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Writing About Food

posted: 2.5.10 by archived

In the readings section for How To Write Anything, there are several essays that examine food: food as site of family or cultural tradition, food science and economics, and even reviews of food.  I like reading and talking about food and I find students do, too.

So I thought I’d borrow some ideas from the book and create a few short prompts to share some ways we might assign food-oriented writing assignments.

Narrative: Personal Food History

Choose one important dish that has been passed along in your family or your culture.  Do some research: Ask the cooks you know to tell you more about the dish; try to find out a bit about the history of its ingredients and their cultural significance; compare this recipe to versions of the dish in other cultures.  You might use Internet resources such as,, or Finally, reflect on what you’ve learned and write about it.  What does the cultural history of what you eat say about who you are?

If you want some examples to share with students, try The American Cookbook Project, “a forum for sharing food stories. People from across the country are invited to share their favorite recipes and memories associated with this dish. This is not simply an online cookbook but a collection of memories and recollections of great meals from the past.”

Research Paper: Where Does Your Food Come From?

Create a food map.  Choose ingredients for a small meal and then do some research to find out where your food has come from. If you can find company names, you should be able to do some Internet research.  Then, find out what you can about how and where some of the key ingredients in your meal were produced. Use what you know about how and where your food was produced to ground an evaluation or review of your meal in the facts about its production.

Michael Pollan’s blog for the NY Times might be a resource that you assign for reading and discuss with students to prepare for this assignment.

Students also might be interested in the Factory Farm Map, sites like Local Harvest, or a Food Miles Calculator.

Review: Food Critic

You can write your review of a restaurant, or you can review a food product that you buy from the supermarket.  In either case, you’ll need to spend a small amount of money on your primary research: Buy a meal or purchase the product.  As you eat, make sure that you take lots of notes: observe sensory details, record dialogue (if appropriate), and so on.  As you write your review, try to recreate the experience of eating for your reader—be objective and give lots of thick description.  You can have an opinion, but try to balance your opinion so that your reader can also make up her or his own mind based on the information you provide.

McSweeney’s has fun and unconventional examples of food reviews, and more standard reviews can be found at the New York Times site, or the Web home for Gourmet magazine.

Proposal: New Food Ideas

This is a more creative assignment that asks you to write about a new food idea.  Be inventive: What food do you make for yourself that everyone should try?  What new food technology would you like to see?  What new combinations would make great recipes?  What is the future of food?  Then think about what the positive impact might be of this new food, as well as the challenges you might face in creating it.  What do you need to do to make this food a reality, and then to get others to eat it?  Write a proposal that supports your idea.

And then, just for fun, here is a video about NOT writing about food, featuring Cookie Monster.

Categories: Assignment Idea, Critical Reading, How to Write Anything, Jay Dolmage, Writing Process
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