Christine Huang, “Queer in the Kitchen: Gender Politics Take Center Stage,” Civil Eats, October 24, 2017.
- Ivy Knight and Ann Hui, “Canadian Winemaker Norman Hardie Accused of Sexual Misconduct,” The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2018.
- Ashlie D. Stevens, “Netflix Cancels ‘Tuca & Bertie,’ Loses Out on One of the Most Timely TV Narratives,” Salon, July 25, 2019.
- Watch: “Episode 1: The Sugar Bowl,” Tuca & Bertie, Netflix, 2019.
T 10/8: Food Problems and Solutions: Race and Power
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?
- Soleil Ho, “The Restaurant Industry is Very Diverse—But It’s White Chefs Who Win Most of the Awards,” BitchMedia, March 15, 2016.
- Dakota Kim, “We’re Having the Wrong Conversation About Cultural Appropriation,” Paste, June 6, 2017.
- Lauren Michele Jackson, “The White Lies of Craft Culture,” Eater, August 17, 2017.
Th 10/10: Writing on Food Systems and Futures
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?
- Leah Douglas, “African Americans Have Lost Untold Acres of Land Over the Last Century,” The Nation, June 26, 2017.
- Victoria Bouloubasis, “The Restaurant Industry Depends on Immigrants. What Happens If We Lose Them?” INDYWeek, March 22, 2017.
- Garrett Broad, “Why We Should Make Room for Debate about High-Tech Meat,” Civil Eats, September 28, 2017.
- Larissa Zimberoff, “Hope You Like Algae, Because It’s Going to Be in Everything You Eat,” Fast Company, February 14, 2017.
- Shakirah Simley, “A More Abundant Share: The Future of Food is Black,” HuffPost, February 4, 2017.
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?
- Ruth Reichel, “Dinner as the Unknown Diner” and “Dinner as a Most Favored Patron,” The New York Times, October 29, 1993.
- Daniela Galarza, “The Very Best of Jonathon Gold,” Eater, July 23, 2018.
- Maura Judkis, “Soleil Ho is a Young, Queer Woman of Color Who Wants to Redefine Food Criticism,” The Washington Post, March 8, 2019.
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?
- Pete Wells, “As Not Seen on TV: Restaurant Review: Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square,” The New York Times, November 13, 2012.
- Pete Wells, “At Señor Frog’s in Times Square, It’s Spring Break Forever,” The New York Times, December 29, 2015.
- Pete Wells, “At Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Slips and Stumbles,” The New York Times, January 12, 2016.
- Ian Parker, “Pete Wells Has His Knives Out,” The New Yorker, September 12, 2016.
T 10/22: Problems with Food Media & Criticism—and What We Should Do About Them
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.
- Sarah Zorn, “Food Media Is Dominated by Women. So Why Aren’t We Writing About Female Chefs?” Esquire, November 29, 2017.
- Mayukh Sen, “How to Make Food Media More Equitable for Writers of Color,” James Beard Foundation Blog, September 26, 2018.
- Also read: Mayukh Sen, “She Was a Soul Food Sensation. Then, 19 Years Ago, She Disappeared,” Food52, February 2, 2017.
- Edward Lee, “Restaurant Reviewing Needs a Revamp,” Heated, June 28, 2019.
- Sara Kay, “Yelp Reviewers’ Authenticity Fetish Is White Supremacy in Action,” Eater, January 18, 2019.
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?
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?
- Emily Saladino, “Can’t Knock the Hustle: Hip Hop and the Future of Wine,” VinePair, July 23, 2019.
- Alice Feiring, “How Chile’s Oldest Grapes Became the Unlikely Star of a Natural Wine Movement,” Afar, June 5, 2019.
- Nina Caplan, “Pale Rosé Isn’t Better—and Nine Other Pink Wine Myths Debunked,” The Guardian, June 13, 2019.
- Jeanne O’Brien Coffey, “Uncle Sam Doesn’t Care About Your Oscar: Director Steven Soderbergh Faces Down the Regulatory Gauntlet to Sell His New Spirit,” Wine-Searcher, August 13, 2018.
- Alexandra Jones, “How Philly’s Sober Chefs Are Changing the Way We Drink,” The Philadelphia Magazine, November 21, 2018.
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
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?
- Emily Contois, “A History of Food Guides Since 1894,” Nursing Clio, Forthcoming, October 2019.
- Watch short film: Lunch Love Community, Imperfection Salad.
- Kristen Aiken, “‘White People Food’ Is Creating an Unattainable Picture of Health,” HuffPost, September 17, 2018.
- Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, “Why Donald Trump’s Diet is Bad for America’s Health,” The Washington Post, June 28, 2017.
- Rachel Sugar, “How We Stopped Counting Calories and Learned to Love Spindrift,” Vox, July 29, 2019.
Th 11/7: Food Advertising, Design, and Labeling
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?
- David Sax, “How Years of Macho Food Marketing Is Killing Men,” New York, June 15, 2016.
- Making connections to Rachel Sugar’s piece from last class, watch and consider a series of historical and contemporary Coca-Cola Co. ads:
- ArtCenter Designmatters Department, Rethinking the Food Label, Summer 2011.
- Nadia Berenstein, “Clean Label’s Dirty Little Secret,” The New Food Economy, February 1, 2018.
T 11/12: Cookbooks
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.
- Helen Zoe Veit, “How Recipe Cards and Cookbooks Fed a Mobile, Modernizing America,” Zócalo Public Square, September 18, 2017.
- Toni Tipton-Martin, “Black Recipes Matter Too: Why I Wanted to Break the Jemima Code,” The Washington Post, September 15, 2015.
- Shane Mitchell, “Diana Kennedy Says Goodbye to Her Cookbooks,” Taste, May 15, 2019.
- Helen Rosner, “The Best Cookbooks of the Century So Far,” The New Yorker, July 14, 2019.
- Listen to: “Southern Foodways Alliance Gravy Podcast, “Cooking Up Social Change with Julia Turshen,” May 16, 2019.
- Molly Mann, “Hunger on the Homepage: Reading Suffrage Cookbooks and Food Blogs,” Graduate Journal of Food Studies 5, no. 2 (2018).
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??
- Emily Contois, “Listening to the Voices in Historic Cookbooks: Lessons from Barbara Ketcham Wheaton’s Structured Approach Seminar,” June 11, 2017.
- Emily Contois, “Teaching Food Studies, Cookbooks & Writing,” March 18, 2016.
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.
- Sean Sherman, “The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday” TIME, November 19, 2018.
- Amanda Balagur, “How Thanksgiving Menus Vary Across America,” Chowhound, November 14, 2018.
- Cari Wade Gervin, “Life in Chains: Giving Thanks at Cracker Barrel,” Eater, November 19, 2014.
- Hillary Dixler Canavan, Daniela Galarza, Greg Morabito, and Erin DeJesus, “Which Food Magazine Has the Best Thanksgiving Cover?” Eater, November 2, 2018.
- Julia Moskin, “Thanksgiving the Julia Child Way,” The New York Times, November 16, 2015.
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?”
- Julia Child, “Julia Child Reflects on Her First Meal in Paris,” (excerpted from My Life in France) Read it Forward, 2016.
- Ruby Tandoh, “A Feast for the Eyes, Ruby Tandoh on Food and Film,” The Guardian, March 18, 2018.
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?
- Julia Moskin, “Nora Ephron Never Forgot the Food,” The New York Times, June 27, 2012.
- Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft, “Stardom and the Hungry Public,” Gastronomica 5, no. 3 (summer 2005): 121-124.
- Cale Guthrie Weissman, “Meet the Executives Who Have Made Netflix Food TV,” Fast Company, February 25, 2019.
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.