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Teaching Reflection: Unessays, Again!

This semester in Advertising History, Culture & Critique at the University of Tulsa, I assigned unessays for the second time. Just like the first round, students designed fantastic projects, communicating what they’d learned in creative, fun, engaging—but still critical and intellectually deep—ways!

The full assignment instructions, scaffolding, and rubric are all at the end of the post, but generally, students selected a creative unessay format of their choice to communicate and synthesize everything they had learned in the course, drawing from our three main sections: 1) advertising’s history, 2) advertising’s sociocultural influence when it comes to power and identity, and 3) the advertising industry’s contemporary condition.

A few students were inspired to capture how advertising has changed over time (or not) when it comes to issues of representation, identity, and power. Jayden created a “Then and Now” comparative presentation. Chloris created a timeline collage of ad photo books from 1900 to the present, while Jacob took a similar approach, but starting in 1920 and focusing on a different decade in each letter of the word “advertising.”

Chloris’s Photo Book Timeline Ad Collage
Jacob’s Letter-Based Timeline Ad Collage

During one class day, we viewed the pilot episode of Mad Men and pondered what the series teaches us about the past, present, and future of advertising. Ray’s project represented the entire course’s themes through the show, presenting it in a traditional pitch deck.

One of the pieces in Ray’s Mad-Men-Inspired Pitch Deck

Jacob created a spoof on The Twilight Zone, which he called The Advertising Zone. In addition to an opening narration, the three parody ads consider midcentury norms of gender and cleanliness, the contradictions of branding (represented through the “Bland brand” chips), and the tropes of political advertising.

Jacob’s “The Advertising Zone”

Emily created a movie poster for the course, titling it “Ad Dicted” to critique the addictive aspects of consumer culture. Among the symbols she included, the Gothic mirror on the left represents Roland Marchand’s assessment of advertising as a social mirror that distorts reality, as well as the tactics of modern advertising to inspire and exploit consumer anxieties. The television symbolizes a type of visual cliche of a happy family watching TV together, taking in commercials that offer Disney-like promises of happy-ever-afters, as well as the promise and peril of addressable television, where every consumer receives ads tailored to their data-mined preferences.

Emily’s Critical Advertising Movie Poster

Gracie’s project shows how some of advertising’s intentions remain obscured, which she visualized by recreating ads we analyzed in class as billboards where the visuals are made out of words, all passages drawn from our course readings. These images document the role of consumer anxiety in modern advertising, how companies (like the United Colors of Benetton) co-opt social movements, and the contradictions of branding, whether for butter or margarine or (as we studied on one day of our course) universities, too.

Gracie’s Billboards Constructed of Key Words

Inspired by the conceptual slippage between advertising and pop artists like Andy Warhol, Catherine recreated the iconic Coca-Cola logo for the consumer culture themes of our course. Merging classic Coca-Cola ads like “Hilltop” with the more recent “Share a Coke” campaign that melded unity and individuality, Catherine created Coke bottles for the authors we read in class who most inspired her, from Jennifer Scanlon’s history of 1920s ad women to Vance Packard’s classic critique of motivational research and postwar affluence to Matthew McAllister’s analysis of the Super Bowl as commercial spectacle.

Catherine’s Pop Art Critique of Advertising

Gabby created a digital art series that critiques advertising’s disempowering representations of gender and race, as well as how planned obsolescence, the American Dream, and consumer culture’s insatiability each encroach upon nature.

Gabby’s Digital Art Series

While remaining critical and close to multiple course texts, Bella created a fashion line, for cats! She created Instagram-style vignette shots that recreate key course readings. She captures historical concepts—like Anne McClintock’s nineteenth-century soap fetishes and Roland Marchand’s documentation of the modern woman as social tableaux—as well as contemporary advertising issues like branding the university experience, marketplace feminism (i.e. “the future is female/feline”), and commodity activism.

Bella’s Critical Kitty Fashion Line

Beyond that, Kenney created a Kahoot! quiz that students completed live during his presentation. Trace made a watercolor painting that critiqued advertising’s cyclical use of data, selling ourselves and our desires back to us. Isold made an educational board game. Steven created a photo gallery and wrote an acrostic poem to define what advertising means to him. Keyshawn and Tim made playlists and designed album covers. And there’s so much more.

I was delighted and impressed that students developed such creative and thoughtful projects after yet another strange and challenging semester. Due to the Omicron variant, the first weeks of our course were online before we transitioned to in-person, after which we had multiple snow days that further interrupted our course. Nevertheless, these students persevered, and I’m proud of all they learned and accomplished.

The students of Advertising History, Culture & Critique, Spring 2022

Full Assignment Instructions & Rubric

For your final project, your task is to synthesize the most important concepts and ideas you’ve learned this semester about 1) advertising’s history, 2) advertising’s sociocultural influence when it comes to power and identity, and 3) the advertising industry’s contemporary condition. This project doesn’t require any additional research, but it does involve sustained consideration of the content presented in our course’s semester-worth of readings and podcasts, lecture videos, and in-class discussions.

This project will take the form of an “unessay,” meaning, rather than writing a lengthy paper in response to this prompt, your project can take any format you like! You can represent your learning through a poem, a work of art, a song, a playlist, a music video (or parody), a short film or documentary, a game, a recipe, a craft, a fashion line, even an advertising campaign or PSA! The options are endless, limited only by your own creativity and commitment.

In addition to your unessay itself, you’ll include a brief but specific 1-to-2-page paper that explains and interprets your unessay. It should clearly explain how your creative project communicates key ideas from throughout our course’s three sections: advertising history, identity and power, and contemporary issues. Said another way, this paper is where you explain your creative vision and connect it to specific course concepts and theoretical ideas. You do not need to include citations, but you should reference class readings (e.g. “As Marchand documents in Advertising the American Dream”) and/or key concepts (e.g. planned obsolescence or brand covenant or corporate social responsibility) throughout it.

To support you to develop this creative project, we’ll dedicate some class time, three weeks before the due date, for you to share your proposed unessay format, so you can get immediate feedback from me, as well as learn (and be inspired!) by one another’s ideas. You do not need to turn anything in on this day, but you should have a very clear and well-developed idea ready to share. If you have any questions or concerns before or after this check-in point, you’re welcome to email me, come visit during office hours, or make an appointment to meet with me.

When your unessay is complete, you’ll submit it online before our finals period, along with the 1-to-2-page interpretive paper. If your unessay is 3-dimensional, submit a photo or other representation of it.

Then, during our finals period, you’ll share and explain your unessay with us in a short but lively 3-minute presentation. If your project is a physical object, you can bring it into class to present. If your project is digital, you can add it to the group Google slide deck, which we’ll use to present in class.

Your unessay (worth 25% of the course grade) will be graded using the following rubric:

  1. Conceptual Adherence (5) | Does the unessay deploy a creative format that clearly and compellingly synthesizes key ideas about advertising’s history, culture, and contemporary resonance in a critical fashion?
  2. Depth of Course Learning Application (10) | Does the unessay and its interpretive paper specifically and effectively build upon the knowledge learned in this class from our readings, listenings, video lectures, and our in-class discussions?
  3. Invested Effort (5) | Does the unessay, whatever format it might take, represent the energy and performance expected for a final course project that culminates our learning and is worth 25% of the course grade? As a general guide, this project should involve 5-10 hours of invested time and energy.
  4. Presentational Skills (5) | Does the presentation clearly and effectively describe the unessay and explain how it represents key course ideas and learning? Is it well-rehearsed and 3-minutes in length? Does it demonstrate strong public speaking skills, such as speaking at an appropriate pace and volume, making eye-contact with the audience, and energetically engaging the audience?

What We Learned in Critical Media Studies of Health & Medicine

This semester I taught a new special topics course, Critical Media Studies of Health and Medicine. Here’s the course description:

This course is for the next generation of health communicators, health care providers, and informed citizen patients. Together we’ll explore critical perspectives on a number of complex issues facing the fields of medicine and public health.

The course explores what health (and related terms like disease, illness, and wellness) mean to various audiences, including healthcare providers, institutions, and funding organizations, as well as to individuals, whether they are conceived of as patients, consumers, or fellow human beings. The course ponders how we can consider these terms in various (and even contradictory) contexts. The course explores what shapes our dominant cultural ideas and understandings of health and disease, from moralized beliefs to logics of quantification to systems of authority, expertise, surveillance, and control. The course considers how these ideas shape the way practitioners interact with their patients. How is the human body framed and treated within medicalized systems? What do the examples of “obesity,” maternal health, and genetics reveal about how the health care system understands, codifies, and treats bodies, especially when considering categories of identity like gender, sexuality, race, and social class?

Every step of the way, the course considers the role of communication, media, and culture in shaping how medicine understands and communicates health, disease, data, the body, and notions of selfhood—and how critique might be deployed to imagine new futures for health and healthcare.

We experimented with reading less than usual, challenging ourselves to read just one chapter closely and deeply before every class, drawn from two great books that we highly recommend:

Students engaged in many weeks of intense discussion, tried (and tried again) to define in their own words seven surprisingly slippery terms (health, healthy, disease, medicine, nutrition, wellness, fitness), and completed two group projects deconstructing and reimagining dietary advice and health communication campaigns. In their final assignment, students reflected on what they learned this semester and how it shaped their thinking. What follows is my best attempt to summarize common themes across their critical reflections, which I shared and discussed with students during our final class meeting.

The following insights come from TU students Joseph Boehm, Catherine Case, Kaley Core, Isaac Hamby, Rosalind Hobbs, Kate Hubner, Cara Johnson, Katie Rickman, Hana Saad, Kayley Spielbusch, David Stump, Lexie Tafoya, and Camden Walker, all pictured above in this post’s featured image.

What We Learned in Critical Media Studies of Health and Medicine

Health is not about striving or optimization or achievement or perfection. It’s more subjective and mutable and personal and necessarily vulnerable than we initially thought. We came to describe health as contentment, happiness, a journey, and an experience, one that can turn out well (or not) due to pure luck.

Health is about self-awareness—listening to, nurturing, and working with your body and what it needs at a particular moment. Within this, we recognize the importance of mental health, the mind-body connection, and a holistic perspective to our embodied lives.

Health is also, at its core, a privilege, just as Biltekoff argued eating right is, one made inequitably available to White and affluent people in the Global North. Health should be collective. Health should be truly accessible to all, shared with all.

Health should not be treated or enacted in moralized terms, despite how very often that occurs. Health can’t and shouldn’t be judged by appearances alone. Our bodies are visible and they tell our stories, but our society (and our media) routinely place bodies under a cultural microscope, especially on our Instagram and TikTok feeds. What’s more, some strife is invisible despite its significant presence in our lives and doesn’t receive the attention and resources it requires.

Capitalism strongly shapes our definitions of health and healthcare, especially when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry. A Western, White, and very American view of health and disease overemphasizes cures, triumphant narratives, and forceful, even battle-focused rhetoric. It also reduces people to diminutive patients positioned beneath the expertise of physicians, into consumers shopping their way to wellbeing, and into little other than laborers working and struggling to get by.

Relatedly, we were hugely influenced by the multiple authors who critiqued neoliberalism and notions of individual responsibility for one’s health, which overemphasizes the power of personal choice and fails to acknowledge, let alone fix, systemic inequities.

Some more key concepts that we’ll take with us from this course:

  • Key “-tion” terms: normalization, medicalization, quantification, standardization.
  • We’ll endeavor to constantly unpack all binaries but especially normal/abnormal and healthy self/unhealthy others.
  • Although very depressing to digest, we loved Joseph Masco’s “Atomic Health” chapter in Against Health. He argues that the development of the atomic bomb introduced a new, fatalistic worldview that shaped health, disease, dying, and death—in ways that resonate for us today, too, as we ponder climate crisis. Masco posits: what if health is understood as just the beginning of our death, which is certain, and not being prevented or eased to the extent it could be by those in power? We demand more; something better.
  • We learned from Eunjung Kim’s insightful chapter that asexuality exists, matters, and needs to be understood in more complex ways than an abnormality in need of treatment. This was but one case where we learned that diagnosis can be an act of empowering recognition but it can also close doors, end conversations, and cause harm.
  • From Vincanne Adams’ chapter, we learned how knowledge hierarchies shape our local and global healthcare systems through connections forged between science, research, culture, global economies, health policies and programs.

We learned to dismantle assumptions our society (and many of us) have long held. We now question our assumptions about:

  • disability, pain, and suffering. Guided by Tobin Siebers’ chapter, we recognize that many people live well and happily with a disease, chronic condition, or disability;
  • fat bodies; fat stigma, bias, and oppression; and an “obesity epidemic;” like Katie LeBesco did in her chapter, we assert that health is not one-size-fits-all and endorse health at every size;
  • the rights and roles of women shape our understanding of health. From Joan B. Wolf’s chapter, we learned that women are too often framed as just potential mothers in a society where total motherhood reigns but bodily autonomy doesn’t, where a mother’s “wants” are positioned against and as always less than a baby’s “needs;” where women, specifically, are expected to weigh risks and manage the impossible desire to eliminate them all.

We always knew, but now we know for sure, thanks to Dorothy Roberts’ chapter, that poor health is rooted in, caused by, and the result of social inequities, including within global health alongside histories and contemporary forces of imperialism and colonialism.

On a more positive and transformative note, we discussed taste and pleasure when it comes to food and eating, but also in other aspects of health, as we read Biltekoff’s book and Richard’s Klein’s chapter. What happens when we put pleasure at the center of health in a non-judgmental way that welcomes others inclusively into healthiness? How could this transform health communication, branding, and messaging, for the better?

Overall, deconstructing something like health is hard work, and sometimes very disorienting, but it’s worth it. It turned our learning inward to ourselves: our assumptions, our biases, our families and stories, our pasts, and how we want to think, be, and act in the future. It also turned our learning outward to our culture, society, media, government, and healthcare system.

This is a course that changed us, what we think, how, and why. We can now approach health (and to communicate about it!) with nuance, complexity, ambiguity, subjectivity, justice, inclusivity, and endless possibility.

My Media & Pop Culture Students’ Top 9 Learnings

For our finals period, my Media and Popular Culture students at the University of Tulsa prepared individual ranked lists of what they learned this semester—what they found most memorable, most eye-opening, most inspiring, most important; in short, what they’ll take with them into their media lives. During class, students discussed their rankings in small groups to develop a collaborative list. Each group then shared with the class to develop our collective top 9 ranking of concepts, ideas, and moments that resonated most with students this semester:

9 While depressing and infuriating to read, students will never forget the findings of the Women’s Media Center’s “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2021” report and USC’s “Inequality in 1,300 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBT & Disability from 2007 to 2019.” They document the relatively minimal progress made when it comes to under-representation in media industries and make proposals for real change.

8 We were lucky to visit our TU Special Collections in McFarlin Library to view their comic book collection, which included older texts and more contemporary publications. This ranked among some students’ favorite class memories and was a notable day for all of us. Here are some photos from our visit.

7 I left several days open on the syllabus for students to choose the topic of study, select the readings, and guide our class discussion. These student-led syllabus moments proved some of students’ favorites as we dove into topics they cared deeply about: women’s representation in sports media, film taste genres (including cult classics like The Room), meme culture, TikTok during the pandemic, and conspiracy theories.

6 The media circuit (or the circuit of culture) helped students to conceive of media not as discrete stages—such as production, consumption, and representation—but as dynamic, inter-related moments, adding enduring complexity to how they view the media they encounter in their daily lives.

5 Students enjoyed diving into fan studies, and because our course is cross-listed with Women’s and Gender Studies, students this semester especially appreciated learning about its gendered (and all-too-often misogynistic) aspects; meaning they loved learning key concepts from Suzanne Scott’s Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry.

4 Even if they come to the course with preconceived notions about media being manipulative, top-down, and all-controlling, students found theories of prosumption illuminating to consider consumers’ ambivalent agency, power, and meaning-making. They also enjoyed reading Henry Jenkins’ work on participatory culture and convergence culture.

3 Students continue to be challenged by, but ultimately adore, the day we spend on intersectionality and media representation. We discuss Ariane Cruz’s great article, “Gettin’ Down Home with the Neelys: Gastro-Porn and Televisual Performances of Gender, Race, and Sexuality,” and analyze student-selected images, video clips, and recipes from the show.

2 The theories of Stuart Hall strongly resonated with students, particularly the concepts of encoding and decoding; dominant, negotiated, and oppositional readings; and that “ordinary people are not cultural dopes.”

1 As I tweeted about here, students really enjoyed learning about anti-fandom—that is, how and why consumers form deep, affective, and often social relationships with media that they loath. Together we tried a new final group project format—podcasts—which students found memorable, challenging, useful, and fun, as they explored their own anti-fandom. They also liked our “Anti-Fan Pop-Con,” which used panel discussions as an energetic alternative to oral presentations.


Overall, students appreciated how our course was discussion-based and as focused on our classroom community and collective mental health as it was on theory, content, and creative assignments. Teaching and learning during a pandemic is hard, sometimes very hard. But this group of students did an outstanding job transitioning back into the classroom, learning despite significant challenges, fostering a supportive and engaged community, and mastering challenging concepts that will hopefully inform their media lives moving forward.

Lastly, students shared that despite their exhaustion during final’s week, the semester’s conclusion felt bittersweet. After three semesters that ended anticlimactically online with the click of a button, it’s been unexpectedly emotional to meet together as a group for the last time. I remind them and myself:

Our class may be ending, but you will always be my students.

Gratitude for 4 Months of Diners, Dudes & Diets

I can hardly believe it, but Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture has been out in the world for four months today. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone who helped me to research, write, revise, publish, and promote this book. Below are the Acknowledgments that appear at the end of Diners, Dudes, and Diets.

*****

I could not have written this book without the support of a great many people.

I thank Warren Belasco, Carole Counihan, and Rachel Black for their mentorship while I was at Boston University and their support in all the years since.

I am grateful to Brown University’s Graduate School for the University Fellowship that made it possible for me to research and write full time while pursuing my PhD. I warmly thank Susan Smulyan, Richard Meckel, and Debbie Weinstein, a trio of historians, who richly transformed my methods for studying the present as they provided critical feedback and unending support. Susan knows how much she means to me, so I will not embarrass her further here.

I thank the five women in my PhD cohort—Alyssa Anderson, Felicia Bevel, Kate Dufy, Suzanne Enzerink, and Diza Rule. They know all the reasons why.

I thank Elizabeth Hoover for saying yes when I wanted to launch Food Studies at Brown and for being the perfect pairing to my orderliness.

I also thank Ralph Rodriguez for showing me that radical love inspires transformative teaching and learning. That hope is part of this book’s aim too. 

I thank Matt Guterl for being a text message away for advice (still), and for introducing me to my editor, Mark Simpson-Vos at the University of North Carolina Press. I thank Mark, Kathleen LeBesco, Peter Naccarato, and one anonymous reader who helped me to complete the revisions on this book, my first, a task many presses and readers shy away from.

At UNC Press, I also thank Cate Hodorowicz and Dominique Moore (who’s now at UIP) in Acquisitions, as well as Dino Battista, Ann Bingham, Anna Faison (who’s now started a new venture), Gina Mahalek (who is now enjoying retirement), and Alison Shay in Marketing, for all they have done (and will do!) to support this book. I thank Kim Bryant and Matt Avery for my book’s cover and interior design. I also thank Diane Cipollone for copy editing and Kate Gibson for production editing.

I am grateful to Jessica Ryan for proof editing and Michelle Martinez for indexing—and to the University of Tulsa’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences, and the Department of Media Studies for funding them.

At The University of Tulsa, I thank Joli Jensen for the Faculty Writing Program that helped so many of us to write no matter what and all the members of the Department of Media Studies—Zenia Kish, Justin Rawlins, Mark Brewin, Ben Peters, John Coward, Jennifer Jones, Jan Reynolds, and Amy Howe—for their genuine collegiality. I also thank TU for Faculty Development Summer Fellowships in 2019 and 2020.

I thank all my students, at TU and at Brown, who’ve shared in this book’s ideas in classes on advertising, popular culture, and food media, especially Val Hinkle who designed preorder promotional materials.

Promotional materials for Diners, Dudes & Diets, designed by Val Hinkle.

I first presented many of the ideas in this book at the annual meetings of the Association for the Study of Food and Society. At these conferences, I’ve been fortunate to find critical feedback, helpful comments, mentors, friends, and memorable meals. It’s a community so meaningful I’ve happily dedicated many hours to serving it. I also thank Zingerman’s and all the women connected to Fresh Work and HHH Retreat, especially Ander Wilson. 

I thank Diana Garvin, Rachal Laudan, and KC Hysmith for their feedback on chapters and concepts, Julia Ehrhardt, Melissa Hackman, and Warren Belasco for their helpful notes on the entire manuscript, all of them for their friendship.

I’m grateful for my rescue pup writing buddy, Raven, who snuggled next to me all the years I worked on this book.

I also thank my mother, who has not only read every word of this book (more than once) but quite literally every word I’ve ever written. Along with my academic peers and students, she is the smart everyday reader for whom I try to write, without too much jargon and with some style and a little humor. (She liked this book, but she is my mom so perhaps she has to say that.)

Without the love of my mother, father, sister, and husband this book wouldn’t exist. Despite the many hours I spent writing (and revising and revising) this book instead of spending more time with them, I hope they are glad that it does.

*****

Beyond the book’s printed acknowledgements, I’m also so thankful to everyone who preordered the book. You helped me to sell out the first print run ahead of launch day!

I’m also thankful for folks who’ve reviewed the book in public spaces like Amazon and Goodreads. Apparently such reviews matter as I think about writing a second and a third book, so I humbly ask others to write such reviews, and please let me send you a postcard as thanks!

I still can’t believe that Helen Rosner included the book in her Great Food-ish Nonfiction 2020 list, that Matthew Wheeland reviewed it in Civil Eats’ 2020 Food and Farming Holiday Book Gift Guide, or that Food Tank featured it in their Summer 2020 Reading List. Thank you!

I’m also grateful to the journalists and writers who’ve interviewed me about the book, including Rachel Sugar for Vox; Ashlie Stevens for Salon; Anne Helen Petersen for Culture Study; Séverine Pierron for Elle (France); Dana Ferrante for BU Today; Connor Goodwin for Inside Hook; James Watts for the Tulsa World; Madeline Humphrey for The Daily Free Press; and Jesse Haynes for The University of Tulsa News.

I also thank outlets that published pieces related to the book, including Nursing Clio for publishing an excerpt from the book’s intro and this great interview with one of my favorite college professors Julia Ehrhardt; Meredith Bennett-Smith for inviting me to publish an op-ed for NBC News; Dianne Jacob for publishing a piece on Will Write for Food; Marshal Zeringue for inviting my contribution to the The Page 99 Test; and Kelly Faircloth at Jezebel for inviting me to write about gender and diet sodas, and then letting me pitch to write about trophy kitchens and bro-gurt too.

I also appreciated the University of Oklahoma Honors College and Bostonia: The Boston University Alumni Magazine covering news of the book. I’m grateful that the book was favorably reviewed (and very quickly!) in Men and Masculinities. I’m also very grateful to Advertising & Society Quarterly for featuring the book in an Author Meets Critics session, which will be published in the Spring 2021 issue.

I’m also so thankful for the folks who’ve invited me on podcasts and radio, including: Soleil Ho, Justin Phillips, and Erica Carlos of Extra Spicy from the San Francisco Chronicle; Nicky Twilley and Cynthia Graber of Gastropod; Christy Harrison of FoodPsych; Joan Salge Blake of Spot On!; Carrie Helms Tippen of New Books Network, Food; Rich Fisher of StudioTulsa on Public Radio Tulsa; Bob LeDrew of Can I Have a Word? on CKCU FM 93.1 in Canada; Sarah Duignan of AnthroDish; the womxn of Femidish; and Ann & Peter Haigh of On the Menu; as well as Madhvi and Rina of Ms Informed.

Thank you to everyone who’s invited me to give talks and participate in book events, including Magic City Books; Elizabeth Neswald and the Department of History Speaker Series at Brock University; Emily Schumacher of Lambda Alpha at The University of Tulsa; The University of Tulsa Community Lecture Series; Gurpinder Lalli and Julie Parsons of the British Sociological Association Food Studies Group International Seminar Series; Megan Elias and Barbara Rotger of the Boston University Pepin Lecture Series; John Wills for the Annual Bolt Lecture at the University of Kent; and Allison Surgeary of the Center for Women’s History at the New York Historical Society; plus upcoming events thanks to the Graduate Association for Food Studies Reading Collective; Polly Russell at the British Library; and the University of Oregon’s Food Studies Program and Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Thank you to Karen Tongson at the University of Southern California, Sarah Dempsey at the University of North Carolina, and Ben Cohen at Lafayette College for assigning my book in their courses and for inviting me to chat with their wonderful students. (And please know that I’m happy to virtually visit classes that read my book!)

I promise to write more in the future about the art and labor of book promotion, to share what I’m learning with others. Till then, I’m brimming full of gratitude for all of this, and for all of you.

Coming in 2022: Food Instagram: Identity, Influence & Negotiation

With my friend, colleague, and co-editor Zenia Kish, I’m delighted to announce that our edited collection Food Instagram: Identity, Influence, and Negotiation will be published by the University of Illinois Press in early 2022. It will join a growing corpus of texts on digital food cultures as the first book dedicated to the study of Instagram and food.

This book presents the novel concept of “food Instagram,” a quasi-genre on the platform distinguished by recognizable aesthetic conventions, the presence of both everyday users and industry professionals, and a shared focus on representations of food, eating, and food-related phenomena. The volume considers how users engage food Instagram across diverse global sites to construct identity, to seek influence, and to negotiate aesthetic norms, institutional access, and cultural power, as well as social and economic control.

As such, food Instagram provides ripe opportunities for interdisciplinary conversations, particularly between the academic fields of media studies and food studies, as well as with new media studies, cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, and other approaches to analyzing digital food cultures.

The international authors in this volume draw from multiple disciplinary traditions and from experiences outside of the academy. Many are teachers. Two are practicing artists. One is a journalist. One is an influencer IRL. The result is a rich exploration of transnational visual and culinary practices unique to Instagram that are reshaping how and what we eat.

In our introductory chapter, we editors position the study of food Instagram within the history of visual representation and photography, the concept of “food porn,” and the platform’s specific affordances, architecture, and style. Then, to demonstrate the interdisciplinary possibilities at the juncture of media studies and food studies, we dive into Instagram’s visual ecosystem, systematically analyzing it from soil and seed to our digital feed, and beyond. We also preview and synthesize the work of the volume’s more than twenty contributors, whose seventeen chapters engage the book’s key themes: identity, influence, and negotiation.

Sincere thanks to our contributors for their wonderful chapters and to colleagues and interested readers for the enthusiasm they’ve already expressed about this volume. We can’t wait for you to read it.

Food Instagram: Table of Contents

Introduction. From Seed to Feed: How Food Instagram Changed What and Why We Eat by Dr. Zenia Kish and Dr. Emily J.H. Contois 

// I. Identity

1. @hotdudesandhummus and the Cultural Politics of Food by Dr. Michael Z. Newman 

2. Starving Beauties? Instabae, Diet Food, and Japanese Girl Culture by Dr. Tsugumi Okabe 

3. #Foodporn: An Anatomy of the Meal Gaze by Dr. Gaby David and Dr. Laurence Allard 

4. The South in Your Mouth? Gourmet Biscuit Restaurants, Authenticity, and the Construction of a New Southern Identity by Dr. Deborah Harris and Rachel Phillips 

5. Uncle Green Must Be Coming to Dinner: The Joyful Hospitality of Black Women on Instagram During the Covid-19 Pandemic by Robin Caldwell 

6. Creative Consumption: Art about Eating on Instagram by Dr. Dawn Woolley and Zara Worth 

// II. Influence

7. Picturing Digital Tastes: #unicornlatte, Social Photography, and Instagram Food Marketing by Dr. Emily Truman 

8. Camera Eats First: The Role of Influencers in Hong Kong’s Foodie Instagram Culture by Yue-Chiu Bonni Leung and Dr. Yi-Chieh Jessica Lin 

9. Repackaging Leftovers: Health, Food, and Diet Messages in Influencer Instagram Posts by Dr. Tara Schuwerk, Dr. Sarah Cramer, and Carina Coleman 

10. Meet Your Meat! How Australian Livestock Producers Use Instagram to Promote “Happy Meat” by Dr. Emily Buddle 

11. Freakshakes and Mama Noi: Cases of Transforming Food Industry Influence on Instagram by Dr. Katherine Kirkwood 

12. My Life and Labor as an Instagram Influencer Turned Instagram Scholar by KC Hysmith

// III. Negotiation

13. Transgressive Food Practices on Instagram: The Case of Guldkroen in Copenhagen by Dr. Jonatan Leer and Dr. Stinne Gunder Strøm Krogager 

14. Posing with “the People:” The Far-Right and Food Populism on Instagram by Dr. Sara Garcia Santamaria 

15. Farming, Unedited: Failure, Humor, and Fortitude in Instagram’s Agricultural Underground by Dr. Joceline Andersen 

16. The Surprisingly Long History of Feminist Eateries on Instagram by Dr. Alex Ketchum  

17. How to Think with Your Body: Teaching Critical Eating Literacy through Instagram by Dr. Sarah E. Tracy  

Afterword: Food Instagram’s Next Course by Dr. Emily J.H. Contois and Dr. Zenia Kish 

Top Image Credit: KC Hysmith, 2021

Review Diners, Dudes & Diets—Please & Thank You

As a debut author, I feel super-awkward asking folks to review Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture on Amazon or Goodreads. To make it less weird for all of us, I’d love to send you a note of thanks!

To redeem, just follow these steps:

  1. Order a copy of Diners, Dudes & Diets (preferably from your favorite local bookstore) or borrow it from your local or university library.
  2. Read and {hopefully!} enjoy the book.
  3. Review Diners, Dudes & Diets on Amazon or Goodreads.
  4. Email a link to (or screen grab of) your review, along with your preferred name and mailing address to dinersdudesdiets [at] gmail [dot] com
  5. Then I’ll mail you one of two custom postcards, designed by one of my fab students, Val Hinkle. (If you previously redeemed a postcard for preordering and would like to request the other design, just let me know in your email. And if you’ve already posted a review {thanks!!}, please send me an email to redeem a postcard.)

Thank you so much for your reviews, and happy reading!

More of My Writing Like Diners, Dudes, and Diets

Academic books like Diners, Dudes & Diets take a (very) long time to write. I’ve been researching and writing on the questions that animate this book, figuring out pieces of the story, for almost fifteen years.

Here’s a list of the articles, chapters, and short pieces I wrote along the way, and a couple of pieces I’ve written as the book has launched too. These are here if you’d like to see how these ideas evolved over time; want more to read on these topics of media, food, bodies, and gender; or if you’re teaching on these topics and it doesn’t quite work to assign the entire book.

Learn more about Diners, Dudes & Diets.

14 Things the Jane Fonda Workout Taught Me for Online Pandemic Teaching

At this point, I’ve taught half a semester of emergency remote instruction and a full pandemic semester online. Who knows what the winter-into-spring 2021 term will hold for teaching challenges and [insert here long list of] everything else going on in our world right now. In an attempt to cheer myself up, and cheer other fellow profs on, here is a light-hearted teaching post about the lessons I’ve learned from doing Jane Fonda’s Complete Workout—yes, one of those glorious fitness wonders from the 1980s, which I, completely un-ironically, adore—that apply to teaching online during a pandemic.

1. Practice before you go full out. Jane recommends watching “the tape” once through to familiarize yourself with proper weightlifting form and the aerobics choreography. Similarly, we can use a first class to demonstrate and practice how the online learning platform works, especially for new and transfer students, before we dive into content. 

JF_Before

2. Use those before-class minutes. Jane’s workout videos are a bit unique in that they show class participants entering the studio (like above), stretching, and getting ready for class. We can use such moments too, even if they feel a little awkward, for low-stakes personal check-ins with students, like asking: What was something fun you did this weekend? How’s your week going so far? What’s something good that’s happened lately that you feel comfortable sharing? How do you feel about rainy days? (If it’s raining. We had fun debates on this topic, actually.) 

Aesthetics

3. Grab attention with eye-catching aesthetics. Maybe big hair, bright leotards matched to bulky socks, and bold stretchy belts aren’t for you, but they sure do capture your attention and create a fun vibe. Similarly, lecture and discussion slide designs that are colorful and perhaps include images, memes, and GIFs can help to capture, and keep, student attention. 

4. Go at your own pace. Jane’s class community includes a group of folks who do high intensity moves and another group that modifies them at a lower intensity. But everyone is part of the same class and does the workout together. This arrangement can apply to online classes too, especially how to make content available for all students. We do this with synchronous and asynchronous components and offering multiple ways for students to participate through speaking out loud, in the chat, through polls, etc.

5. Remember to breathe. Throughout the workout, Jane reminds you to inhale and exhale, matched to the movement. During these stressful times, those purposeful breaths can be magical. Sometimes it’s a meaningful pedagogical intervention to spend a moment taking a deep breath together to start class and center ourselves as a learning community or to refresh during class, if energy is lagging. 

6. Use reminders and repetition. Jane constantly cues for form, reminding you to keep your stomach in, hips under, knees bent. We can do the same, especially when we’re trying to adopt new ways of teaching and learning. For example, in the fall, we used emojis in the chat to demonstrate active listening, but it took reminders at the beginning of multiple class sessions to cement that as a new practice.

7. Bring in different class leaders to shake things up. Jane teaches most of the class, but she also steps back, and a couple of other instructors lead some sections. Similarly, I guide most of the lecture content, but in the second half of the course, I often have students sign up for small groups to help lead a day of class. Together, they create a Google Slide deck, due 12-to-24 hours before our class meeting, so I can review it and add to it as needed. (They often do an amazing job picking out all the key points and devising good discussion questions!) Then, we teach the session together, which gives students greater agency and helps to keep our sessions lively. Guest speakers are also wonderful and the online format makes hosting a bit easier.

8. Take time to care and bond. In the Complete Workout, Jane includes three different stretching sessions, when most workouts only include one. This keeps the workout nice and balanced and your body feeling loose. In our teaching, we often take maybe part of one class for students to get to know one another, but we can take more time than that, especially during a pandemic, for forming a class community, checking in, supporting one another, and bonding as a group.

9. Front load the class. After a warm-up, weight section, and 30-minutes of aerobics, Jane’s last part of the workout is a bit less intense, made up of leg lifts and ab work, which you do lying down. Some professors believe in intense final exams, but during a pandemic, it can work well, for all involved, to plan a more applied or project-based final assignment that is still challenging and fulfilling, but feels readily achievable when energy is waning.

10. Chunk the class, so it speeds by. Sometimes the thought of doing a 65-minute workout feels impossible, but since Jane’s is split into multiple small sections, each about 5 minutes long and with their own upbeat music, it goes by quickly and is very enjoyable. This can apply to class as well. We can break up sections of lecture with discussion questions, group or self-reflection activities, and polls, even ones as simple as yes/no, to jolt student attention that might be fading.

11. Show passion to fuel student engagement. There’s a part in the workout where one of the leaders shouts with real joy, “Oh, I loooove this!” Everyone laughs and hops even higher. The same principle applies when we show our genuine love for our subject matter, for teaching, and for our students too. This positive energy is infectious, in a good way.

12. Show real sweat. Too many workout videos edit out the sweat or don’t talk about how the exercises are hard, especially near the end of the rep scheme, but not Jane’s. Everyone shows visible sweat. Jane even jokes, calling abdominals “the abominables.” We too can acknowledge when concepts are challenging to master or to openly discuss how difficult it is to teach and learn in a pandemic, emphasizing that we’re in this together.

13. Count it down. Knowing how many reps are left, whether bicep curls or inner thigh lifts, mentally helps you finish strong. The same can go for announcing remaining assignments, participation points, or due dates in a motivational way. Knowing “we’re almost done, I promise,” as Jane says during ab work, can help a class community make it to the end of a difficult semester.

14. Give all the praise you can. Jane speaks through the screen to you working out at home to say you’re doing a good job and to offer assurance that you can do it. Such encouragement goes a long way with students too. It can be nice to end our meetings like Jane, smiling wide and saying, “It was a good class, a very good class! See you next time!”

Here are a few other things I’ve been trying to build student engagement while teaching online during a pandemic—and I’d love to hear what’s working for you too, whether in the comments or on social media.

No matter what, I’m wishing you and your students well during yet another pandemic semester.

Tracking Our Media Diets in Intro to Media Studies

During this pandemic semester, I taught three courses, and one was a new prep: Introduction to Media Studies. With thirty-two great students, we began by studying foundational texts and concepts, which culminated in a challenging midterm exam.

In the second half of the course, students applied that new knowledge to readings on a variety of media topics. We explored the origins of the Internet, if social media is good for us (and democracy), what it feels like to watch television during a pandemic, the growth of esports, advertising’s response to COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, and how to combat misinformation in the news.

In the second half of the course, students also merged theory and practice in a deeply self-reflexive way, as they completed a Media Diet Journal. They answered a series of questions each week on a new aspect of the media they consume, and in some cases, produce too. (Find a complete list of these weekly questions at the end of this post.)

After students completed their journal, they then created a visual representation (of their choice!) that summarized their current media diet and who they feel they are as a media citizen.

I’m delighted that several students—Julianne Tran, Sara Nasreldin, Monte Dunham, Kaley Core, and Maci Montgomery—gave permission for me to share their creations:

As you can see, students communicated their media diets in hugely creative and very different ways. Julianne, Sara, and Maci placed photos of themselves within their visuals. One of the things Julianne reflected upon was how much she enjoyed the material qualities of print media—like the novel size and texture of the newspaper—vowing to consume more of it. Sara placed herself in the center of her media diet collage, purposefully “glitching” from the feeling of overwhelm our media diets can cause, especially for herself as a “third culture kid,” as she lives, learns, and consumes media in Arabic, Turkish, Spanish, and English.

Picking up on media’s overwhelming qualities, Monte designed a suffocated media citizen, with mind, body, and limbs each full of various media forms and types. Like Sara did in a retro way, Kaley built her media diet into the stylistic interface of the Internet, emphasizing the positive verbs of her media life: relating, learning, sharing, and connecting. Maci created hers as a scrap-book-like collage, emphasizing the media and technologies, traditional and new, that make her who she is, and fuel the relationships she holds dearest.

Most students, and myself too, are a bit worried about how much time we spend on our phones and on social media. Hopefully over the break, we’ll each take some time to unplug, relax, and restore. No matter what, I’m so thankful to have taught and learned alongside these students and look forward to the next time I’ll teach this course.


Media Diet Journal Assignment

In this class, 15% of your course grade comes from completing a Media Diet Journal. I recommend that you create your Journal as a Word file or Google doc and add to it throughout the second half of the semester. Your Journal should reflect sincere and focused engagement and reflection with each day’s question prompts. You do not need to write an essay or even in complete sentences, but you should record complete thoughts. For each day of assigned journaling, you should write at least 1-2 single-spaced pages.

Media Diet Questionnaire #0: How to Start Assessing Your Media Diet

  • What is your current “media diet”? Brainstorm a list of all the types and forms of media you consume during a typical day or week.
  • How much time do you spend consuming media in a day or week? Are there particular times of day you’re active with media?
  • Why do you consume media? For example, for entertainment, information, boredom…
  • Do you participate in creating media in any way? How so?
  • What devices, or other forms of technology, do you use to consume (and create) media? Is it always via a screen?
  • How does consuming and/or creating media make you feel emotionally, mentally, and/or physically?
  • How does your typical media diet engage with issues of identity, justice, and equity?
  • To what degree does your typical media diet include a global perspective?
  • As you’ve answered these questions, does anything in your media habits surprise you? What patterns did you see emerging?

Media Diet Questionnaire #1: The Internet & Social Media

  • Following the Public Books 101 podcast, what does being on the internet in 2020 feel like to you? 
  • How old were you when you first “connected to” the internet?
  • How do you experience the internet? Do you “surf”? Is it an integrated part of your life? Do you use it like a utility to log on, do certain things, and then log off?
  • If you had to go without internet or WiFi access for a period of time, such as a day or a week, that wasn’t a conscious “digital vacation,” how would that make you feel? Why do you think that is?
  • Would you ever consider quitting social media and/or the internet? Why or why not?
  • What social media accounts do you have? How and for what do you use them? What purpose do they serve in your life?
  • What kind of content do you consume, produce, and share on social media?
  • How old were you when you got each of your social media accounts?
  • How is your social media and Internet use part of your experiences with boredom?
  • For yourself, and more broadly, what are the pros and cons of using social media?
  • Does social media help or hinder your social connections, online and IRL?
  • How does your social media use shape how you use your smartphone (if you have one?)
  • How do you physically relate to your (smart)phone? Is it always nearby during the day? Why? Where is your phone while you sleep?
  • Beyond social media, what other apps do you use every day?
  • Do you ever worry you (or people you care about) are “addicted” to your phone, social media, reading notifications, apps, etc.? How does this make you feel?

Media Diet Questionnaire #2: Television & Film

  • When you think of “TV” or “television,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
  • Did you watch TV as a child, and if so, what programs? Was your TV consumption monitored or limited by those who cared for you? What was the purpose of your TV viewing as a child? Is it different from what and why you watch TV now?
  • On what device(s) do you currently watch TV programming? How does the device (phone, laptop, TV screen (small, medium, large, huge)) influence your experience with TV?
  • What types or genres of TV programming do you routinely watch? What are your favorites and why?
  • What TV networks, channels, or streaming services do you regularly watch? Which do you (or your family) subscribe to?
  • Choose your favorite show. Look up the director, screenwriter, and other key production figures. Who are they? What else have they created? What’s their story? How does their identity shape the content they create, or not?
  • How much time do you spend watching TV daily and/or weekly?
  • How do you feel emotionally when you watch TV, and does it vary by time, programming, etc.?
  • How do you feel physically when you watch TV? What position is your body in when you watch TV?
  • What verbs describe how you interact with TV and films, and why? (e.g. watch, view, see, engage, consume, connect, etc.)
  • When you watch TV or a film, do you engage fully in it or are you doing other things, like chatting, working, or looking at social media? If so, how does this distracted viewing shape your experience?
  • How many movies/films do you watch per week?
  • Before COVID-19, how often would you go to a movie theater to see a movie?
  • What influences your decision to see a particular movie at the movie theater versus waiting for it to be a rental or on Netflix or downloading it?
  • How is watching a film on a TV (or laptop) at home similar and different (emotionally and for your senses) to watching a film at a movie theater?

Media Diet Questionnaire #3: News & Journalism

  • Do you read/watch/consume the news every day or most days of the week? Why or why not?
  • Do you read/watch/consume the news at a certain time of day or does it just pop up all throughout your day?
  • Where do you get your news? What devices, what formats? (e.g. TV, newspaper (online or print) social media, radio, podcasts, etc.) What outlets/brands? (e.g. Tulsa World, New York Times, CNN, Fox News, etc.)
  • What sources do you think count as “good” or “quality” journalism? Why? What factors do you consider to assess if a source is trustworthy and accurate?  
  • How would you assess bias within the news sources you typically reference?
  • What do you currently think and feel about current debates regarding “fake news?” What does that phrase mean? How is it marshalled, and by whom? Why does it matter?
  • How much of the news stories you read are local versus national versus global?
  • What do you think the pros and cons are of getting all or most of your news from social media?
  • Do you read TU’s student newspaper, The Collegian? Why or why not? What do you think and feel about it? What stories resonate with you?
  • Do you (or your family) subscribe to (i.e. pay for) any newspapers or journalistic magazines? Which ones? Why or why not?
  • When you think of “a journalist,” who do you imagine? What do they do? What values motivate them? Relatedly, how are journalists represented in TV shows and films?
  • Do you ever view yourself as a “citizen journalist” for stories you create and share?
  • How does consuming the news make you feel, emotionally and in your body?

Media Diet Questionnaire #4: Advertising

  • What media forms can advertising take?
  • How do you notice, consume, and/or avoid advertising in your life?
  • How would you describe advertising? For example, inspirational, persuasive, manipulative, informative—and why?
  • How can you tell the difference between an advertisement and media content? Is it ever difficult to tell the difference? Why might that matter?
  • Do you follow any influencers? Which ones, and why? How are their endorsements similar and/or different to more traditional advertising, like a TV commercial?
  • Do you watch the ads during the Super Bowl? How are these ads similar and different to ads we see on TV throughout the rest of the year? Do you have any favorites that you can remember?
  • How do ads shape and reflect identity, including categories like race, gender, sexuality, social class, religion, age, etc.?
  • In your opinion, should brands and ads take a stand on social issues, such as the brands we read about endorsing Black Lives Matter? Why or why not?

Media Diet Questionnaire #5: Games & Sports

  • Do you watch professional and/or college sports? Which ones, and why? Which are your favorites, and why?
  • From what outlets (e.g. ESPN, blogs, Twitter) do you consume sports media? Which are your favorites, and why?
  • How much time do you spend consuming sports media? Per day, week, or month?
  • Do you play a sport? Which ones? How did you start and/or stop?
  • What can sports reveal about power and identity—of the players, commentators, producers, team owners, audiences, etc. Think about gender, sexuality, race, class, citizenship status, etc. …
  • Do you watch the Olympics? What do they mean to you as a viewer, a citizen, and perhaps as an athlete yourself?
  • Do you have a favorite sports team of which you’d identify as a fan? Relatedly, how does a particular sports team (including a national Olympic team) affect how you feel about your city, state, and country?
  • Do you play video games? Which ones? Do you have favorites? Do you play alone or with others? On what devices/platforms?
  • How would you define “a gamer?” Do you identify as a gamer?
  • What do you know about aspects of inclusion and exclusion, community and harassment within the gaming community?
  • If you play video games, how do you feel emotionally and physically when you play?
  • In your opinion, are esports, sports?

Media Diet Questionnaire #6: Books & Publishing

  • Do you read books outside of what’s assigned for your classes? Why or why not?
  • If you buy books, do you prefer to buy them in hardback, paperback, or a digital copy like on a Kindle? Why?
  • How does it feel to hold a book in your hands, to turn the pages, to read through to the final page? How is it similar and different to read a book or a magazine in print versus from a screen? How does the reading experience feel?
  • Is print dead? Generally, and to you?
  • How do you feel and/or what do you think about buying books from Amazon?
  • What do you think about local bookstores? Do you shop at them? Do you know the folks who own them and work there? What local bookstores can you frequent here in Tulsa? Or in your hometown?
  • Do you have a public library card? Do you visit the library, check out books? What social, cultural, and civic purpose do libraries serve? How much (or little) of that is about books?
  • Do you want to write, whether a book, article, or essay? Would you feel any differently about your work appearing in print versus online?  

Top 10 Things We Learned in Food Media, Pandemic Edition

Teaching Food Media online during a pandemic this semester proved a challenge, but one we overcame together. We still found ways to read and discuss, conduct a tasting workshop and another on historic cookbooks, to screen and watch food TV, and to enjoy meals together.

Just like the first time I taught this course, we ended our time together by writing Top 10 Listicles and then compiling individual responses into a class ranking. Here is what resonated most with my students this semester, along with some commentary of how we pulled it off, in case these details are useful for other instructors too.

* * * * * * *

Food speaks volumes about race, gender, and power. From access to land to cultural appropriation, #MeToo in the food industry to who wins culinary awards—food reveals a great deal about the structural inequalities and injustice of the societies in which we live. Students very often come to Food Media thinking it’ll be a fluffy elective, but they leave knowing food is everywhere and so important.

We learned how to take seriously good photos of food. As expected, the photography and food styling workshop with KC Hysmith (this time over Zoom) was a standout experience for students, equipping them with new skills—and a new found respect for those who do this work professionally.

We learned how to really taste, and how to write about it. The tasting workshop (following Christy Spackman’s great model of tasting fresh pear, canned pear, and pear Jelly Belly candy) expanded students’ sensory abilities. (Here’s a Twitter thread about the logistics of doing this during the Pandemic.) This tasting workshop also laid the foundation for students to write boldly and lyrically about food in their Food Memoir Essays. Stretching beyond argumentative papers and reports, these essays provided a welcome opportunity to test out a new genre of writing and to develop writing voice in a new way.

The tension between education and entertainment in food and cooking TV still has a lot to teach us. Reading about the history, present, and future of food and cooking TV set the stage for our class viewing of an episode of Ugly Delicious. While we couldn’t be in the same room to watch together, we screened the Steak episode through our online learning platform, Collaborate, and essentially live-tweeted our thoughts in the chat together, which was both informative and a lot of fun. (Most of my students didn’t know I’m in the episode for a hot minute, so it was very funny and touching to see them freak out in the chat when I came on screen!)

Instagram played a key role in our class. Along with our skills from KC Hysmith, our critical readings on food Instagram’s pros and cons prepared students to create and manage their own accounts for the semester, using our class hashtag #foodxmedia. While required to post 15 photos during the semester, many students posted more than that. We also found that during our online course when we were never all together physically, sharing our food life on Instagram helped us to build a tight-knit class community.

Covid-19 influenced our learning, beyond our class being online. Students were very moved by The Daily episode featuring Achut Deng, a worker at the Smithfield pork factory. We also appreciated learning directly from Leah Douglas about her work tracking and mapping Covid-19 outbreaks in the U.S. food system. We had memorable, and sobering, conversations about how the government delineated essential workers at the same time that they treated these laborers—often low-income, women, immigrants, and BIPOC—as expendable. Building from Lucy Long’s questionnaire, students also conducted Pandemic Foodways Inventories, reflecting deeply on their personal foodways before and during the pandemic.

Cookbooks changed some minds. Through our readings, students newly discovered cookbooks as far more than recipe collections, but as historical artifacts and cultural texts. Due to our class being online, I couldn’t teach my normal cookbook workshop (like this) or take students to special collections on campus, but we made great use of the Internet Archive’s more than 10,000 digitized cookbooks. While nothing can replace getting to physically touch books that are many decades (or centuries) old, the online version of our cookbook workshop had the extra benefit that students could drop the link to their cookbook in the chat, so students could briefly experience more than a dozen cookbooks, rather than spending a long time with one physical text as I typically do in the workshop.

We learned from our local food community, and enjoyed eating their food. Students loved learning about Nonesuch in Oklahoma City, which was named America’s best new restaurant by Bon Appétit in 2018, but we spent our food dollars in our local Tulsa community with businesses working to get off the ground. Although we couldn’t physically visit and eat at Mother Road Market, we twice ate meals from Kitchen 66, Tulsa’s food business incubator. In an hour-long Zoom conversation, we also learned directly from one vendor about their experience trying to launch and expand their business during the pandemic. Although we couldn’t eat together, meals were delivered to a central location on campus, and I passed them out to students during a 20 minute window before class, with masks and plenty of hand sanitizer. We then quickly walked or drove back to our rooms/apartments/homes and logged on to Zoom. We ate together as we chatted about the delicious food (using our new sensory knowledge and powers of description!), class content, and our lives more generally. Even through a screen, eating together bonded us as a class community in a special way.

Food critics and criticism reveal power dynamics. We were beyond lucky to tweet a couple of times with Soliel Ho and to consider how her approach to the food critic role is paving a way forward. We also considered how food writing, Yelp reviews, and unchecked assumptions reinforce dominant notions of class, gender, race, sexuality, nationhood, regionality, and citizenship that need our critical attention.

We deconstructed Thanksgiving. Some of us already knew “the truth” about Thanksgiving’s histories, while others learned it for the first time. All of us thought critically about how we can celebrate this holiday more intentionally through what we eat, and so much more.

And an honorable mention goes to: Book Birthday. I was a little anxious to dedicate a day on the syllabus to my book coming out, but was delighted and relieved that it resonated a lot with students. They were so happy to celebrate this accomplishment and also enjoyed our “ask me anything” conversation about what it’s like to write a book, how peer review actually works, and the labor of promoting a book too.

* * * * * * *

I am so proud of these students, who accomplished significant, critical growth even as some of us caught Covid-19, as some of us suffered losses in our families, and as we all struggled at times with our mental health. I love, loved, loved teaching Food Media for the second time and remain personally and professionally overwhelmed by all we can teach and learn through food.

Top Image: A screenshot of our final class meeting, shared with students’ permission

Behind the Scenes: How I Wrote My First Academic Book

My first book, Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture comes out next week from the University of North Carolina Press, which is really exciting. (The pre-order promotion is still on, if you’re interested!) The book’s publication is also causing me to reflect on how I got here. We don’t often tell the stories of how books come to be. The nuts and bolts of how we actually wrote the thing. The lucky breaks that helped. The challenges that seemed insurmountable until we finally found a way through.

But let me be clear, this is NOT an advice post. For that, William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book is the book you need. I read it twice and referenced it multiple times as I wrote and revised.

So, here’s the story of how my book came to be.

**********

The research in Diners, Dudes & Diets started in my MLA thesis in Gastronomy at Boston University, “The Dudification of Dieting: Marketing Weight Loss Programs to Men in the Twenty-First Century”—though that project’s roots lie in my undergrad honors thesis, parts of which I eventually published in Fat Studies as “Guilt-Free and Sinfully Delicious: A Contemporary Theology of Weight Loss Dieting.” When I applied to PhD programs, I proposed expanding the thesis into a dissertation. I could have done that, but as I completed my field reading, I realized there was more I wanted to do. I kept my focus on masculinities but expanded beyond just dieting to food, cooking, and the broader food mediascape.

In grad school, I was told don’t write a dissertation, write a book. I tried, hard, to do that, but the thing is, when you’re a grad student, you have no idea how to write a dissertation or a book, so you’re just doing your best to write something that you can one day revise into a book. At least that’s how it was for me.

I finished a good draft of my dissertation in a frenzied rush during the fourth year of my PhD in 2017 because I was a finalist for a job. (I didn’t get it.) But the silver lining was I had a year of funding left and a relatively complete project, so I could start talking seriously to editors.

Given my very interdisciplinary training and research output, I had some concerns about which presses, series, and/or lists to shoot for so that the eventual book would be legible in field-specific ways, ultimately, for tenure and promotion purposes. This was difficult because I didn’t know what field I’d be working in. Would it be American studies? Food studies? Gender and sexuality studies? Media or communication studies? Something else? And that was if I could even get a job, since the vast majority of even immensely talented PhDs never find a permanent faculty position. 

I still can’t believe my luck (and privilege) that Matt Guterl, chair of American Studies at Brown and a wonderful mentor to me, sent an email to officially introduce me and my project to Mark Simpson-Vos, Editorial Director at the University of North Carolina Press. Matt made it clear from his own experience (which is vast) that Mark was one of the greatest editors around and UNC Press one of the best in the business, especially for books aspiring for crossover potential beyond academia. Mark assured me that if the book ended up at UNC, it would be part of whichever series or list fit the book.

Over the summer of 2017, Mark reviewed my precis, chapter outline, and my proposed revision plans (which were way off from what I actually did.) He sent me feedback on how to revise it all into a good book proposal. (Not all editors can, or do, offer this much feedback at such an early stage, but I am very grateful that Mark did.)

At this point in the process, what I struggled with most was the book’s throughline. I knew I had a story to tell, but I couldn’t yet see how the pieces fit together or what order they should go in. And for whatever reason, the contents of the Intro and Chapter One changed a ton throughout the revision process. (I can definitely see the value of good developmental editors and wonder if I should have invested in one to get over this hurdle sooner.)

I took the advice to let the project “rest” for as long as I could, so that I could have fresher eyes to see it anew and hopefully facilitate the dissertation-to-book revision process. Beyond the revisions I discussed with my dissertation committee (chaired by Susan Smulyan, who was wonderful in every way), I didn’t work on it that much during the final year of my PhD. But it was percolating in the back of my mind, waiting for things to click into place.

Ultimately, this is how my table of contents changed from the dissertation to the book:

TOC_Bigger

But I’m skipping ahead. I still had to actually revise the dang thing into a book.

**********

Fall 2017 was filled with job applications (and all that entails.) I applied to 31 positions in a range of fields, so customizing my documents was an ordeal. By some miracle, the universe delivered the right mix of luck and timing that I had a position finalized by the end of the year in the Department of Media Studies at The University of Tulsa. I graduated in May 2018. We moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma a few days later.

The transition was difficult, for all the typical reasons and due to some specific challenges at my new institution, which escalated further during my second semester there. Needless to say, during my first three months on the tenure track, I wrote some short pieces (including interviews with Alex Ketchum and Rachel Louise Moran on their fab books), but I didn’t work on my book proposal. At. All.

I finally returned to my project later that fall. At the time, my university still had a faculty writing program (it doesn’t anymore, due to the aforementioned challenges, which is bad), and I met twice with Joli Jensen, the program’s director and author of Write No Matter What, which is a super useful book. Meeting with her gave me the structure of deadlines and expectations I needed to work on my proposal that November. Throughout December, my calendar was full of “work on proposal” to do items. Mark and I met a couple of times that month by phone to review drafts.

He and I also discussed whether I should revise the entire dissertation manuscript and then send it through review or to submit just the body chapters, which I could get into decent shape pretty quickly. I went with the second option: sending my proposal letter (with a detailed revision plan) along with the dissertation’s moderately revised body chapters in early January 2019, so that I could get reviewer feedback to guide the next stages of my revision process. 

I submitted everything right before I started teaching my first semester with a three course-load. Luckily only one was a new prep, but it was the most content and students (86) that I’d ever taught. (Those of you who teach 3-3, 4-4, and more are the real heroes, truly.) Luckily, the press assigned my project to *dream* anonymous peer review readers who returned really useful and generous feedback by early May.

I knew that I needed to write an introduction, but my readers advised me not to add new chapters (which I had proposed), but to make the ones I had tight, clear, and snappy. I also needed to drastically reorganize the first chapter. Readers found “the dude” novel, but I needed to define him better, especially with regard to race. I needed to make the argument regarding the dude flow through every chapter in strong and compelling ways. I needed to more clearly articulate the “so what” of my book, including the importance of historical context, which for this book is the Great Recession Era and then the post-2016 moment. I had analyzed well representations of the dude and stories about his producers, but I needed to do more to consider consumers and reception too. I needed to add more digital content, especially from social media. I needed to write a satisfying concluding chapter.

Fortunately, my readers’ feedback all supported the book I was aiming to write. Honestly, I think one of the few suggestions I pushed back on was the idea of organizing the book 100% chronologically because I felt a thematic orientation served the argument better. Every comment helped me to write a better book, which is one of the most ideal outcomes of peer review, especially for a dissertation-to-book project. From my readers’ and Mark’s comments, I drafted my response revision letter, which I submitted in mid-May 2019.

From my reader reports and revision letter, I then wrote out my long list of to do items, large and small, everything left to mold what I had into a book.

Then I entered manuscript revision boot camp.

**********

Again, I benefited greatly from my university still having a faculty writing program. From my readers and Mark, I had a list of what I needed to write and revise. Joli hosted a day-long summer writing plan retreat in late April, which helped me to figure out how I was going to actually do the work of revising the book.

I write best in the morning, but 6 am was (and is) the only feasible time to walk my pup Raven in the Oklahoma summer heat, so for three weeks in June—to jumpstart my revisions and gain the momentum I needed to feel like I could do this darn thing—I woke up at 4:30 am and wrote from 5:00-6:00 am in our living room. Then I’d walk Raven to and around campus (we live nearby), and then write in my office for two more hours.

In mid-June, I got an email from Mark with the much-welcome subject line, “Good news!” It was a huge relief and a nice confidence boost to learn that I’d been offered an advance contract for the book from UNC Press, which helped to settle at least some of my imposter syndrome and general anxieties about writing my first book.

After that intense kickstart, I enjoyed a break. I went to the Association for the Study of Food and Society meeting in Anchorage, Alaska and then went on a cruise. (Yes, I too have very ambivalent feelings about cruises and the folks who go on them, but it was exactly what I needed at that point in time. I mean, look how beautiful it was.)

Glacier Bay, Alaska

In July and August, I dropped the 5 am writing sessions most days. Sometimes writing haunted my dreams so much that I woke up early anyway. Usually though I’d write for 2 to 3 hours each day, typically in one session, working on revisions.

By late July, I had a pretty complete version of the full manuscript done, so I sent the entire thing to two of my mentors who very graciously agreed to read it: Melissa Hackman (from whom I took Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality while I was at Brown and who’s been a good friend ever since) and Julia Ehrhardt, with whom I studied as an undergraduate and who has helped me with every step of my academic journey since. I also shared the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Conclusion with my friend Diana Garvin and the sections addressing social media with my friend KC Hysmith. All offered me affirming comments (which I pretty desperately needed at that point) and more very useful feedback.

Throughout August, I worked on revisions in two-hour sessions, day after day after day. Sometimes I took weekends off, but a lot of times I didn’t. (That’s probably not a good thing.) Near the end of the month, I updated and formatted the bibliography and notes, which was about a week’s worth of work on its own. I also selected the images I wanted to include in the book (taking the time to figure out high resolution versions, which was sometimes the hardest part) and wrote their captions. Given the ways that I analyze all of the images in the text, I claimed fair use for their inclusion.

Beyond my readers’ feedback for revisions, I wanted to write this book as both the key piece of scholarship for my tenure case and a book for everyday readers, a book that might play at least some small role in helping us to understand our culture more critically and to make our media lives more just and inclusive. Hoping for that audience meant I had to write the book differently and to cut out any and all jargon I didn’t need. Since I had written a fair amount for public audiences, I thought I was close, but I wasn’t. I had more to learn and grow in my writing. I reworked almost every sentence.

I submitted the manuscript in late August 2019, two days before the start of the fall semester. I was exhausted, but I’d finally completed what was the hardest part of the book revision process, for me: I’d finally turned my dissertation into a book manuscript.

While the manuscript was back with my readers (one original and a new third reader), I threw myself into teaching “Food Media” and “Advertising History, Culture & Critique.” I also worked with my friend and colleague, Zenia Kish, as we reviewed our sixteen contributors’ chapter drafts for our edited collection on food Instagram.

In late October, I received final reader reports, which were positive, but required some more edits, all of which I appreciated and made the book better. I had to write my final revision letter really quickly (at the same time as all our editor letters for the Instagram book!) so my book could make it into the press’s November board meeting. If I could rush this final revision letter, the book could come out in fall 2020 instead of spring 2021, so I made the push.

I then made revisions throughout November and December, working on them every morning before teaching, grading, and everything else. I shared the near-final manuscript with one more mentor and friend, Warren Belasco, who had advised my master’s thesis at BU and had read my dissertation. He sent me the words of affirmation I really, really needed as I neared the end of many months of hard work.

I was really ill for a week in December, basically on bedrest, but I still submitted the final manuscript in early January 2020, along with my author marketing questionnaire, which was a few days’ work too. (Thanks to Andrew Ruis for sharing his with me for inspiration!)

I received files for copy editing in early April 2020, which I somehow completed during the stressful early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, returning the files at the end of the month.

I am very grateful my university covered the cost of professional proofreading and indexing, so I had help for those last reviews, which I turned in at the end of June. I highly recommend Jessica Ryan for proofreading and Michelle Martinez for indexing!

I spent July and August writing some short essays and planning for how I’d work to promote the book (and prepping to teach three courses in the fall during a pandemic), but the heavy lifting (er, writing) for the book itself was done.

My dissertation-to-book timeline

As I said at the start, this is not an advice post. It’s just my story, shared in the hope it might be useful for other writers in its transparency. But as I reflect, these are the things that helped as I wrote and revised my first book, some of which I had no control over, but from which I benefited greatly:

  • I had a fantastic editor who helped me every step of the way, starting from before I had officially submitted my dissertation.
  • I had access to a faculty writing program that gave me the structure I needed to get started planning and writing, especially as I began my career on the tenure track, balancing research, teaching, and service.
  • I had a permanent position and received two summer fellowships from my institution, which helped me to write full time for two summers without needing to teach summer term. (That said, I still had to do other paid work to supplement my salary.) Overall, stable employment made writing this book possible, and I recognize many first book writers lack that, given the abysmal academic job market.
  • I was gifted truly amazing anonymous readers, who provided the constructive feedback I needed to write a (hopefully) good book. They also returned their reports in a very timely fashion so my book moved forward on a quick timeline. They also wrote their feedback in a generous and collegial tone (no reviewer #2 snark), so the review process was as emotionally painless as can be. While I didn’t know who my readers were during the process, I’m very happy that two of them—Kathleen LeBesco and Peter Naccarato—agreed to have their identities revealed to me afterward. I’m thankful for the role all three reviewers played in my book.
  • I figured out how I write well. I found the golden time (mornings) and session length (1-3 hours) that worked for me to write well, and I vigorously protected it.
  • I was consistent. I scheduled my writing sessions into my calendar and committed to sitting down, day after day, and doing the work, even when the revisions were going really badly or when I didn’t want to. I did the time, no matter what.
  • I used social media for help and support. Visually capturing the process of writing this book (on good days and bad) and posting on Instagram, helped me make the labor visible. Celebrating every little milestone across social media platforms with different groups of friends and colleagues also helped me to find support and stay motivated.
  • I had a dog who provided emotional support in the way only cute animals can and who made me keep walking and moving while I was writing, a sedentary activity that is really hard on our bodies.
  • I was physically and mentally well. At least most of the time, I felt well enough, in every sense of the word, to be able to write this book. During the time when I was incapacitated, I could newly empathize with others who write under painful and uncomfortable circumstances, which makes completing a book so much harder.
  • I had few other life responsibilities and/or distractions. I do not have any children nor family members who needed care, so I was able to focus my most productive energies almost solely on this project. Writing a book is hard. I fully recognize how writing a book with such responsibilities is SO MUCH harder.
  • I had a supportive partner. Even though my husband was annoyed with me on the many mornings I woke up stupid early and disturbed his sleep, he recognized that this was my process. Sometimes (maybe a lot of times) I had to write instead of doing fun things together, which was hard on both of us. There’s a million reasons the book is dedicated to him.

So, that’s the story of how Diners, Dudes & Diets came to be.

Other academic writers, how did you write your first book? What else about the process would be helpful to know? Please feel free to share in the comments or on social media!

Diners, Dudes, and Diets: All the Illustrations

Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture includes about 20 black and white images to demonstrate how the food, media, and marketing industries deployed “the dude” during the Great Recession era to sell feminized food fare to men. In this post, I’ve gathered color versions of those images. I’ve also included many of the other media examples I reference in the book.

I hope readers enjoy seeing them—and that they might prove helpful texts for close readings, debates, and discussions in the classroom too, if you happen to be reading the book with your students.


Introduction

PAGE 12: Esquire Cook-Book, 1955

Esquire Cook-Book

PAGE 13: Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, 1982

RealMenDontEatQuiche

Chapter One

PAGE 24-25: “Eat Like That Guy You Know,” Kraft’s Velveeta Shells & Cheese, 2012

PAGE 25: P3 Portable Protein Packs

P3

PAGE 25-26: Devour Frozen Meals, “Lunch Spank,” 2016

PAGE 26: Devour Frozen Meals, Super Bowl Commercial, 2019

PAGE 29: Bake It Like a Man, 1999 & The Real Man’s Cookbook, 2000

WorkingClassMCookbooks

PAGE 28-29: Esquire Eat Like a Man, 2011

Esquire_EatLikeaMan

PAGE 31: DudeFood, 2015: dude bodies in a cookbook

Churchill_DudeFood_Dudes

PAGE 32: Dude Food, 2000: midcentury imagery

Dude Food

PAGE 35: DudeFood, 2015, “How to Impress a Girl”

Fig_01.02_Contois

Chapter Two

PAGE 41: More Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, 2009

Fig_02.01_Contois

PAGE 46: Next Food Network Star, Season 2, 2006

Fig_02.02_Contois

PAGE 50: Guy Fieri Food, 2011

Fig_02.03_Contois

PAGE 51: Guy’s Big Bite, 2006, set design

GuysBigBite

PAGE 54: Guy Fieri and trash can nachos on LIVE with Kelly and Ryan, 2018

Fig_02.04_Contois

PAGE 58: “Guy Fieri Is the Hero We Need,” Playboy, 2015

GuySaint

PAGE 59: Guy Fieri Camp Fire tweet, November 12, 2018

FieriTweet

Chapter Three

PAGE 65-66: Black dude in Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Annual Report, 2012

Fig_03.01_Contois

PAGE 69: Oikos Triple Zero “Flavor Draft Pick” ad, 2018

Fig_03.01_Contois

PAGE 74-75: Coca-Cola design family

Fig_03.02_Contois

PAGE 76: Dr. Pepper Ten package design

Fig_03.03_Contois

PAGE 76-77: Dannon Light and Fit package design

Light&Fit

PAGE 77: Powerful Yogurt package design

Fig_03.04_Contois

PAGE 79: Coke Zero, “Chilltop” ad, 2005

PAGE 79: Coca-Cola “Hilltop” ad, 1971

PAGE 80-81: Coke Zero “Enjoy Everything” ad, 2013

PAGE 81: Diet Coke 30th Anniversary can designs by Marc Jacobs, 2013

MarcJacbosDietCokes

PAGE 82-83: Dr. Pepper Ten launch ad, 2011

PAGE 85: Powerful Yogurt “Cattle Man” ad, 2013

PAGE 85: Powerful Yogurt “Ping Pong Man” ad, 2013

PAGE 85: Powerful Yogurt print ad, 2013

AbsPuppies

PAGE 85-86: Powerful Yogurt at Food Expo of Natural Products, 2013

Fig_03.05_Contois

PAGE 86: Oikos Triple Zero launch ad, 2015

Chapter Four

PAGE 89: Weight Watchers Online for Men ad, c. 2007

RealMenDontDiet

PAGE 90: Weight Watchers Online for Men, “Lose Like a Man” campaign, 2011

Fig_04.01a_Contois

PAGE 94-95: Weight Watchers, “Big Losers,” New York Times, 1972

WW_1972

PAGE 100: Weight Watchers Online, “How Does it Work” video, depicting weight loss labor

Fig_04.02_Contois

PAGE 101: Weight Watchers Online, “How Does it Work” video, depicting gendered representations of food, eating spaces, and cooking

Fig_04.03.1_Contois

Fig_04.03.2_Contois

PAGE 103: Weight Watchers Online, “How Does it Work” video, depicting gendered notions of before-and-after and emotions

Fig_04.04.1_Contois

Fig_04.04.2_Contois

PAGE 106-107: Weight Watchers Online for Men, “Roll Call” ad, c. 2011-2012

PAGE 107-108: Weight Watchers Online for Men, “Sir Charles for Weight Loss” ad, c. 2011-2012

Conclusion

PAGE 119: A Man, A Can, A Plan (2002); Guy Gourmet (2013); A Man, A Pan, A Plan (2017)

AMan

PAGE 120: Coke Zero Sugar can design, 2017

CokeZeroSugar

PAGE 123-124: Diet Dr. Pepper, “Lil’ Sweet” ads, 2015—

PAGE 124: Diet Coke, “Because I Can” ad, 2016

PAGE 126-127: White Claw website homepage, 2020

WhiteClaw

Learn more about Diners, Dudes, and Diets.

Teaching Online: How to Be More Creative & Engaging

I was honored to be invited to present in TU’s new Socially Distanced Teaching series on “How to Be More Creative & Engaging Online.” Since the presentation was on our internal Microsoft Teams site, I’m happy to share my presentation slides more broadly here.

For the assessment examples discussed in part 5, you can find more information in the detailed blog posts on my Teaching page.

And I’d love to hear from other teachers what you’re doing to be more creative and engaging as we find ourselves teaching online during a pandemic.

Our Food Media Top 10

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:

  1. Food is more than just food. We should study it seriously.
  2. Food reveals a great deal about the structural (in)equalities and (in)justice of the societies in which we live.
  3. 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.
  4. “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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 Instructors

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.