Syllabus “Food Writing and Media” (2019)

This is the current syllabus for module “Food Writing and Media”, which I will be teaching for the second time this Autumn 2019 as part of the MA Gastronomy and Food Studies at the Technological University Dublin. It includes both the practical experience of different types of food writing with the critical study of published food writing and food in literature. (Timetable and content are subject to change.)

If you have questions about this syllabus, feel free to contact me!

Course Description

Writing about food has proliferated particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries, building on intellectual trends such as humanism, food anthropology, historical events such as the Enlightenment, Industrialisation, and Colonialism as well as changing societal and gender roles. Food writing ranges from objective, pragmatic, and information-focused to highly literary texts dealing with identity, culture, politics and morality. Common formats include journalism, memoirs, essays, travelogues, academic texts, and reference books as well as traditional literary formats such as poetry and fiction.

The module approaches the primary readings from a gastrocritical perspective. Gastrocriticism is a form of literary criticism focused on human relationships to each other and to the natural world through food. It is informed by the concepts and insights of gastronomical scholarship and food studies, pays particular attention to the role gastronomy plays in literary writing, and is based on the understanding that literature/writing and human behaviour around food and eating reflect and shape each other.

The module explores literary food writing and other popular modes by which the language of food is transmitted, namely film, social media and blogging, and is aimed at postgraduate students who wish to explore the techniques and aesthetic aspects of food writing and media as well as the intellectual and cultural contexts on both theoretical and practical levels. Active engagement with online scholarly debate and publishing hones the students’ digital and academic literacy.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, the learner will be able to

  1. Appraise the cultural and literary roots of food writing.
  2. Critique seminal works and authors and assess how they have shaped the field.
  3. Critically analyse different types of food art and media in terms of influence, cultural context, and affect.
  4. Synthesise the frameworks of food and language, writing and presenting, literature and cuisines, food and imagery.
  5. Create original creative food writing, applying best practices gleaned from experienced practitioners.
  6. Situate and justify the study of food writing in the wider context of Food Studies and Gastronomy.

Materials

Assessments

The module is assessed through three assessments (50%, 25% and 25% of the marks).

1. Coursework assignment (50%)

You will produce 6 pieces of critical discussion of the course readings (400-500 words each), of which the five best will make up your grade, at 10% each.  

The submission of these pieces is continuous as preparation for class, however, grading may be clustered at the end of the module; the final grade will automatically eliminate your weakest partial mark. 

Part of this assignment is to send 1-2 tweets per week, either a thought on the readings (can be a quote from your discussion piece) or a quote from the readings – preferably both. Your tweets will be used to prompt the in-class discussion, and will be taken into account for your grade for the weekly submission. Tweets must include the module hashtag #tudublinfoodwriting

2. Creative project (25%: 20% own project, 5% peer critique)

You will produce a 800-1000 words creative writing piece for publication on the TU Dublin Food Forum blog. It can either be in the style of a personal essay OR a memoir OR a travelogue OR a piece of criticism, always obviously involving food, AND yourself (poetry and other formats are also welcome). The process of this assignment is that you will submit a draft to your classmates for peer review/critique, and then submit the edited version of your piece for publication on the Food Forum blog. We will practice creative writing in workshop sessions throughout the semester.

In addition, each of you will critique the submissions of 4 of your classmates, with the view of helping everyone to hone their writing – and honing your own editing and critiquing skills. 

For submission deadlines, please refer to module calendar – you will be grouped into 5 groups and deadlines are arranged accordingly. 

3. Individual project (reflective) (25%)

You will submit a critical writing piece (1500-2000 words) that discusses one or more primary texts* or authors of food writing, in the light of what we discuss throughout the course. Proper academic references and citations will be required.

*The texts may be book-length (in which case minimum is ONE), essay/long-form article length (in which case the minimum is TWO), or it may be short texts or poems, in which case it should be on 3-4 pieces, depending on the length. Please discuss your choice with me beforehand/ before the final lesson to ensure that you are focusing on an adequate amount of primary text. Submission deadline is 07 January 2020.

Course Timetable

Session 1 – Tue 17 Sep 19
  1. Introduction to the module: Logistics, topics, assessments…
  2. What is food writing? Does it have (to have) a certain form, content, style? What is NOT food writing? What is good writing?
    • Be prepared to talk about your favourite food writer and/or favourite piece of food writing. Identify one quote that particularly strikes you. Please bring at least one full sample text to class (article, poem, book chapter…).
Session 2 – Tue 24 Sep 19
  1. Introduction to literary criticism: What is literature? How do we study – and assess – literary texts? What are typical elements of literary texts?
    • Readings:
      • Terry Eagleton (from How to Read Literature) ‘Ch 1: Openings’
      • Thomas De Quincey ‘Literature of Knowledge, Literature of Power’
  2. Historical and literary roots of food writing: What is food writing? Where does it come from? How does it fit into literary and social history?
    • Readings:
      • Stephen Mennell ‘Of Gastronomes and Guides’
      • Molly O’Neill ‘from Food Porn
      • Gilbert and Porter ‘Introduction to Eating Words
      • MFK Fisher ‘Foreword to The Gastronomical Me
      • Dianne Jacob (from Will Write for Food) ‘What, Exactly, Is Food Writing?’
Session 3 – Tue 01 Oct 19
  1. How to critique literature: Discussion on critical exercise around four texts, to identify and hone literary criticism skills
    • Submit 400 words on following readings:
      • Lee Upton ‘Eating Our Way to Wisdom: M.F.K. Fisher’s Oysters’
      • M.F.K. Fisher ‘The First Oyster’
      • Seamus Heaney ‘Oysters’
      • Anton Chekhov ‘Oysters’
  2. Introductory Writing Workshop: A practical creative writing workshop. We will do some writing in class and discuss critiquing and feedback. Bring your favourite writing tools, pen/paper or computer…
    • Readings:
      • Dianne Jacob (from Will Write for Food) ‘The Gastronomical You’
      • William Zinsser (from On Writing Well) ‘Clutter’, ‘Simplicity’, ‘Style’, ‘Words’
Session 4 – Tue 08 Oct 19
  1. Workshop: How to write … place
    • Reading:
      • William Zinsser (from On Writing Well) ‘Writing About Places’
  2. The Travelogue: The Inner and Outer Journey, the Exotic and the Flaneur
    • Submit 400 words on following readings: EITHER domestic
      • James Cowan ‘The Flaneur’
      • Angela Carter ‘The Donnie Ferrets’
      • Marcella Hazan ‘In My Market’

      OR foreign

      • Alan de Botton ‘On the Exotic’
      • Julia Child ‘Sole Meunière’
      • Calvin Trillin ‘Gelati Fever’
      • Peter Hessler ‘from A Rat in My Soup
Session 5 – Tue 15 Oct 19
  1. Workshop: How to write … people
    • Reading:
      • William Zinsser (from On Writing Well) ‘Writing About Yourself – The Memoir’
  2. The (Culinary) Memoir: Family relationships around food
    • Please read the following three primary readings (Frank, Reichl, Slater) as well as Dianne Jacob’s chapter on the craft of memoir writing. In your critical piece, please reflect on the themes of family, relationships and conflicts played out around and through food.
      • Dianne Jacob (from Will Write for Food) ‘Crafting Memoir and Nonfiction’
      • Ruth Reichl ‘The Queen of Mold’
      • Nigel Slater – excerpts from Toast
      • Matthew Gavin Frank ‘James Earl Jones Eats Whoopie Pie’
Session 6 – Tue 22 Oct 19
  1. Workshop: How to write … oneself
    • Readings:
      • Lad Tobin ‘The Third I: Character, Narrator, Author in the Personal Narrative’
      • Phillip Lopate ‘On the Necessity of Turning Oneself into a Character’
  2. The Essay: What is an essay? What is a personal essay?
    • Please read the following three primary readings (Benjamin, Steingarten, Fisher) as well as Phillip Lopate’s introduction to his anthology The Art of the Personal Essay. In your critical piece, please discuss the three primary readings in light of Lopate’s discussion of the essay.
      • Phillip Lopate ‘Introduction to The Art of the Essay‘ please read pp. xxiii-li
      • Walter Benjamin ‘Fresh Figs (from Eating)’
      • Jeffrey Steingarten ‘My Food Phobias’ 6p
      • M.F.K. Fisher ‘J is for Juvenile Dining’ 4p
Session 7 – Tue 05 Nov 19
  1. Workshop: How to … edit
    • Readings:
      • Rick Moody ‘A Guide to Revision’
      • Chuck Palahniuk ‘Nuts and Bolts – Essay on Style’
  2. Reviews and Criticism: Anatomy and purpose of (restaurant) criticism
    • Please read the following three primary readings (Reichl, Wells, Rayner) as well as Alison Vincent’s paper on restaurant criticism and Zinsser’s chapter on criticism. Compare and contrast Vincent’s and Zinsser’s ideas on the example of the three reviews.
      • Alison Vincent ‘Shaping Tastes – Authority versus Democracy, Professional versus Amateur’
      • William Zinsser (from On Writing Well) ‘Writing about the Arts – Critics and Columnists’
      • Ruth Reichl ‘Review of Daniel
      • Pete Wells ‘As Not Seen on TV – Review of Guy’s American Kitchen Bar & Grill’ (online original here)
      • Jay Rayner ‘Beyond Belief – review of Buddha Bar, London’ (online original here)
Session 8 – Tue 12 Nov 19
  1. Workshop: GROUP 4 to critique GROUP 1
  2. Virtuous Eating in Food Writing: The literary trope of virtuous eating, writing on farming, utopia
    • Please read the chapter by Tigner and Carruth (from their Literature and Food Studies). Reflect on their arguments using (a) text(s) of your choice as an example – you could use the articles by Pollan or Berry provided below, other texts from Eating Words or any other primary texts that you may think illustrate the idea. (It should be primary texts, so journalistic articles, or essays, memoirs, other narrative texts – not other academic texts.)
      • Mandatory Reading:
        • Amy Tigner and Allison Carruth ‘Virtuous Eating: Utopian Farms and Dietary Treatises’
      • Supplemental Reading:
        • Louisa May Alcott ‘from Transcendental Wild Oats’ (in Eating Words)
        • Michael Pollan ‘Sustaining Vision’ (online original here)
        • Wendell Berry ‘The Pleasures of Eating’
Session 9 – Tue 19 Nov 19
  1. Workshop: GROUP 5 to critique GROUP 2
  2. Food and language, food and writing: 
    • Please read the following readings and reflect on them. Please note: neither of the readings are primary readings (stories).
      • Terry Eagleton ‘Edible Ecriture’
      • Betty Fussell ‘Eating My Words’
      • Paul Schmidt ‘A Winter Feast’  available online HERE
Session 10 – Tue 26 Nov 19
  1. Workshop: GROUP 1 to critique GROUP 3
  2. Food and memory:
    • Please read the following readings and reflect on the topic of food and memory: 
      • Nadia Seremetakis ‘The Breast of Aphrodite’
      • Cara De Silva ‘from In Memory’s Kitchen
      • Marcel Proust ‘On the Madeleine’
      • Primo Levi ‘The Last Christmas of the War
      • Jhumpa Lahiri ‘Indian Takeout’

     

Session 11 – Tue 03 Dec 19
  1. Workshop: GROUP 2 to critique GROUP 4
  2. Guest speakers on topics of food writing/food literature
Session 12 – Tue 10 Dec 19
  1. Workshop: GROUP 3 to critique GROUP 5
  2. Conclusion, Wrap-Up

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