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

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Catalog Number: PWR 1HK

Instructor: Hayden Kantor

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


From the farmers market to the drive-thru window, from the restaurant to the kitchen table, what we eat reveals something about who we are and how we relate to the world. Our food practices are tied to our social identities, including gender, race, class, and cultural backgrounds. Growing, preparing, and consuming food also impacts labor conditions, the environment, and human–animal relationships. Eating, inevitably, entails conundrums and compromises. Our course theme is food values—an inquiry into the multiple ways that the food we eat reflects what we value.

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 do you balance competing priorities, such as taste, nutrition, cost, environmental concerns, and your family or cultural traditions? Questions about ethics rarely have a straightforward answer. Through writing and research, you will have the opportunity to deepen your understanding of these issues and clarify your own thinking.

In this course, we will explore the cultural rhetorics of food by investigating the meanings and social dynamics expressed through food. For instance, terms like “natural,” “sustainable,” and “clean eating” are grounded in implicit ideas about health, ethics, social responsibility. To prompt our writing and class discussions, we will read work by anthropologists, essayists, and journalists. And we will consider the visual rhetoric of commercials, infographics, and film and TV clips related to food.

You will develop your writing skills by undertaking a research project on the topic of your choice. As you move through the assignment sequence, you will make purposeful rhetorical choices about how you construct and convey your argument. Potential topics include programs to eliminate food deserts, campaigns for farmworker rights, and debates about the cultural appropriation of ethnic foods.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) Food writing often grapples with what our food practices say about us and the social worlds we inhabit. In this assignment, you will select a food-related text and analyze how the writer constructs an argument and understand the strategies used to persuade the reader. Possible texts may include memoirs or travel narratives, menus or cookbooks, product advertising or packaging.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) As you embark on your research project, you will survey the scholarly conversation about your chosen topic. You will conduct library research to find existing research on your topic, accessing sources both physically and digitally. The goal of this assignment is to situate your project amid the relevant scholarly literature and identify a research gap for further study.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Building on your Texts in Conversation, you will advance an argument that fills the research gap and intervenes in the scholarly conversation. You will support this argument by presenting and analyzing the rhetoric of texts related to your case study. The goal of this assignment is to generate specific insights about a particular food subculture.