Classy: When food drives the English curriculum

This semester, I’ve taken on teaching a new elective course called FOOD.

We met for the first time today.

Over the course of the semester, we’ll be meeting twice per week to look a the literary, social and scientific intersections of the foods we eat and our relationships to them.

Class today started with my description of one of my top comfort foods – mashed potatoes, with excessive butter, mixed with corn.

Then, I asked students to share their comfort foods.

It’s the opening to the first class assignment. A mentor professor of mine at Illinois State, Dr. Justice, is teaching a similar class for undergrad, grad and doctoral students this spring as well.

She designed the assignment.

From the comfort food discussion, we read Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River Part I.”

“River” is one of Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical Nick Adams stories wherein Nick returns to Michigan’s upper peninsula on a camping trip after a tour in Italy during World War I.

After making camp, Nick fixes a supper of pork and beans with spaghetti and tomato ketchup.

All along, we’re told his pack has been too heavy, that he’s carry too much around.

Dr. Justice (a leading Hemingway scholar) explained to me Nick is making a camp version of minestra di pasta e fagiole in an effort to hold on to his time in Italy.

Food as memory.

For next class, the students (and I) will be writing personal essays about our comfort foods and how they burrowed into our food identities. Part of the assignment asks them to explain how they would alter the assignment in the same way Nick does to fit the restrictions of hiking and camping.

For many more than I expected, the adaptation won’t be difficult. Several of them proffered comfort foods bought in boxes or bags. I’ll be curious to tally the final real-to-processed ratio of responses. Even more, I’m looking forward to the discussion of what cultural significance that ratio might imply.

I’m thinking of asking the students to research the inspirations for the processed comfort foods and compare the healthiness of the two versions.

Either way, I’m pretty jazzed about where this course is heading.



8 thoughts on “Classy: When food drives the English curriculum

  1. My master's thesis was food as a catalyst for growth in YA literature. My big focuses were on the Narnia books, Alice in Wonderland and Block's Dangerous Angels series. I don't know how long of stories/pieces you want to look at, but your kids might be familiar enough with Narnia/Alice to pull scenes from.

  2. first off – love that you are writing at the same time. do you do that for all assignments? I don't do this as much as I would like. the first thing that came mind was what the science class is doing across the hall (or maybe downstairs) from you – the correlation between fresh food, neighborhoods and crime (as I remember it). For me it would be interesting to look at some of the ideas of social justice around food and schools – maybe start here: http://www.ecoliteracy.orgtalk about working with a passion, who doesn't love food. good luck.

  3. Maybe they might like to watch Tampopo, the classic Japanese spaghetti western. Talk about intersection of culture food community the arts and Clint Eastwood. Can't forget it after ~20 yrs.

  4. Le petit madeleine?Big Night, a film with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub – two brothers intent on serving “authentic” Italian food in the face of Americanized Spagetti and meatballs?Fry bread and the work of Sherman Alexie (Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven)Memoirs of Ruth Reichel? Frances Mayes? Elisabeth Gilbert?Crazy cookbooks that are more like novels – Silver Palette cookbook or the explications of Foods We Eat in an old Joy of CokingFood in Dickens A Christmas Carol? What a fun class – so many things to read!

  5. Pingback: Why I love teaching Theatre Arts « Classroom Conversation

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