Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

"What people do with food is an act that reveals how they construe the world."
- Marcella Hazan, The Classic Italian Cookbook

If you are what you eat, what are you? Food is at once the stuff of life and a potent symbol; it binds us to the earth, to our families, and to our cultures. The aroma of turkey roasting or the taste of green tea can be a portal to memories, while too many Big Macs can clog our arteries. The chef is an artist, yet those who pick oranges or process meat may be little more than slaves. In this class, we explore many of the fascinating issues that surround food as both material fact and personal and cultural symbol. We read non-fiction works by Toni Morrison, Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Wendell Berry and others on such topics as family meals, food's ability to awaken us to "our own powers of enjoyment" (M. F. K. Fisher), and eating as an "agricultural act" (Berry). We also read Michael Pollan's best-selling In Defense of Food and discuss the issues this book raises as well as the rhetorical strategies it employs. Assigned essays will grow out of personal experience and the texts we read, and will include narratives, analytical essays, and essays that depend on research. Revision of essays and workshop review of writing in progress are an important part of the course.

Course Overview and Class Policies

Objectives and Assignments

The primary work of this class is:

  • To develop your skills in writing and speaking clearly and effectively;
  • To help you become aware of your own purposes as writers; and
  • To help you become aware of the audience(s) you are writing for.

You'll write and revise four essays in addition to several short non-revised homework assignments. Each student will also make one oral presentation. Readings will serve to get you thinking and provide models of good writing; they'll provide inspiration for your essays and discussion points for Essay 2. Here are the major writing assignments for the course.

Essay 1 (3-4 pages) will grow out of your own memories connected with food. Essay 1 gives you practice in developing ideas based on your own experience and heightening your awareness of the audience(s) you write for.

Essay 2 (5 pages) will ask you to analyze and reflect on ideas from In Defense of Food and at least one additional reading, developing your own idea as you do so. Essay 2 gives you practice developing an argument and working with other writers' ideas.

Essay 3 (10 pages) is a research essay focusing on a topic of your choice from a list I will provide. It gives you the opportunity to develop your investigative and critical skills and your ability to organize a longer essay, along with practice using sources responsibly.

Essay 4 (2-3 pages) will be either a final reflection or a manifesto.

Other Writing

Homework will include some short (≈ 1 page) writing assignments:

  • Responses to readings, based on prompts I will provide.
  • A few reflections on your own experience with food.
  • A vocabulary list, including etymologies and definitions.

We'll also do some writing in class to prepare for essays and check reading comprehension.


At our last class meeting, I'll collect a portfolio of all your written work for our class.

Oral Presentations

This class everyone will either give a 10-minute presentation on a food-related topic or participate in a debate on the thesis of In Defense of Food.

Class Participation

Please note that class discussions are part of the oral work of a communications-intensive class. All students are expected to participate in class discussions. Discussion should demonstrate not just familiarity with assigned readings but also critical thought.

Reading Materials


Buy at Amazon Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food. New York, NY: Penguin Press HC, 2008. ISBN: 9781594201455.


Buy at Amazon Lunsford, Andrea. Easy Writer. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's Books, 2008. ISBN: 9780312556273.

Course Policies


This class is structured more like a workshop or seminar than a lecture class. Therefore, attendance is important: your responsibility in the class is not only to be a writer, but also to read and respond to classmates' work and to participate in discussions.


It is discourteous to your classmates and to your professor. If you are 10 minutes late three times it will count as an absence.


To participate in class discussions, you must read assignments on time. It is also imperative that you hand in drafts on time, post drafts to workshop partners on time, and come to class prepared for workshops and for oral presentations. Due dates for all drafts are listed on the course syllabus. Portfolios are due at our last class meeting.


I'll give you evaluative comments on all essay drafts, guiding you toward effective revision. I will give you a letter grade for the second draft of each essay; by re-revising that essay, you may earn a higher grade. Homework assignments, quizzes and oral presentations will be graded on a scale of 5. All written work is to be handed in to me in a portfolio.

The quality of your writing will be the primary criterion for your semester grade. I'll also take into consideration effort and improvement, especially as demonstrated by revision. We will consult on your progress mid-term. You may also request a meeting with me any time you have questions about your progress in the class.

  • All required work must be completed satisfactorily for you to receive a passing grade for the course.
  • A final grade of C or better satisfies the Communication Intensive requirement for freshmen.


Because it's often more efficient and effective for us to have a conversation about your writing than to communicate via comments on papers, conferences are an important part of our work together. Bring specific questions about your writing, such as how to make an introduction more vivid or how to connect the ideas in your essay. You are also welcome to use conference time to continue discussions begun in class or try out ideas sparked by your reading.

Writing Center

In addition to meeting with me, you may be required to make one or more appointments with a tutor at the Writing Center this semester.

MIT Literature Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism—use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available at the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.



Introductions and course overview

Food and sense memory (Madhur Jaffrey)

Homework 1 due

Letter to me


Close reading

Voice, sensibility, audience

Strong sentences

Writing: a food memory

Homework 2 due

Food, family and culture

What makes good writing?

Homework 3 due

Social meanings of food and meals


Homework 4 due

Etiquette and ethics

Elements of the essay

Prepare for Essay 1 workshop


Essay 1 (Due on-line plus hard copy in class due on Ses #6)

Workshop on Essay 1: 3 writers

Prepare for Essay 1 workshop and respond to group members

Homework 6 due

Workshop on Essay 1: 3 writers

Revise Essay 1 (due on Ses #8 in class)

Writing: mindfulness Exercise 1

Homework 7 due

Eating and pleasure: Stacey and Pollan

Share exercises

Writing: Précis of Berry's "Pleasures of Eating."

Homework 8 due

Eating as an agricultural act: Pollan and Berry

Summarizing writers' ideas; defining terms

FFN: taste, pleasure and industrial food

Writing: mindfulness exercise 2

Homework 9 due

Discuss In Defense of Food, part 1

Figuring out a writer's aims and methods


Homework 10 due

Discuss In Defense of Food, part 2

Making a case: Rhetoric, evidence and argument


Homework 11 due

Discuss In Defense of Food, part 3

The personal and the political

Looking ahead to Essay 2


Proposal for Essay 2 due 1 day later

Prepare oral presentations

Work on ideas for Essay 2

Looking ahead to Essay 3

Prepare for Essay 2 workshop

Essay 2 (Due on-line plus hard copy in class due on Ses #14)

Workshop Essay 2: 3 writers

Prepare for Essay 2 workshop and respond to group members

15 Workshop Essay 2: 3 writers

Homework 15 due

Proposal for Essay 3 due on Ses #16


Writing clinic

Discuss Essay 3 topics and approaches

Prepare for debate

Revise Essay 2 (due 3 days later)

Homework 16 due
17 Debate: food culture vs. food science

Homework 17 due

Preliminary research for Essay 3 due


Library session

Bring easy writer and academic integrity handbook to class

Homework 18 due

Revised proposal and annotated bibliography, Essay 3, due on Ses #19


Meeting about Essay 3

Research paper issues: quoting, summarizing, citing and formatting

Prepare Essay 3 workshop

Essay 3 due

Essay 3 due on-line plus hard copy due 6 days later


Workshop Essay 3: 3 writers

Respond/prepare for Essay 3 workshop

Vocabulary lists due on Ses #21

Workshop Essay 3: 3 writers

Work on revision, Essay 3

Homework 21 due

Writing clinic

Introduction of Essay 4

Contexts for Ratatouille

Homework 22 due

Revised Essay 3 due 4 days later

23 Movie: Ratatouille (111 minutes) followed by discussion Essay 4 due

Workshop on Essay 4, small groups

Prepare oral presentation

Revise Essay 4

Homework 24 due

Oral presentations

Work on re-revision and cover letter for portfolios

Homework 25 due

Final class


Portfolios due 1 day later