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PWR 1HK: Food Values: The Rhetoric of What and How We Eat

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Fall 2021: Not offered

Winter 2022: TBD

Spring 2022: TBD

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement

From the farmers market to the drive-thru window, from a three-star restaurant to the kitchen table, what we eat reflects who we are and how we relate to the world. Food practices are inextricably tied to social identity, including gender, race, and ethnicity. They also inform labor conditions, ecological impacts, and human-animal relationships. As such, growing, preparing, and consuming food entails unavoidable conundrums and compromises. As first-year students – perhaps living away from home for the first time – you face newly urgent questions about your own food values every time you enter the dining hall. In an environment of unprecedented choice, how will you balance competing priorities, such as taste, nutrition, money, environmental concerns, and your family or cultural traditions?

In this course, we will explore the rhetoric of food by writing about the multiple ways that what we eat expresses what we value. For instance, popular terms like “natural,” “sustainable,” and “clean eating” are grounded in specific but often implicit ideas about health, ethics, social responsibility. So what are the meanings of various food practices, and what is at stake in the claims we make about food? To prompt and focus our writing, we will read work by the journalist Michael Pollan, the sociologist Julie Guthman, and the anthropologist Sidney Mintz. We will also analyze texts “in the wild” that make arguments about food, drawing on internet reviews and blog posts, menus and cookbooks, and product packing and advertising. Questions about ethics and trade-offs rarely have a single right answer. As such, the writing assignments in this course will prompt you to craft nuanced arguments, probe rhetorical strategies, and marshal evidence to support your claims. In addition, informal writing assignments will ask you to unpack your own thinking about the challenges of ethical eating.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) Contemporary food writing often grapples with what it means to be a responsible consumer, and what our choices say about us and the social worlds we inhabit. In this assignment, you will select a food-related text and critically interrogate its form, language, and arguments. Potential topics include travel narratives about culinary tourism or etiquette manuals drawn from different cultural and historical locations.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) Food provokes strong opinions. In this assignment, you will select an ongoing food-related controversy. You will analyze the underlying assumptions, rhetorical strategies, and aims of different parties in this debate. Potential topics include programs that seek to address food insecurity in the U.S. or globally, the popularity of various fad diets, and the cultural appropriation of ethnic foods.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Building on your Texts in Conversation topic, you will deepen your investigation of the food-related issue of your choice. The objective of this assignment is to develop nuanced, evidence-based argument about a particular social phenomenon related to food. To elucidate the historical and cultural dimensions of your topic, you will conduct library research, accessing sources both physically and digitally.