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Argumentative food writing for a college course

I am putting together my materials for a freshman level writing course that I'm teaching in the fall and I decided that I wanted to use food writing as the reading material. I would really love to get recomendations for food oriented writing that isn't simply well written, but also would provide my students with compelling arguments about various food related topics. Factory farms vs. local producers, globalization of food culture and brands, food traditions and holidays and their greater meaning, ect.

I'm most interested in specific chapters, articles, essays and exerpts that you feel would generate the most discussion and provide effective fodder for analysis. Obviously this has a more selfish side to it as well; I'm really interested in what I might have been missing lately.

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  1. Though you're probably already familiar with him, certainly Michael Pollan fits the bill. "The Omnivore's Dilemma" is excellent and he's had some very interesting pieces in the NYTimes in the last year or two. If you're not familiar with him, I'd elaborate. You could also google him, or check Amazon for reviews.

    Joel Salatin's writings, and his farming theories and practice might also be thought provoking and worthwhile:


    Of course, there's also "Fast Food Nation", a great topical polemic.

    1. Search Chowhound on those topics.

      One of the few times I'd recommend it ... but eGullet also gets heavily into those topics.

      I know you are looking for professional books but forum boards provide a lot of that info often with links to additional reading material. Also taking a look at non pro writing that appears on food forums might be a good discussion point about what makes for pro writing.

      1. I, too, teach undergraduate-level, lower-division courses in argumentation, although I teach them in Communication Studies.

        In the past I've used _Fast Food Nation_ as a useful example showing "typical" policy case construction (arguments showing harms in the status quo, cause of the harms, plan to solve the problem, and arguments that prove solvency as well as advantages and disadvantages).

        I've used the book more as an example, however, rather than a work to analyze because I didn't want to take too much class time reading the whole book (my use of the book is more about the overall structure of the chapters into a whole argument, rather than analyzing individual arguments within each chapter). However, I think that individual chapters would be appropriate fodder for analysis and evaluation.

        The book as a whole is almost all harms and inherency argumentation; there's less in the way of solutions (and arguments proving the workability and feasibility of those solutions) until the last chapters. So most of the chapters would probably be good examples of arguments asserting that a harm exists in the status quo--and how those harms are illustrated, supported, explained, and made compelling to the reading audience.

        I'll be curious to watch other responses to this thread. Every semester I give my students a list of possible topics to research and debate about, and I always make sure they can choose from one or two food-related topics on the list (e.g., agriculture & food production, food processing & manufacturing, food marketing, and/or food consumption).

        1 Reply
        1. re: alanstotle

          I like George Ritzer's book better--plus, it pre-dates fast food nation by some time.

        2. Steingarten's archives in Men's Vogue has some great pieces. The article on the ethics of foie gras is particularly thought provoking.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Morton the Mousse

            I was also going to suggest Steingarten; a lot of his pieces are compiled in "It Must Have Been Something I Ate." He writes very well. His work is lucid and very well argued (he's a former lawyer).

          2. Check out two books by Greg Pence

            Is this for a course at UVA, by chance?

            1. Barbara Kingsolver has a book called something like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle--it's a narrative of a year her family spent raising much of their own food and attempting to eat totally locally grown/raised food. I read an excerpt in a magazine that was quite good---have not read the entire book

              1. Somebody help me out here -- who wrote that great lobster article that appeared in the NYT within the last year or so? Absolutely topnotch writing!

                2 Replies
                1. re: pikawicca

                  i believe you may be referring to a gourmet article. but that was published in late 2004 early 2005.

                  1. re: eLizard

                    You're absolutely right:; See my response to Morton, below.

                2. David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster" essay in his latest collection. (ETA: Is this the article that pikawicca mentions?)

                  Perhaps a chapter or two from Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour."

                  There's some wonderful stuff in Siham Tergeman's "Daughter of Damascus" (now out-of-print but available used) about holiday eating and food traditions.

                  An article referenced in the Grinder here on CH about fine dining's impact on food availability:

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: ElsieDee

                    Thank you, ElsieDee! This is, indeed, the correct author, and I was wrong about the publication: It was published in "Gourmet," and readers complained that the tone was too distasteful for a food publication. And, wow! is my memory going! This appeared way back in 2004.

                    1. re: ElsieDee

                      Here is a link to a PDF of the Wallace piece. I agree that it is excellent.


                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                        Morton, thanks for your post. I reread the article in its entirety and was once again absorbed in the moral ambiguities. What a superb piece of writing (and philosophy)!

                    2. Funny you should ask: I have a thick folder of sample syllabi on food-related classes from various disciplines, including geography, sociology, psychology, anthropology, history, and religion! Do a few google searches for "courses food culture etc" and you'll be amazed at the number of syllabi that come popping out. Here are some of the sources that rise to the top:
                      Carole Counihan's "Food and Culture" reader is the standard undergraduate-level academic survey work on food/culture....you'll probably find several chapters in it that suit your purposes. Bell & Valentine's "Consuming Geographies" is good, too, ditto for Farb & Armelogos's "Comsuming Passions". Also, Gary Nabhan's writing focuses on diet, culture, local eating, and biodiversity; he's interesting and accessible, too (http://www.garynabhan.com/). Of course, Sidney Mintz's "Sweetness & Power" is well worth reading, if only to stimulate your students to think about food as more than what they put into their mouths. Harris's "Good to Eat" and Watson's "Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia" are two more to consider.

                      1. great topic. i would encourage young students to research both "pizza" and "hamburger" on the manhattan chowhound board. the san francisco board is very passionate.

                        "fodder for analysis" requires road trips. all the better.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: steve h.

                          Using posts on boards like CH is a great way to emphasize what constitutes evidence in an argument. Or the lack thereof...but given that many posts contain what the poster would consider evidence, its interesting to look at them critically and assess whether the posts contain what constitutes evidence to impartial readers.

                          1. re: ccbweb

                            Vandana Shiva's book on the green revolution.

                        2. Thanks to everyone for the great suggestions so far. I've set aside a large part of my morning to reviewing the sources that I haven't read and trying to see any logical point/counterpoint groupings.

                          So far, I've decided to use Bourdain's essay in Nasty Bits called 'Food Terrorists" and a piece from John T. Edge in Oxford American called, "Open House." I also plan to contact Yum Brands (parent company of KFC and Taco Bell) to see if they have any materials that justify the production methods of their suppliers.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: negronilover

                            I would add Michael Ruhlman's writing to the suggestions above. The final chapters of his book "Reach of a Chef" include some analyses of the topics already discussed, including a thought-provoking discussion with Judy Rodgers. He also has a website you might examine.

                            Be careful to edit your original post before your students read it, however. The correct spelling is "etc." not ect, and it is an "excerpt" not an exerpt.

                          2. Don't see him mentioned on this page yet, but Harold McGee is great for debunking a lot of food myths. He's written a couple of books--Amazon should have them.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Louise

                              My friend taught a composition course about food writing. Here is the course website:


                              She had the students use blogs extensively, so you can read what her students had to say.

                            2. The Chowhound's own MS Slim JB is the food writer for Boston's Weekly Dig (and IMHO the best of his kind in New England).

                              Log-on here and check his stuff through the "Eats and Drinks" archives:


                              I also recommend any of Ruth Reichl's old NY TImes articles, or her books. One of the best food writers of the past 50 years.

                              Also, James Beard, Craig Claiborne.

                              1. Since this is an academic course, are you also intending on grounding it into a deeper sense of history, such as including Pliny (I can never remember whether the eater was the Elder or Younger) or Brillat Savarin or even some excerpts from Crusaders accounts of hitting the Middle East?

                                1. Since you are looking for specific chapters/articles, I would suggest you use Michael Pollan's article from the New York Times Magazine a few years' back, called "Power Steer," which is about factory farming of beef. It's well written, has a definite point, and is a good length for a classroom reading assignment. An added bonus? It's available on-line:


                                  There have been a number of interesting articles published about Costco versus Walmart. Here's a good one from the New York Times:


                                  There have also been a number of good articles on organic milk and Walmart. There was a very good article published, I believe, in Gourmet Magazine in the past year or so about Organic Valley Dairy, which opted not to cave to Walmart's demands to lower their wholesale price, because to do so would have undermined their raison d'etre (they couldn't produce the same quality product at the prices that Walmart demanded), which I can't find online. Here are a couple in a similar vein from the NYTimes and other sources:



                                  1. Every issue of Gastronomica has at least one article that seems appropriate for what you're doing--with the added virtue of using academic citation.

                                    1. Take a look at Bonny Wolf's Talking With My Mouth Full. She is NPR's weekend food commentator. It is a series of essays, reads kind of like a blog and much of her material is quite thought provoking, but never heavy. I am taking my time with this book because it does require some thought and deserves it.

                                      1. This is a great topic! Probably you will inspire more readers than just your students.