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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.


For My Students: My First 10 “Bad” Instagram Posts

Yesterday in my Food Media class, we did a focus group about how students use Instagram and if/where food fits in. I learned so much. Most of my students started Instagram accounts when they were in middle school. I, on the other hand, was 27. What would I have shared on social media when I was 13? (Cringe, shudder, facepalm.)

Typically, when my students use Instagram—the account named with their actual name, where they project the very best and most perfect version of themselves out into an uncertain and often unkind world of job hunting and social judgement—they post relatively rarely and anxiously. They don’t post (or delete) any photo or caption that isn’t “good enough.”

Their Instagram rules made me reflect on mine and my own embarrassing beginnings on the app.

As someone who’s never deleted anything off of Instagram, I went back to my first 10 posts to think about the stories they tell and why they’re worth keeping, even though the photos and captions themselves are definitely not “good enough.”


1. My first Instagram post was of words in an Ikea catalogue that related to my research on trophy kitchens. I have no clue why I chose such an unreadable angle. Or that horrendous border treatment.


2. I remember being proud of how I staged this strategically (un)packed bag for vacation. (Sigh.) I was too body conscious to wear all but one of those swimsuits, but I rocked that hat, hard.

3. These are the poster boards I mounted above my desk in our “garden level” apartment in Brookline. It was basically a basement but in the best neighborhood we’ve ever lived. It’s where I wrote all my seminar papers as I studied for my MLA in Gastronomy while still working for Kaiser, which was difficult. The bulletin boards above my desk at TU are similarly styled. I’m not sure what to make of that.

4. This very grainy, truly bad photo is of my husband and I at the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston. (It’s called something else now.) We were going to see Girl Talk, for the third time, I think. It was a gorgeous night outside, I danced the whole show, and I’m glad I have this terrible photo to remember it.


5. This is the first of my posts to ever get a like. Yes, one like. (And I still love Kate Spade.)

6. This post got two likes. I was right, but I haven’t written this paper, yet.

7. This post got ZERO likes, but I LOVE it. KC and Barbara were with me when we chased Laura Shapiro down in the street after the Siting Julia Symposium to tell her how much we loved her writing. Just recently, I re-read Shapiro’s essay on Instagram as a food history archive with my students.


8. Sometimes we use Instagram to complain and mark painful moments. This was one of those. No one liked this photo. I was truly alone in my GRE misery.

9. Look at me trying to be all artsy capturing the sun flare. This is by all measures a bad photo, but it marks the first time I visited Connecticut and ate a cider donut, which was life changing and became one of our annual New England traditions.

10. This is my forty-fourth post, my first of food. I was in New York City to present at the Cookbook Conference. Barbara and I enjoyed this six course (!) brunch before we took the bus back to Boston after a huge snowstorm.

My point in sharing these (mostly very bad) photos is that we are our histories—the good, beautiful, and celebratory; the bad, ugly, and downtrodden—whether we visualize and share them, or not. My students have mostly opted for a compartmentalized social media life. They share perfectly curated content for public consumption on one account. On a private one, they’re openly honest and intimate.

As for me, I’m trying hard to blend these approaches, on and off social media. When my mom turned 50, she sat my sister and I both down and said that she wished she could give us the confidence she felt at that moment. She’d crossed a threshold of womanhood that made it so she could finally give zero f*cks. (She definitely didn’t use those words, but it’s what she meant.) She could be free.

I never really succeed, but I try every day to live like I’m a 50-year-old woman, unafraid to be and share all the weirdness that is me, to call folks on their garbage, and to know I’m good enough, and so are my dang photos.

Food Media Syllabus

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

Welcome, everyone!

Course Description

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

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

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

Course Learning Objectives

After completing this course, students will be able to:

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


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

Reading Schedule

Part I. Introduction

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

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

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

II. Food & You: Expressing Food Lives

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

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

In-Class Mini-Tasting: madeleines

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

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

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

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

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

  • No Reading—Palate Cleanser #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • No reading—Palate Cleanser #2

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

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

  • No reading—Palate Cleanser #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Optional Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

In-Class Viewing: Julie & Julia (2009)

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

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

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

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

Thinking Through Food and Media

At the 2019 ASFS/AFHVS conference, I organized a panel to investigate the intersection of food studies with the fields of media studies and communication. Such collaboration sought to fruitfully expand the conceptual boundaries, theoretical and methodological considerations, and pedagogical practices of both food and media studies.

We were a group of scholars variably positioned within and across the fields of food studies, food systems, media studies, and communication, as well as at different stages of our careers, from ABD to full professor:

  • Leigh Chavez Bush, Adjunct Faculty, Johnson & Wales, Denver
  • Emily Contois, Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies, University of Tulsa
  • Leda Cooks, Professor, Department of Communication, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • KC Hysmith, PhD Candidate, Department of American Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Tara Schuwerk, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Communication & Media Studies and Program Director, Sustainable Food Systems, Stetson University

Together we endeavored to explore if and how food studies might “count” as media studies and how food is and can be explored as both medium and message. We began our panel with brief, 5-minute research presentations to present a sort of tasting flight of scholarship at this intersection. We were lucky to have live tweeters in the audience who caught some of the high points of these presentations:

















We then gathered together to discuss a series of pre-circulated questions.

We began by discussing current scholarship at the intersection of food studies and media studies. We compiled a short (and by necessity incomplete) list of texts that we think provide useful models for future work, including:

Janet M. Cramer, Carlnita P. Greene, and Lynn M. Walters, Food as Communication: Communication as Food (Peter Lang, 2011).

Tisha Dejmanee, “‘Food Porn” as Postfeminist Play: Digital Femininity and the Female Body on Food Blogs,” Television & New Media 17, no. 5 (2016): 429-448.

Tisha Dejmanee (ed), “Feminism and Food Media,” Themed Commentary and Criticism Section, Feminist Media Studies 18, no. 4 (2018).

Joshua J. Frye and Michael S. Bruner, The Rhetoric of Food: Discourse, Materiality and Power (Routledge, 2013).

Katie Lebesco and Peter Naccarato, The Bloomsbury Handbook of Food and Popular Culture (Bloomsbury, 2017).

Tania Lewis & Michelle Phillipov (eds.), Special Issue: Food/Media: Eating, Cooking, and Provisioning in a Digital World, Communication Research and Practice 4, no. 3 (2018).

Signe Rousseau, Food Media: Celebrity Chefs and the Politics of Everyday Interference (Berg, 2012).

Signe Rousseau, Food and Social Media (AltaMira Press, 2012).

Next, we discussed if and how food is a medium, as well as how such a framing might prove useful for food studies research, teaching, and practice.

We began by considering the layers of media at play when it comes to food, for example: the food itself; the messages communicated on, in, and through food; and the ways that social media attaches another layer of meaning through metadata.

Leda asserted that cultural concepts of and standards for edibility often define the line between food and waste, as well as how this line can move depending upon space and context, all of which shapes food’s meaning. KC complicated this discussion further by considering how food media consumer demands have shaped the edible nature of food media. For example, the milk in food photography used to be glue, but now it’s “real” milk. Even if thickened with starch, its edibility remains relatively intact as a result of consumer resistance to overly and overtly “fake” representations of food. Relatedly, Leigh argued that as chefs work to create personas and opportunities on Instagram, food alone isn’t the medium, but beautiful food, the work required to make it, and all that it means beyond food alone.

We eventually decided that edibility and curation may define whether something is considered food, but no matter what, food remains a medium.

From the audience, Bob Valgenti asked us if we could imagine conditions for when food is not a medium. This required us to take a step back and more clearly define medium. I offered the broad and messy idea that media studies encapsulates everything that connects humanity, and not just to other humans. So if we think of food as a way and means of communicating, food always communicates. It always signifies; it always has semiotic meaning. It always has something to say. But if we define a medium as that which connects us, food can both include and exclude, bring us together and keep us apart. That said, connection needn’t be positive or intimate to be generative. Power is always at play. As Sarah Tracy added from the audience, hierarchy and oppression is still a form of connection.

In the end, we all agreed that the only way food wouldn’t be a medium would be if it had no meaning. So food is, always, a medium. We also discussed how the absence of food can still be read as communication and as a medium.

We next shared the main challenges we have faced researching and teaching at the intersection of food studies and media studies.

Tara shared that it can be difficult to teach food media courses when students may lack a foundational literacy in both media and food, as well as how to analyze them through categories of identity like gender, race, and class. Extending the theme of literacy, KC discussed how it can be difficult at times to find a shared understanding and set of assumptions with mentors and committee members about how and why one ought to study food media. As food studies scholars, we often have to fight to prove the worthiness of our topic, an even more complicated endeavor when studying food on and through social media.

Researching at this intersection also poses methodological challenges. KC and I discussed how the pace and breadth of food media can be exciting but exhausting to study, as the stream of posts and content never stops. Where do we draw the line for our research when our archive is always alive, moving, growing, and changing? Leda pushed us further to consider if and when we should worry about the all consuming encroachment of food media into our lives, research and otherwise.

KC, Leigh, and I also reflected upon how the method of digital ethnography blurs the anthropological boundary between insider and outsider. How much of our media life is our research and vice versa? Should we keep them separate? Why? And is that even possible? In the case of KC’s research, her own status as an influencer with more than 100,000 followers lent her an undeniable legitimacy that gave her unique access as a researcher. At the same time, it can be difficult to anonymize data when researching social media. Leigh pointed out that this can make it complicated at times to fulfill the anthropological directive to do no harm, especially when “studying up” or “sideways.”

KC shared how her research has taken her into new theoretical and methodological terrain. For example, researching hashtags used by food influencers led her to feminist technoscience and to consider the hashtag from a variety of viewpoints: linguistic, organizational, user generated, code, machine language, and as data that is coopted by users, industry, and the platforms themselves.

Both methodologically and theoretically, Leda asserted that food scholars could benefit from applying more media theory to the study of food and media. We must move beyond the study of representation to consider, for example: Hall’s theory of oppositional readings, embodiment and performance, more deeply intersectional approaches, materialism, and the relationships between the human and the nonhuman.

Leda also emphasized that media studies and communication scholars drawn to studying food tend to take qualitative rather than quantitative approaches. In her own work on food waste, much of the discussion is framed around representations of quantities of food wasted, which we need to push beyond to refocus the conversation on the entire food system.

Lastly, we shared our hopes for a future research and teaching agenda at the intersection of food studies and media studies.

Leigh grounded us in a sense of purpose, asserting that what we study ought to be something that makes life more valuable, makes it better. Our research can shed light on food media processes, both positive and negative, and pose recommendations for how to expand the positives. An activist potential must be part of this ongoing agenda. Similarly focusing on impact, KC hopes to see literacy as a key contribution of her research, as a way to help readers more deeply and critically understand food, media, women’s lives, hashtags, and so much more.

Tara pragmatically reflected that we need to think more about how to truly cross over and collaborate between food and media, particularly when we may be trained in a single, different discipline. After the completion of a PhD, how do we go about gaining a wholly new set of knowledges?

It’s here that I have great hope for the future possibilities between food and media studies. These two deeply interdisciplinary, nimble, and flexible fields pose productive invitations to one another. This post represents the product of a small group over the course of an hour and forty minutes. I sincerely hope to continue and expand this conversation in the volume preliminarily titled, You Are What You Post: Food and Instagram, which I’m co-editing with my colleague Zenia Kish and will include essays by KC and Tara from this panel. There is much to be explored at this fertile point between food studies and media studies. I’m excited for where it takes us all, together.

Top Image Credit: KC Hysmith 

ASFS 2019 at University of Alaska Anchorage + a Call to Action

The Association for the Study of Food and Society is routinely my favorite annual conference, but this year’s host location at the University of Alaska Anchorage took my breath away from the first moments of our flight’s descent…

…and our first steps on campus as well.

And yet, the conference theme—Finding Home in the “Wilderness”—reminded us to problematize the idea of “the wild.” I cannot say it better than the conference’s call for papers, which read:

We acknowledge the concept of wilderness as a contentious one, influenced by Western notions of separation, dominance, and later, preservation. The conference taking place in the Circumpolar North, and specifically in the diverse, multiethnic urban setting of Anchorage reminds visitors that wilderness is not something to be sought after on a hiking excursion. Rather, it is a factor that may influence our food practices, such as the harvest of wild foods, economic and climatic constraints on production, and issues around access, storage, utilization, and distribution. Additionally, philosophical conceptualizations of nature exist in a specific power hierarchy, where rational and neoliberal systemic approaches push against traditional and ecological ways of knowing that problematize the distinction between “wilderness” and “civilization.”

Conference sessions, talks, and meals (see below!) pushed us at every turn to reconsider what we thought we knew about Alaska and about food studies.

A great exhibit at the Anchorage Museum (on view during the conference’s opening reception) also provided stories and context for eating in Alaska in the past, present, and future.

I extend huge huge thanks to the conference co-chairs—Zeynep Kilic, Professor of Sociology, UAA (pictured below); Rachael Miller, Assistant Professor of Business, Alaska Pacific University; and Elizabeth Hodges Snyder, Associate Professor of Public Health UAA—and the rest of the local steering committee. This conference is a gigantic labor of love and service that I appreciate beyond measure.

For more information about the 2019 conference, check out the conference program, the #foodstudies19 coverage on Twitter, KC Hysmith’s Twitter photo essay, and the following Twitter threads, which cover the high points of select sessions. With thanks to KC Hysmith, Esther Martin-Ullrich, Lisa Haushofer, Erica Zurawski, Jessica Carbone, the Graduate Association for Food Studies, and many others for their live-tweeting efforts to capture, archive, and share the brilliance of this conference.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Normally, this is where my annual conference post ends, but this year it cannot.

It was devastating to learn, in the midst of the conference, that Alaska’s governor cut 41% of the University of Alaska system’s state appropriations through a line-item budget veto. This follows previous years of budget cuts and the loss of hundreds of faculty and staff positions. If not overturned, these new cuts will have dramatic effects, such as closing campuses, eliminating programs, and laying off of tenured faculty if financial exigency is declared. This poses a perhaps unrecoverable blow to education (at every level) throughout Alaska, which will compound current challenges driving state population decline and unemployment. Such cuts to higher education affect all of us, not just Alaskans and not just those of us who work in universities. Cuts like this should trouble everyone who wants to live in a society that values knowledge, culture, and equitable access to quality education. I, along with many other members of ASFS who have personally declared so, stand in solidarity with those within the University of Alaska system and call upon the Alaska legislature to support a veto override. For more information, view the advocacy resources from the Office of the Chancellor at Anchorage and at Fairbanks.

In these times, I find new application for the conference organizers’ words from their call for papers last fall, “Finding nourishment in this wilderness is no easy task but we search nevertheless.” We must search together.


Feature Image, Center: Liz Snyder, with artwork and logo by Evon Zerbetz 

Feature Image, Right and Left: Emily Contois, 2019 

Reflecting on the Southern Foodways Alliance & Bentonville, Arkansas

I’m an outsider to the South. I grew up under the big skies of Montana with mountains always visible in the distance. I moved to Norman, Oklahoma for college and to me, it felt Southern. Compared to my mountains, the land was flat as far as the eye could see, the air thick with humidity. Locals spoke with a twang, politely punctuating sentences with yes ma’am and yes sir. They ate okra, catfish, and chicken fried steak. But I was quickly corrected. This wasn’t the South. Maybe it was the Midwest. Perhaps it was part of Texoma. But it wasn’t purely Southern.

The Southern Foodways Alliance introduced me to many souths—the old south and the new, souths local and global, nostalgically imagined and future focused—first through a graduate research conference in 2015 and again during their 2019 summer field trip. Comprised of two days full of talks, meals, fellowship, poetry, and art, this year’s trip met in Bentonville, Arkansas.

With just under 50,000 people, Bentonville and the cities surrounding it, stretching southward to Fayetteville, anchor Northwest Arkansas. This corner of the state has boomed and blossomed due to the historical presence and sustained economic investment of large corporations: Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt trucking, and most prominently, Walmart. While knowingly committing many wrongs against their workers and the environment, Walmart undeniably influenced this place.

Bentonville has grown into a city of great restaurants, a twice weekly farmers market, a world-renowned coffee importer and roaster, and miles of bike trails. As Angie Maxwell shared, Walmart has infused the University of Arkansas with much needed funds, not for ego-fueled named buildings, but for dissertation fellowships, child care services, and a new School of Art. Since 2011, Bentonville has also been home to Crystal Bridges, one of the nation’s best, most innovative, and most inclusive museums of American art (founded by Alice Walton) where admission is always free, sponsored by Walmart.


How should we interpret a place and its food, however alluring and thriving, that has been sustained and perfected by private funds, by resources that have been largely concentrated in a small area without supporting the rest of the state?

This question proved troubling and difficult to answer, but such narratives of progress and problems are not the only ones that shape life and food in Northwest Arkansas. In prose as delightful to hear as to read, Jay Jennings of the Oxford American introduced us to the state’s history and culture. Unlike Louisiana, which Angie Maxwell described as “culturally rich, but closed,” Northwest Arkansas is a place of fluidity, hybridity, and change. Cherisse Jones-Branch reminded us this has long been a place of catfish and barbecue, and likely always will be, but of so much more too.

Jeannie Whayne taught us of nineteenth-century Italian immigrants, who worked Sunnyside Plantation and began the Tontitown Grape Festival and the enduring dish of spaghetti with red gravy alongside fried chicken. Since the 1970s, this area has become home to significant Hmong, Marshallese, and Latino communities. Today’s shifting demographics have brought tortillerias, halal butchers, specialty grocers, restaurants, and markets full of gorgeous produce, which all stimulate new Arkansan foodways.


Culture here was shaped not only by those who arrived, but also by those who stayed. Jones-Branch told us the early-twentieth-century stories of the rural black women in Northwest Arkansas, too often overlooked, who didn’t migrate North, but who remained and organized “everybody” through their activism. Though in-home demonstrations provided an excuse to gather together, these women were interested in “more than just tomatoes,” motivated by poll taxes, reproductive rights, and the health and safety of their communities.

And yet, Jennifer Jensen Wallach reminded us that food and politics are not separate endeavors. Food is politics. “You can enjoy food in a very thoughtless way,” she said, but once you engage thoughtfully, you must balance that joy with everything else. In her history of Arkansas foodways, lyrically titled “From Unicorns to Plant Based Meats,” Wallach forced us to wrestle with how Tyson literally delivered the Republican prosperity promise of “a chicken in every pot,” as it supplied affordable and abundant whole birds, breasts, and nuggets to tables across the country. Tyson altered not just local diets, but national food culture, at the same time that it irrevocably affected the environment, workers, and global businesses practices.

Drawing connections between past, present, and future, Wallach drew our attention to Tyson’s more recent efforts to develop plant-based meats. Asserting that our current foodways are unsustainable, Wallach stressed that we need a new paradigm, a transformation in what we eat and how we produce it. It remains to be seen if and how plant-based meats might provide a remedy. Changes to our diets are, and will be, inherently painful said Wallach, given the myriad ways that food shapes and reflects our identities, ways of life, and senses of place. The more we read, the more we know. The more we know, the more it hurts, the more we must do something.


The SFA provides a space for these stories and conversations, but in ways more folksy and quirky than a traditional academic conference. As but one example, our days began with a benediction from poet and Arkansas native Patricia Spears Jones. When asked if she was a preacher, she chuckled, “Oh hell no,” but she nevertheless prepared us for our days of thinking and eating in a deliberate and soulful way. We need such inspiration as we face a future of food that is strained and uncertain.

Such discussions struck me as special given the context of a summer field trip. I listened to these talks surrounded by dozens and dozens of people, folks not just interested in a weekend of gastrotourism and indulgent eating, but in learning to critically unpack these complex issues. As their craft-made podium art decrees, the SFA is about “working together” toward something good and lasting. I found a sustaining dose of that with them in Bentonville.

Image Credits: Emily Contois, 2019 


Teaching the Unruly Unessay

Always inspired by the “unessay” projects I see profs proudly circulating on Twitter, I tried the assignment this semester in my Media and Popular Culture course. I couldn’t be more delighted with my students’ efforts and creations.

First a bit more about this class. It is both a foundations course in the Media Studies major and a part of the university’s general curriculum in the area of “Historical & Social Interpretation.” This semester it drew 31 students from every year of study and all across the university. The first half of the course emphasizes key theories and histories, culminating in a midterm. The second half provides opportunities for students to apply this theoretical knowledge to contemporary topics and issues.

Media & Pop Culture Class Selfie

Me, smiling a bit too hard, with the students of Media and Popular Culture, spring semester 2019

Last semester, students crafted short research papers, which they then translated into Infographics. This semester, students and I read Anne Helen Petersen’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman. Each class period, in groups of three or four, students led chapter discussions. Together we compiled one giant Google slide deck of media texts—magazine covers, photographs, relevant quotes, video clips, etc.—to illustrate the book and guide our conversation.

Over the course of about six weeks, students gained a vocabulary for deconstructing celebrity and femininity, as well as the broader concept of unruliness, which shapes the bounds of not just “respectable womanhood,” but the myriad ways that we move through the world. Students appreciated the highly accessible ways Petersen’s text employed theoretical concepts like taste cultures, convergence and participatory culture, the mechanics of media production, and the potential agency afforded by media consumption.

About two-thirds of the way through our reading, we had the special treat to welcome Anne Helen Petersen into our classroom for a discussion of her work and career. Students also had the opportunity to attend her public talk—organized by myself with Media Studies colleagues Zenia Kish and Justin Rawlins—on the politics of popular culture in the digital age, including her new work on millennial burnout.

Teaching the Unessay

For our class, the unessay was integrated with our reading on unruly women and comprised 35% of the total course grade, broken down as follows:

Unessay Proposal and Literature Review (10%)

Students submitted a proposal and literature review (2-3 pages) in which they were asked to:

  1. Summarize the unruly characteristic (“Too X”) and female pop culture figure (actual or fictional) you plan to research. State why she interests you and what she can teach us about unruliness, women, and femininity in our present or in the past (if you’re interested to study a historical figure).
  2. Compose a literature review of at least 8 sources (3 of which must be peer reviewed) that will form the foundation of your writing or your unessay. For each source, identify it, briefly summarize its key point(s) in a sentence, and describe in 1-2 sentences how you’ll use/build upon this evidence in your project.
  3. Propose, explain, and defend your project format and share why it interests you. You may choose to write a brilliantly concise and beautifully written 1,500 word essay or its creative equivalent, such as a poem, a work of art, a song, a playlist, a music video (or parody), a game, a recipe, a fashion line…the options are endless, limited only by your own creativity and commitment.
  4. Also list any questions or concerns you have as you undertake this project.

Office Hour Proposal Feedback Appointment

Students were not required to attend a proposal feedback appointment, but 80% did. In these short 10-minute meetings, a number of students changed their proposed projects, as our discussions revealed new ideas and possibilities. These meetings also helped students to gain comfort with this creative format, inspiring several students to switch from the essay option to an unessay. In the end, only three students selected the essay option and one of those included designing the essay into a magazine-style layout.

Unessay + Interpretative Paper (20%)

Students creating unessays also submitted a paper (1-2 pages) that explained and interpreted the unessay. Given the many different formats unessays could take, the grading rubric, which I shared with students beforehand, covered both the unessays and their interpretive papers and included three guiding questions:

  1. Conceptual Adherence | Does the unessay clearly and compellingly analyze an unruly woman and her unruly characteristic, taking inspiration from the style and rigor of Anne Helen Petersen’s The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman?
  2. Depth of Theoretical/Argumentative Application | Does the unessay and its interpretive paper effectively build upon the knowledge learned in this class from our readings (unruly and otherwise), our discussions, and this project’s related research?
  3. Invested Effort | Does the project, whatever format it might take, represent the energy and performance expected for a final course project that culminates our learning and is worth 20% of the course grade?

I hope to employ unessays again, and while this rubric worked well to set expectations with students and guided my assessment, I’m not sure if a more structured rubric would be better. (I welcome others’ thoughts on this!) That said, the end of term grading process was a bit quicker (and a lot more fun) than the typical stack of research papers.

Presentation (5%)

As an opportunity to practice oral presentation skills, but also for us to view and celebrate every student’s creation, our finals period featured 4-minute presentations of students’ unessays, some of which are pictured below, with student permission.

Angel painted Marilyn Monroe as “too glamorous,” caught between the black and white of her time and the color of how her pop culture image now circulates. On the screen, see Veronique’s football playbook, dedicated to how Toni Harris tackles gender bias on and off the field. Celyn researched Dolly Parton as “too independent.” He composed and performed a country-inspired song, but with lyrics that removed the genre’s all-too-often-misogynistic tone. Christina played her ukulele and performed a song she wrote about how critics frame Emma Watson as “too aggressive” for her feminist views.

Dustie painted Daenerys Targaryen, reflecting on how she perseveres within a patriarchal culture, despite how others see her as a small woman against the largeness of the throne. Iris painted the duality of Reese Witherspoon’s feminism and her new domesticity, alongside reflections of her own unruliness. On the screen, you can see Taylen’s poster dedicated to Kesha and the unruliness of “too sleazy,” and her efforts to theorize a female gaze. Kimberly created and populated an Instagram account dedicated to Lady Gaga and critiques that she’s “too vocal” with protest signs bearing inspirational quotes from the Warrior Queen herself.

Luisa created a decoupaged wrecking ball to explore how audiences responded to Miley Cyrus as she transformed in the public eye from Disney child star to “too wild.” Annie performed her own stand up set, inspired by the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, women comedians, and the notion that women aren’t or can’t be funny.

And these are just the ones I took photos of! One student wrote a poem. Students shot a short documentary, music videos, and a “person on the street” comedy video. They created magazine and album covers, a collage, a fashion line, and a food blog.

Student Feedback

29 of 31 students (94%) completed an end of term feedback survey, including thoughts on the unessay. 86% of those students found the unessay assignment “very effective” or “effective.” Four students found it only “somewhat effective,” but zero students rated it as “ineffective” or “very ineffective.”

The assignment didn’t engage every student, as one student responded, “I personally didn’t find the kind of assignment very interesting, but it’s educational potential is high for those interested.” I also had a couple of students who struggled with the unessay’s less structured approach, as they reflected, “The project was pretty effective I just find the open endedness to be a little confusing” and “It gave me a lot of freedom but almost too much and made it hard to focus on it.” This feedback makes me think I ought to require the office hour consultation, so I can make sure all students have clarity and support. I could also emphasize more pointedly at key intervals during the project development stages that students feeling confused about the project are very welcome to come meet with me.

Overall, however, students enjoyed the unessay format for how it encouraged creativity. In this vein, students responded that the unessay: “forced me to get out of my comfort zone and gave me the opportunity to use creativity,” “It helps us learn and allows creative freedom,” and “It was a creative way to learn, which isn’t utilized very often in school.”

Students also reflected that the unessay format promoted their learning, as one student wrote, ” I think the fact that I was able to use my creativity allowed me to learn the material better than if I had written a paper.” Another responded, “I loved this assignment. For me, it was a practical way I could apply the theory I researched, which helps me understand it more in the long run.”

As I had hoped, the unessay format in some cases fostered greater student engagement and excitement for research. One student wrote, “Because it was a format that I chose, it was something I was most interested and invested in,” while another reflected, “I was able to make my learning and research plan more personal.”

One student found the assignment practical and applicable to life after graduation, writing, “It was such a refreshing break to be able to do this research but not just write a paper on it. Also, outside of academia, we will be doing more creative projects, so it was a good help to implement this type of project.”

As these responses and the unessays themselves show, most students embraced the unessay assignment, creating dozens of wholly unique projects that applied their knowledge and communicated their learning. I plan to use this assignment in future classes and hope it will inspire similar results.

If you have experience with unessays or questions, please share in the comments!

Additional Unessay Reading and Resources

Top Image Credit: Emily Contois, 2019 

CFP—You Are What You Post: Food and Instagram

UPDATE: This CFP is now closed, but we hope you’ll be interested in the forthcoming book. 

In the beginning, critics pegged Instagram as the site for polaroid-shaped pictures of brunch and babies. Its presumed whiteness, feminization, and superficial consumerism have been slow to draw sustained scholarly attention compared with Facebook and Twitter, despite the fact that by mid-2018, the image-based social media platform had topped one billion users worldwide. Now an extensive and heterogeneous visual ecosystem, Instagram’s unique relations between food and media—and the broader cultural significance of these dynamics—warrant critical scrutiny.

How does the “social photography” (Manovich 2014) of Instagram mediate ideas about food, eating, health, and nutrition? How does food intersect with diverse performances of identity, including celebrity, in the digital vernacular of posting photos with significant frequency? Considering more than 70% of American businesses are estimated to engage with the platform, how does the visual economy of Instagram participate in and reshape food and restaurant brand development and marketing? How does Instagram’s rapid global expansion reflect and reshape visual geographies of food and eating? Exploring these and other questions, this volume will bring together food and media studies scholars to cast an interdisciplinary lens on what we learn about the cultures and economies of food through the Instagram frame.

We seek contributors for focused, lively, and engaging chapters on the topic of food and Instagram. The volume will be peer-reviewed and has received interest from Bloomsbury Academic, a leading publisher of works on food. The press affords a growing list of texts in Food Media and Communication, bolstered by the Bloomsbury Food Library, which affords space for pedagogical components suitable for both undergraduate and graduate course adoption.

Potential chapter topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Food porn on and through Instagram
  • Restaurants, food brands, and marketing
  • Taste, reviews, expertise, and criticism
  • Social status, aspiration, and mobility
  • Nutrition, nutritionism, “healthy” eating, and food tracking
  • Digital worlds, data, surveillance, and technology  
  • Instagram and the construction of identity and the self
  • Generational considerations and impacts
  • Consumption, diet(ing), and influencers
  • Convergence, transgression, and Instagram aesthetics
  • Globalization, transnationalism, and circulation
  • Instagram, community, and isolation
  • Instagram users and uses in the Global South
  • Representations of farming, agriculture, and food landscapes  
  • Activism, resistance, and other potentials of food Instagram
  • Food and online toxicity
  • Instagram and pedagogy

If you are interested in submitting a chapter to this edited volume, please send a 300-word abstract and 150-word bio  to co-editors, Emily Contois (emily-contois [at] and Zenia Kish (zenia-kish [at], by April 1, 2019. Please include your preferred name and email address, title and institution (if applicable), and current city, state, and country. Contributors will be notified of preliminary acceptance by May 1, 2019. Chapters of 5,000-6,000 words, inclusive of notes and bibliography, will be due September 1, 2019. These are firm deadlines, so we ask that contributors please plan accordingly.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact either or both of the editors. We genuinely look forward to receiving your proposals. 

Top Image Credit: Diana Garvin and Emily Contois 

Teaching with Infographics

In my Media and Popular Culture course in the Media Studies Department at The University of Tulsa, students embraced a final project that they ultimately described as “daunting and interesting,” thoughtful and painstaking,” a “strenuous yet rewarding undertaking,” and “a welcome challenge.” The assignment? To translate a 1,500-word research essay into an infographic. Less about visually representing complex data sets, this assignment sought to develop practical and creative skills in argumentation and flow, clear and concise writing, and the representation of complex ideas and concepts.

Here I share details about this infographic project for instructors who might like to try something similar.

Foundational Reading

We began by considering the history of infographics, all the way back to the first maps as the visualization of data. We considered how institutionalized data collecting in the 19th century furthered such techniques and created a new type of citizen, one comfortable thinking statistically. From these early examples came tried and true infographic concepts, such as “speak to the eyes.” This foundation proved useful for students, as one later wrote, “Gaining an understanding of how these graphics began as maps and charts to condense information and solve problems was a fascinating introduction to this material.”

From Alberto Cairo we considered how infographics function as “visual arguments” with cyborgian abilities that extend our human capacities. We learned that as infographic creators, we must think as craftspeople “to design devices to make people’s lives easier, not to entertain them, or to sell them an idea or a product.” These ideas resonated with students who remembered later that “design is the second most important thing and to not let it distract from the information.”

We also considered the practical, editorial, and financial challenges of creating infographics within professional journalism and critiques of infographics: that they indulge those who don’t want to read, that they focus more on design and going viral than distributing civic data, and that they’ve grown so promotional they are indistinguishable from advertisements.

Armed with this historical and critical background, students were able to conceive of infographics in deeper and more complex terms, even as they turned their attention to practical concerns.

Learning Design Basics

We next read basic guides for creating effective infographics like this and this. For a homework assignment, students brought into class examples of effective and less effective infographics so that we could learn what to emulate and what to avoid. From these examples, we created our infographic rubric:

Screen Shot 2018-10-19 at 7.49.55 AM

Scaffolding the Assignment

1. Storyboards. Students began the project by creating storyboards, based on the following assignment prompt:

Based on your research paper, create a storyboard, that is, a sketched-out rough draft for the information you plan to include in your infographic and how you plan to visually arrange it. Consider what evidence and key points are truly central to the argument you’re making and how you’ll “chunk” them. Consider textual components like your title, headings, subheadings, and blocks of text, as well as the visual elements like icons, images, graphic representations of data, etc. You don’t need to think yet about fonts, colors, and other aesthetic concerns, but you are welcome to do so if you feel ready. The more developed your storyboard, the easier the drafting process will be. You are welcome to design your infographic from scratch or use a template on Canva or Piktochart

2. Storyboard Peer Review. In class, students peer-reviewed one another’s storyboards, using the form below. Building from that feedback, students reflected on the current strengths and weaknesses of their storyboard and planned their next steps.

Screen Shot 2018-12-08 at 1.46.47 PM

3. Infographic Drafts. Students then created drafts of their infographics, addressing both content and design. Some students designed infographics from scratch, but most used templates from Canva or Piktochart, which worked well.

4. Infographic Draft Presentations. Students presented their drafts in class. This provided time and space to practice oral presentation skills and for students to share their research topics with their peers, expanding the breadth of pop culture content covered in our course. Students also gave peer feedback (on a designated form) to three others in the class, ensuring multiple comments (in addition to my own) on their drafts. Students appreciated this feedback, as one student wrote, “If I did not have people to critique my infographic, there would have been no possible way for me to understand my errors or even to realize mistakes.”

5. Final Infographics. Students submitted their final infographics to a Google Slide deck before our last class meeting so that we could share the final results with one another, ending with a round of applause for students’ effort and growth.


What We Learned

1. How to fine-tune an argument and write concisely. 

While a number of students emerged from this assignment with a new ability to write concisely, this was no easy task, or as one student wrote, “Condensing complex concepts into an easily digestible, understandable, and aesthetically pleasing format like an infographic takes a lot of time, effort, and planning.” This is an iterative process, which one student summarized as, “The process taught me how to better pick out the most important information from an essay and how to analyze and interpret that information in order to report and illustrate it in a concise and impactful way that will reach the broadest audience.”

2. How to truly revise. 

As one student conceded, students often perceive revision as simply “correcting spelling errors or formatting,” and it can be difficult to help them break through that. With infographics, a student found that the assignment “pushed me to delete entire sections and rework the draft so that the information would effectively align with my argument.” For one student, his “final infographic contained a more developed argument and newly found information that was not originally in my research paper.”

3. How to embrace new and difficult tasks. 

Creating an infographic was a new endeavor for all of us. One student reflected, “I learned that the development of an infographic takes hard, concentrated, and deliberate work to produce a quality and effective infographic,” while another characterized the assignment as “a lengthy, detailed, and conceptual task.” One student concluded, “This project showed me a whole new way of presenting information,” while another remarked, “I have learned so much about pushing myself to think outside of the box, and in different ways than I had before by doing this project.”


In the end, students said that the “infographic project was one of a kind” and that “the entire process was a highlight of the course.” Beyond such learning, I’m delighted to share a few wonderful infographics below (click to enlarge) from students William Bennett, Claire Lenz, Lydia Jeong, and Maria Donnelly.


Maria Donnelly

By Maria Donnelly


On Teaching “Persuasive Influences in America” for the First Time

This semester I taught “Persuasive Influences in America” in the Media Studies Department at The University of Tulsa. In this class of 29 students, 60% were in their first year and just over 10% were the first in their families to attend college. Expanding beyond the typical focus on “how we make choices,” we took a multifaceted approach to interpreting, historicizing, and critiquing persuasive influences in the United States. After working to define persuasion, its ethical stakes, and how it works, we read four texts whose primary aim is, in one way or another, persuasion. Taking on topics like self-help literature, advertising, the environmental movement, and the global food system, we unpacked how and why these particular texts were, and continue to be, both persuasive and influential in American society and culture. In each case we began with the text itself, then considered in turn audience reception, critique (often representing dramatically opposing viewpoints), and contemporary connections.

We first read the 1936 manual How to Win Friends and Influence People, penned by Dale Carnegie, often referred to as “the grandfather of self-help books.” We considered the text’s Depression-era roots, its best-selling status over many decades, and Carnegie’s own (in)sincerity. Through the Museum of the City of New York’s photo collection, we imagined ourselves in one of Carnegie’s courses. We read period book reviews, comparing their evaluations to contemporary reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Conceding the guide’s ongoing popularity and self-help’s place in U.S. culture, we pondered critiques of the self-help-ification of U.S. nonfiction. We wrestled with the concern that this genre persuades us to work on ourselves rather than change our systems, power structures, or societies.

We next read Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders and took a seat in the audience for his 1957 Books and Authors Luncheon, where Packard defended his polarizing book. With his mid-century critique of motivational research into consumers’ inner desires, Packard irked, but also influenced, the advertising industry. Although some readers (including some in our class!) remained deeply enamored with advertising, Packard informed the public’s media literacy. We also discussed his warning cry regarding our increasingly expansive and wasteful consumer culture. Drawing connections to today’s social media influencers (with sponsored posts, fake views, and bot followers), we pondered if they might be today’s hidden persuaders.

We followed the themes of consumerism, waste, and regulatory transparency through to Rachel Carson’s lyrical and compelling Silent Spring, whose 1962 publication launched the environmental movement as we know it. We watched her 1963 CBS special and considered how her identity (as a single woman without a PhD) shaped industry’s vehement responses, summarized as, “Silence Miss Carson!” Despite Silent Spring‘s significant influence, we discussed the challenge of persuading audiences about problems with longer term consequences, including not only chemical pesticides, but also climate change, an issue whose urgency shifted beneath our feet during the semester.

We concluded our class reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. As a twenty-first-century companion to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Schlosser’s text endeavors to persuade the public through the stomach (concern for oneself) and the heart (concern for others, justice, and equity). First published in 2001, the book remains both persuasive and relevant, perhaps depressingly so. Despite the many limitations of fast food, however, we pushed our thinking even further as we read Julie Guthman‘s critique of organic salad mix and Suzanne Zuppello’s recent essay critiquing slow food’s elitism. Their arguments broke down the all too easy dichotomy between fast food and slow food, pushing us to consider labor, power, and access throughout the food system.


At its most basic level, persuasion is a conscious attempt to influence attitudes and actions. Studying persuasion proved an effective mode for developing and enhancing critical thinking skills applicable in our class and lives. We realized how often persuasion is about power and agency, context and complexity, culture and ethics. These stories aren’t easy or simple; or as one student wrote, “nothing is black or white.”

As my students reflected, the course challenged them to “always think deeper and critically about the information given,” especially as they were exposed to “different perspectives” and “varying world views” so “to keep an open mind, and not to be afraid of change or opposing ideas.” These lessons made one student “more aware of how people treat me when they need something, how Amazon recommends a product specifically for me, how treating my grass affects the land, and most importantly, definitively now knowing without question what’s in the meat,” while another student developed “a different curiosity about essential things in my life such as business, readings, advertisements, food, etc. Persuasion is everywhere.”

Building on this new knowledge, students had the opportunity to select and develop their own research on a persuasive phenomenon, interpreted broadly and creatively, and distilled into an 8-to-10-page paper. For many students, this was their first research paper, ever, a challenge I hadn’t foreseen, but one that we met together. Students researched the persuasive appeals of movie trailers, food labels (particularly for contentious components like gluten and genetically modified ingredients), social media advertising (especially for regulated substances like alcohol and tobacco), presidential communication (from FDR to Trump), cult leaders like David Koresh, “trash talking” athletes like Conor McGregor, and workplace behavioral assessments—just to name a few.

I’ll be teaching this course again in the spring and can’t wait to see where it takes us.

The Changing Nutrition Landscape for Whole Grains: Insights from History & Pop Culture

In November 2018, I had the opportunity to present at the Oldways Whole Grains Council Conference in Seattle, Washington. Oldways is a nonprofit food and nutrition organization that promotes food heritage, including programming like traditional diets and the Whole Grain Stamp. The conference brought together a diverse set of speakers and attendees representing food industry, food service, food writing, food marketing, academia, healthcare, and government.

Below is a recording of my talk, “The Changing Nutrition Landscape: Insights from History and Popular Culture.” You can find links to the many other fascinating talks here.

Photo credits: Kelly Toups

A Student Interview on Media Studies + Food Studies

Here at the University of Tulsa, students coming to college directly from high school take in their first semester a 1-credit course, “First Year College Experience.” The class aims to support students through this transition and provide them with strategies for success during college. While every professor teaches the course differently, one skill often emphasized is “how to communicate with professors.” Students practice this skill through interviews that they set up with faculty in fields of their interest.

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Hana Saad about media studies and my own food studies positioning within the field. To start, Hana summarized media studies as:

Media studies is an interdisciplinary degree. Those who major in media studies work to understand the history and content of mass media, as well as the role that media plays in our society. Media studies is somewhat unique, as each individual can personalize their education with classes from a variety of other fields. This is why this major is such a great option. It allows students to study multiple passions and interests and opens them up to a range of different careers. Some of these careers include: creative directors, storytellers, media planners, and producers, as well as many other exciting options. Media studies is a field that is full of possibilities.

What follows is a slightly edited version of her account of our conversation. My thanks to Hana for her permission to share it here.

What got you interested in your discipline?

Dr. Emily Contois told me she was interested in food and how “food and health” are portrayed in the media. She talked about how the connection between food, persuasion, and the media has always interested her, so that was her main reason for becoming a professor in media studies.

What is your speciality?

Within media studies, Dr. Contois specializes in food studies, gender studies, and public health nutrition. She got her PhD in in American studies.

Who do you look up to the most in your discipline?

Warren Belasco and Carol Counihan are two people that Dr. Contois looks up to the most in her discipline. She feels “so lucky that the masters of food studies” were also her mentors. She still is in communication with both of those incredible scholars today. She said she will “look up to them forever.” She also has a close relationship with her professor, Julia Ehrhardt, who taught one of her first undergraduate courses. She feels lucky because Ehrhardt is now someone that she calls a colleague.

If you could choose a different discipline to study, what would it be and why? 

Dr. Contois does study a variety of exciting disciplines. She told me, it is “so exciting to land in media studies” because it allows her to study all of the things she is interested in. She was not trained in media studies specifically, but her work has always been related closely to the field.

What is your favorite course to teach?

Dr. Contois told me about a class that she hopes to teach next semester at TU. It would be called “Food and/as Media” and would cover topics such as food studies, food and social media (like Instagram), and the critical production of food.

How do you choose what to teach in your classes, including lecture topics and readings? How do you prepare a course? 

Dr. Contois uses a method called “Backward Course Design.” She begins by thinking about what she wants her students to know at the end of the course, then moves onto the specific books she will use and what assignments she wants her students to work on.

How does working in your discipline affect your perspective of the world? 

Dr. Contois told me, “In both food studies and media studies, there is an underlying commitment to social justice and equity.” Dr. Contois said when we study pop culture, it allows us to “stop and question how media works” and how people are being persuaded. She says these fields of study have real “activist potential.”

Announcing a New Food History Fellowship at the University of North Texas

The number of food-focused graduate programs just increased by one. The University of North Texas recently announced a new MA fellowship in food history, funded by the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.

The fellowship affords a $5,000 annual stipend, renewable for a second year based on satisfactory academic performance. Awardees are also eligible to apply for a teaching assistantship in the Department of History, which provides an additional stipend and partial tuition waiver. Beyond financial support, the Fellow will have the opportunity to participate in career-building activities such as promoting UNT’s History Garden, working as an editorial assistant, gaining teaching experience in food history classrooms, and presenting their research in public forums.

I had the opportunity to chat with Jennifer Jensen Wallach and Michael Wise, both Associate Professors of History at UNT, to learn more about this new program.

I was excited to learn that UNT boasts eight faculty specialized in food history! Students will have the opportunity to study with both of you, as well as with Professors Katy Imy, Sandra C. Mendiola García, Rachel Louise Moran, Marilyn Morris, Clark A. Pomerleau, and Nancy L. Stockdale. What is the climate overall at UNT for food studies and food history research, teaching and learning, and community-engaged work?

We are fortunate to have a wide range of food studies faculty working across the entire university. Until recently, our food studies community was relatively fragmented, located, for instance, within our strong College of Merchandising, Hospitality, and Tourism; within our internationally-recognized program in environmental philosophy; our major centers in plant research and other biological sciences; and of course, within our Department of History.

About five years ago we began the process of organizing this interdisciplinary expertise in food studies in some more direct ways. Funding from the UNT Provost’s Office, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and the Department of History have enabled us to host a steady stream of food studies lectures, an international conference, and visits from outside experts who have advised us on how to build our program in food studies. Currently, we have assembled a working group of thirty faculty who represent four different colleges and ten different departments. Our exciting collaborations involve defining our vision for food studies at UNT and planning what kind of new programs we can build to benefit both our students and our community.

I’ve had a few food history colleagues critique food studies for how it perhaps focuses more on present and future food issues than considering the past. How do you view the relationship between food history and food studies, especially when it comes to training graduate students?

One of the unique aspects of our food studies working group is that we have people actively engaged in plant science; people training students to work in the hospitality industry; kinesiologists studying the impact of food on the body; and humanities scholars training students to think critically about all of these undertakings. As historians, one of the contributions we can make to these discussions is to provide the tools to move beyond the nostalgia that often accompanies well-intended, but sometimes misdirected critiques of our present and future food systems.

For instance, the often-cited suggestion that we look to the pots and plates of our collective great-great-grandmothers for guidance on how to solve our present food problems distorts our long historical relationships with industrial foods, and ignores the many inequalities of race, gender, and class that structured these mythologically superior past food practices. Such romantic narratives about food in the past are not just inaccurate, but in certain cases they have also served more insidious functions of justifying white supremacy, settler colonialism, patriarchy, and so on.

So, the scholars that work in our department are trying to disentangle how both past food practices and present ideas about food have helped create and recreate structures of power and inequality. We are interested in studying not only what people ate in the past, but also how distorted historical narratives about idyllic food pasts are often put to work in the present to sustain certain power structures.

Graduate students in history at UNT now have the option of organizing their studies thematically around a new concentration called “Body, Place, Identity” that trains students to analyze the historical work of identity construction in relation to histories of bodily and spatial practices—such as cooking and eating—that are significant building blocks of culture, yet ones that remain understudied by historians. The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts Fellowship in Food History is a direct outgrowth of this new initiative of our graduate program.

Students can now choose from a growing number of excellent, graduate level food studies programs, but securing funding and fellowships can be a challenge, especially at the master’s level. How did UNT come to develop this fellowship with the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts? And will this be an ongoing fellowship opportunity at UNT beyond this first recipient(s)?

Like many other graduate programs in the humanities, we are often forced to accomplish a lot with a little. Our Department of History already offers funding for many of our students through teaching assistantships and instructorships. The purpose of the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts Fellowship in Food History is to offer additional support for an exceptional student who can use these funds to alleviate some of the financial pressure that often accompanies graduate school. In the future, we hope to secure additional funding from other sources to continue supporting food history graduate students at a high level.

Jennifer (learn more about her in this ASFS Member Spotlight interview) first reached out to the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts several years ago to help fund the Food and Foodways book series that she founded at the University of Arkansas Press.

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A selection of books in the Food and Foodways series from University of Arkansas Press, co-edited by Jennifer Jensen Wallach and Michael Wise.

Since then, this series, which we now co-edit, and which is dedicated to telling lesser-known food stories, has published nine titles, two of which have won recent ASFS book awards. Because our work at UNT continues this same mission, we approached the foundation again to see if they would be interested in supporting our new graduate field in food history. We were thrilled and delighted when they agreed to partner with us.

For applicants who might apply for this fellowship from outside of the region, how would you describe Denton and Dallas-Fort Worth as a place to live, study, work, and, of course, eat?

The University of North Texas is one of Texas’s major public research universities, enrolling more than 38,000 students. We are broadly known as a premier school for music and the arts, and our university has grown alongside the Dallas-Fort Worth region (or “the Metroplex” as North Texans call it) for more than 125 years, serving the diverse public needs of the region’s 7 million inhabitants for higher education and community engagement. Denton is also home to Texas Woman’s University, another public institution with 15,000 students (and—it bears mentioning here—a wonderful library collection of thousands of historic cookbooks).

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The Texas Woman’s University Cookbook Collection includes more than 25,000 cookbooks, 10,000 pamphlets of promotional recipe leaflets, and 1,800 international menus.

With all these students, faculty, and university administrators, Denton is a vibrant college town. It boasts an affordable cost of living, and its civic character comes from its many independent retailers, coffee shops, and an ever-increasing number of restaurants, many of which are situated on or around our historic town square. We were particularly excited when Spiral Diner, a vegan institution based in Fort Worth, opened their third location here in “little d.”

In short, Denton is a place that surprises most people with its unexpected charms. Visitors often remark that it reminds them of what Austin was like in the 1960s—diverse, unpretentious, and friendly. Although we’re suspicious of such kinds of mythical, historical comparisons, we’d agree that Denton is different from what many people imagine when they think about Texas. It’s a fun place to live and a interesting place to work as a student and scholar.

How to Apply

  • Interested candidates must first apply for admission to UNT’s Toulouse Graduate School and then to the UNT Department of History’s MA program.
  • After completing these applications, candidates should also submit a letter of application describing their qualifications and research interests in food history.
  • This letter should be submitted alongside a 2018-2019 “Application for Departmental Scholarships” (being sure to check the box for this fellowship) available here.

The deadline for all applications is January 15, 2019.

For more information, please contact Jennifer Jensen Wallach (Jennifer.Wallach [at] or Michael D. Wise (Michael.Wise [at]

Top Image: Okra growing in the UNT History Garden. Photo credit: Emily Olkkola


Q&A with Adrienne Rose Bitar on Diet & the Disease of Civilization

I moved across country this summer, a process that necessitated packing and unpacking all of my books, including titles other academics might find odd: dozens of cookbooks (like my microwave cookbooks!) and a number of diet books (yes, some for men).

Luckily, Adrienne Rose Bitar, a postdoctoral associate in history at Cornell University, can relate to my collection of weight loss texts. She surveyed four hundred U.S. diet books for her recent monograph, Diet and the Disease of Civilization. Focusing on four diets and their associated locations—Paleo (the cave), Eden (the Garden), precolonial (“primitive” paradise), and detox (preindustrial world)—Bitar demonstrates how each diet depends on the same “Fall of Man” story, which she asserts forms “the narrative backbone of our national consciousness.”

I recently had the chance to chat with Adrienne, one dieting scholar to another, in my latest for Nursing Clio. Our conversation covers the research challenges of studying diet books, what detox diets can tell us about American culture, how Adrienne managed to go from dissertation to book in just two years, and how and why she sees a message of hope in diet literature.

Why I’m Still Blogging After 6 Years & Being Trolled

I started this blog turned something-maybe-slightly-bigger in July 2012. Most years around this time, I take a moment to reflect on why I blog as an academic and why others might want to as well. Past reasons—which I wrote about in 2013, 2014, and 2017—still resonate with me. Blogging builds an audience of readers, collaborators, friends and fans, mentors and mentees. Blogging also builds bridges. Blogging helps my writing, especially if and when I feel stuck. It has opened doors I didn’t even know to knock. And it’s been fun, year after year.

This year, however, I have some different things to reflect on.

What does it mean to be a public scholar, to blog, and to share my work, perspective, and life, after being trolled quite unpleasantly, for weeks? (You can read more about that in my Nursing Clio essay, “I Was Trolled, Here’s Why I’m Turning It into a Teaching Opportunity.”) Seeing this happen to me has made some fellow scholars and friends even more hesitant to start blogging. To that I say, no. Now is the time more than ever to be public scholars and to be scholars in public. 

To begin, the outlets that picked up the story about my Feminist Media Studies article, those who wrote the stories, and the folks who read them, commented on them, tweeted me, and emailed me, weren’t at all interested in who I am or what my research is actually about. All of that information is freely available and easy to find here on this site. So, blogging about my research did not invite or incite any of this vitriol.

Furthermore, my research could have been attacked even if I didn’t have an online presence, which would have left me with fewer avenues to claim, own, and drive the narrative of this situation as it unfolded. Similarly, because I already have an established online presence, a Brietbart article isn’t the first thing online searches return for my name.

A more important point, at least for me, was that being a public scholar meant I didn’t have to face this experience alone. People who I had never met or even spoken to before, who had been reading my work over the years, reached out to me with words of support at moments when I needed them, for which I’m unceasingly grateful. Without my online presence, I might not have had as many generous and kind folks on my side as this experience transpired.

But what made me most uncomfortable in all of this wasn’t the mean tweets or being called offensive names or having my happy corner of the Internet poisoned—perhaps forever, which I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with. It was the sustained antagonistic sentiment against social scientists, humanists, and feminists; against scholars, academics, and professors; against the academy and higher education.

I know that I’ll likely never convince some (or maybe even very many) folks, but I also hear and see and acknowledge that there’s a lot of confusion about what academics do and why it matters. That’s part of the reason why I share publicly some of what I’m working on in the classroom with my students, like teaching with cookbooks, designing dietary guidelines, defining American food, or writing on food, gender, and popular culture. It’s why I’ve blogged about how my Instagram is full of visual representations of what my work life of research, writing and revision, class prep, conferences, etc. (etc.!) looks and feels like. It’s why I blog my research publications to make them more accessible, so they’re not just behind a paywall or too full of jargon.

Sure, part of me is utterly heartbroken that I’m starting my academic career at a time when my professional field is widely misunderstood, attacked, and maligned. But for me that’s all the more reason to stand up for what and who I believe in, to weather the storm(s)—(with help and support!), to not stay silent, and to be a public scholar with all the grace, resilience, and empathy I can muster.