Food Writing

P1. Intergenerational/Familial Foodways (20)

Our first project in ENGL2014 is a story told through and about a person, through and about food. As we have discussed in class, the food we are primarily focused on studying and writing about this semester is peopled. Where food is, people follow; where people are, food follows. Taking Jonathan Safran Foer’s chapter as a working model, the goal of this piece is to write into view 1) an elder and 2) a food item (or recipe) you care about that you consider intergenerationally connected (meaningful, time-spanning, and related to family history) for you. As a feature contributing to the story itself, just as in Foer’s piece, an interview you conduct will allow the interviewee’s voice to speak perspective into the story. The suggestions for the interview, its length and scope, and the ways you incorporate evidence from it are not meant to put arbitrary or excessively strict limitations on the story. Instead, they are meant to open it up, amplify it, and possibly lead to surprising angles and insights you perhaps had not considered when you started to formulate a plan. You should plan to approach the interview process with at least three questions; you should record the interview so that you can transcribe it and so that you can work the person’s exact language into the story, albeit selectively.

The overall scope of this project should be 1000-1200 words, so it’s fairly succinct in that you will also be introducing and describing the person you interview as a lead-in or setup for the story you tell. The story does not need to be anchored in a single time or place. It can stitch together episodes or vignettes from across different references to place and time (but please be careful to help the reader follow along by being specific about the times and places, as much as possible). Like Foer, you may use subheadings, if you want to, as an aid to organizing shorter sections. And as you work through the process of developing the piece, remember the W questions, doing what you can to bring the person and food (and situation) vividly into view.

To recap, then, you are developing a story that heeds the following qualities

  • ⦿ 1000-1200 words
  • ⦿ Includes evidence from an interview; the interview must have at least three questions, be recorded, and be transcribed; you will include the full interview at the end of the story (as an extension, or an appendix, that does not count in the basic word count).
  • ⦿ May use subheadings and may be episodic (e.g., incorporating a couple of different anchor points in place and time)
  • ⦿ Substantial draft for peer review is due in your Google Folder before class on Monday, 2/13; the full draft is due on Wednesday, 2/15.

You do not have to include a grand flourish takeaway, consequence, or insight, but you should attempt to help readers understand the “So what?” question—how you think about why this person and their relationship to a particular food matters. You can, if you wish, also include a recipe (e.g., a photograph of a recipe card, or the text of the recipe itself). You can also include other multimodal elements, such as a photograph or drawing, if you choose.

P2. Palimpsest Placemat (20)

Our next project, Project Two, draws inspiration from Daniel Spoerri’s Anecdoted Topography of Chance, a book that is difficult to track down but that is available in snippets, fragments, and selections online (i.e., we’ll get to know ATC as well as we can before and while carrying out the project). Spoerri was an expansively multimodal artist who experimented with the mundane and the everyday. His Anecdoted Topography of Chance captures in “snare-pictures” the accidental arrangement of objects at table settings. And so?A photograph of Daniel Spoerri's table setting artwork on table cloths.

Looking to Spoerri, for Project Two, develop a series of anecdotes (think 90s, though less rule-defined) that pair with a series of “snare-pictures,” or digital photographs of meals you have at/on a paper placemat. The project must have at least five anecdotes and five images (you may develop more, if you choose). At the start of the project, everyone will be given a paper placement, and this will be your traveling and dining companion for a couple of weeks, as you will unfold (or uncurl) it, place it at the flat surface where you are having a meal, and then eat. You may take a “snare-picture” at any moment during the meal—or you can take several and later select one to pair with the corresponding anecdote.

As you develop the project, the placemat will take on layers in that you might 1) add annotations that document a conversation had during the meal, that invite a person who has joined you for the meal to draw/doodle or write a message, 2) outline the shapes and positions of dishes for later annotating what was where, and 3) call attention to spills or crumbs, like the circles left by a brimmed coffee cup, and so on. Insofar as it is sure to become a mess, think of Project Two as a frame by frame documentary meant to capture and convey qualities of everyday eating. As a benchmark, aspire for each anecdote to be approximately 150-200 words, as this will allow you to balance brevity with the right measure of description and story.

Here are a few additional details in service of guiding this project:

  • ⦿ Blank placemats will be distributed in class on Monday, February 20. A draft of the project is due for Peer Review on Wednesday, March 15 (I will provide feedback by the following week, March 22).
  • ⦿ Strive for consistency with the “snare-pictures” as relates to lighting, orientation, and sizing. That is, taking the series of digital photos in comparable light, from a comparable angle, and using the same device, may prove helpful later, as you assemble the project into a document.

P3. Ends of Food (20)

Project One prioritized a food-told narrative, and this meant leading with story-telling co-shaped by an elder. Project Two turned playfully—and place-mat-fully—toward the experimental art, the ordinariness of everyday eating, and descriptive anecdotes spanning words and snare-pictures. Next, think of this as the dessert course: Project Three fans out, offering as much range and variety as a froyo toppings bar, which is also to underscore that you have choices to make as you get this project underway.

This project begins broadly with an analytical or critical premise, but what do these terms mean, “analytical or critical”? Foremost, we should think of analytical as attentive to detail, curious about non-obvious aspects of whatever you decide to focus upon, and then working in a way that brings those details and non-obvious aspects into view with partiality toward a recurrent concern for “so what?” Critical sometimes implies judgmental, but for our purposes, we should begin by considering critical as question-posing—raising and exploring questions that are genuine, that lead from one to the next, and that locate purpose in especially difficult questions, or questions that lead to complex answers.

The next prominent quality of Project Three is that is must be multimodal, which can be accomplished by intentionally featuring illustration, photography, video, or sound. The multimodal quality of Project Three can be extensive or minimal; it can command the entire project or operate in just one small element of it. Next, to possible focuses, themes, or topics: this is where things fan out, truly. I encourage you to give these options careful consideration and to be judicious in deciding how best to focus a project, provided a scope of 1000-1200 words, a multimodal dimension, and a critical or analytical quality. Possible focuses follow:

  • ⦿ A project about fermentation, preservation, food shortages (running out of something), foraging, or freeganism. Our readings through the next couple of weeks will, at times, connect with some of these ideas.
  • ⦿ A review of 1-3 food items (available from stores or restaurants) that you sample first-hand. Post the review online? Post the review online!
  • ⦿ A documented cooking or food-making process. Working with video or photographs, show us how you made what you made. Include the recipe. Acknowledge complications, surprises, setbacks, and workarounds.
  • ⦿ An echo of Project One or Project Two. Consider this a second helping of one of the first two projects. It’s not an extension or revision or Project One or Two, but a rebeginning, a fresh start, or a second, distinctive version.
  • ⦿ Remember, too, that you have a substitution ticket that allows you to create your own option.

Because this project offers everything from marshmallow creme to strawberry sauce to peanut butter to crushed Heath bars to freeze dried crickets for decking out your froyo, early on, we will devote in-class time to writing (as a ninety) a brief proposal where you commit to a plan.

In addition to what’s outlined here (critical-analytical, multimodal, and focused among the ways listed), a well-developed draft is due for peer review on Wednesday, April 5. Following peer review, the advanced draft due for further feedback no later than Wednesday, April 12.

PX. Free choice (substitution option)

With this option, you get to substitute a project of your own envisioning in place of any of the three common options listed above. The timeline and scope should match the option you choose to substitute for.

P+. Revision and Showcase (10)

Pick one of the three projects to extend and revise through a series of writing workshops at the end of April. Then, on Wed., 4/26, and Mon., 5/1, we will hold a two-part showcase where we will share pitches--short-form presentations about the revised project you've been working on.

Reflection (10)

For this semester's sign-off (due Wednesday, May 3), write a reflection that 1) accounts for significant shifts or insights in terms of how you understand food writing, or 2) identifies selected, specific moments of insight linked with course readings, course activities or conversations, writing and responses you received, or any other self-initiated extension of the course that you consider meaningfully connected to the course goals or your program of study at Virginia Tech. This is a semi-formal reflection in that its style and format should adhere to APA 7; if you cite sources, it should include a references page. The reflection should be at least 800 words but not more than 1200 words.

90s (incremental /everyday writing) (20)

Nineties are focused pieces of writing that combine scopic awareness, style, and response to the assigned reading in the form of a question or a connection. The number ninety refers to wordcount; so, a ninety is a 90-word response. But because we don't want to inconvenience ourselves too much with counting, a ninety can be between 85 and 95 words. Below 85, not a ninety. But above 95, in that case it must carry to the next multiple, 180 words (or, more precisely, 175-185 words). The logic of 90s owes to Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart's The Hundreds, a project where they wrote in dialogue with one another while adhering to units of writing that were 100 words or a multiple of 100. For our purposes in ENGL2014, the goal each week is to write at least one Ninety. The goal for the semester is to write toward 20 nineties, or to aspire to the number of 90s that correspond with any particular grade on the grading contract in your Google Folder. Some Nineties may be prompted and composed in class. Others may be prompted and written outside of class. Others may be self-sponsored and altogether unprompted. And others still may be written and posted in dialogue with the initial entries made by peers. Other caveats and conditions apply: 1) nineties may be featured in class as focuses for our whole class or small group discussions in any week; 2) you are encouraged to develop nineties dialogically that respond to entries made in the past two weeks (or so); and 3) you can pass on writing nineties in two different weeks. They must be posted each week in your Google Folder no later than 3 p.m. before class on Wednesday. Nineties can also be used as starters for or as smaller pieces, for example, serving as jump-off point for any of the major projects

I have added an annotated 90 to the document in your Google Folder where you will record the entries you develop this semester. The annotated version notes that each entry should include the following: a) title, b) datestamp, c) body text, d) wordcount, e) initials and author count (tally for you this semester), and f) sources, including associative references, listed with last name and year.

Contact Information

Derek N. Mueller
Professor of Rhetoric and Writing
Director of the University Writing Program
Department of English
Virginia Tech
Office: 315 Shanks Hall
Spring 2023 Office Hours: W, 10-12, and by appointment
Phone: +1-734-985-0485 (Google Voice)