Expository Writing: Food Literacies

Writing Food: Literacy on Farms and in Gardens

Course Description

This section of English 350 is a course on expository writing viewed through the lens on food, a topic that is often political and always human. We will look at food to understand how writing works in the world. Food growing, processing, and sharing involves literacies influenced by culture, gender, politics, and class. Together we will investigate how food shapes arguments, serves as cultural touchstone, troubles and supports economies, and creates puzzles in contemporary writing: What literacies facilitate the movement of food cultures across borders? How does bilingualism impact migrant labor on farms? How does writing preserve culinary heritage like recipes and gardening? More centrally, the course will move through the following conceptual questions:

  • How is literacy social?
  • How is food social?
  • How do social conditions, practices, local/global events, routines, traditions, or values around food involve those same elements of literacy?
  • How does changing what we see in food change what we understand about literacy?

Learning Goals

Our central goal is to broaden conceptions of literacy to include its cultural, economic, and political force. English 350 aims to combine theory and application, exploring theory that complicates commonplace assumptions about food and writing, applying such complications to local, lived settings, and helping us all develop a more nuanced understanding of literacy.


All essays, chapters, and articles will be posted and available on our course Moodle page.

Course Assignments

Social Literacies: Food Memoir (4-5 pages)

In this personal narrative, you will explore the social dynamics—politics, culture, gender, language—of a food memory. You can present memories rooted in your family, friends, or personal history however you understand it. The goal is to unearth the social components that shape both the food memory you describe and how writing or literacy show up in those scenes.

Literacy on Farms: Farm Profile (4-5 pages)

This profile will report on an informal interview you conduct with a farmworker, broadly conceived. You can speak with someone who works on a farm, who aspires or is training to farm, or who grew up on a farm, or who has worked in farming the past. As a genre, the profile is flexible and open to creative forms, but the goal of the paper is to show how the movement of food, across farms and farmworker lives, involves (demands?) important kinds of political, economic, and technological literacies.

 Literacy in Gardens: Food Ethnography (8-10 pages)

This research paper is an opportunity to understand how the dynamics of a food issue (think food access, global food shortages and prices, genetically modified food, eating disorders, farm labor and migration) impact the people and settings around you, on or off campus. The notion of “gardens” here can be figurative—as a guiding metaphor to understand how food issues take root—or literal, as a public/private food place. The paper asks you to 1) choose a food issue to explore (perhaps one that has revealed itself by writing the previous paper), 2) observe a local setting impacted by the issue (restaurant, food bank, community garden, migration advocacy organization, farmers market), and 3) collect and analyze written materials that reflect the issue (posters, graffiti, flyers, white papers), compiling all of these to present an ethnographic take on how food and writing impact people’s lives.

Tentative Course Calendar

Please note that the calendar is “tentative” which means it is subject to change. It’s difficult to predict how any one class will go, so I will make changes if I think they will better facilitate your learning. All assignments listed on a given day should be completed for discussion on that day.

Week 1 T 9/6 Introduction to course and to one another
Th 9/8 Discuss social literacies: Brandt
Week 2 T 9/11 Discuss social literacies: Gee, Scribner
Th 9/13 Discuss recipes: Reichl, Kothari, Yarbrough
Week 3 T 9/18 Discuss menus: Dufresne, Baxter, Shteyngart

Watch City of Gold

Th 9/20 Discuss cookbooks: Mastrangelo

Watch Master of None “Thanksgiving”

Week 4 T 9/25 In-class writing workshop

Due: Food Memoir Draft

Th 9/27 No class: workshops with Rebecca
Week 5 T 10/2 Discuss foodways/literacy-ways: Brandt and Clinton

Due: Final Food Memoir emailed by 5pm

Th 10/4 Discuss food systems: Patel intro, Hueston and MacLeod
Week 6 T 10/9 No class – Monday schedule
Th 10/11 Discuss farmers: Galbreath, Pollan, Royte;

Watch Asparagus: a stalkumentary

Week 7 T 10/16 Discuss farmworkers: Fitting, David
Th 10/18 Discuss farmworkers and literacy: Kalmar
Week 8 T 10/23 Discuss farmworkers’ children and literacy: Purcell-Gates
Th 10/25 No class: workshops with Rebecca

Due: Farm Profile Draft

Week 9 T 10/30 In-class writing workshop
Th 11/1 Discuss own reading on food issue of choice

Listen: Trouble Coffee

Due: Final Farm Profile emailed by 5pm

Week 10 T 11/6 Discuss and practice ethnographic fieldnotes
Th 11/8 Discuss food education: Dura et al.
Week 11 T 11/13 Discuss restaurant labor: Mirabelli

Due: Food Ethnography observation notes

Th 11/15 Discuss “organic”: Pollan

Due: Food Ethnography interview notes

Thanksgiving Break
Week 12 T 11/27 Discuss food artifacts and visual analysis

Due: Food Ethnography map

Th 11/29 Discuss food advocacy/art: Allatson

Due: Food Ethnography visual analysis

Week 13 T 12/4 Discuss ethnography outlines

Due: Food Ethnography interview and/or survey notes

Th 12/6 In-class writing workshop

Due: Food Ethnography Draft

Week 14 T 12/11 Course wrap-up

Due: Final Food Ethnography emailed by 5pm