What really excites me besides fiction writing is writing about food and more so being able to pass this skill along to others. This is why I want my expository writing course to be about food writing. The skills learned can of course be applied to any kind of nonfiction writing which is another benefit of learning how to write, that the skill is transferrable to other kinds of writing. My over arching theme of food writing is the locality and regionality of it. No matter what part of the world you live in, there is always something local that is unique to the area. According to Dianne Jacob in Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Restaurant Reviews, Cookbooks, Recipes, Stories, and More, “One of the more exciting changes is a shift away from Eurocentric cooking toward world cuisines, with more diversity in authorship. An here in our continent, there’s a shift in interest in indigenous cuisine” (7). I live in and originate from a community called the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) in South Texas. Not only are we a border community filled with authentic Mexican food but there is also a mix of Native American culture along with the uniquely Texan ingredients that make up the kinds of eclectic melting pot that is RGV food. It is this blend of communities that I hope to use as a background for the food writing I hope to teach. The great thing about food writing is that each area of the world can provide its own special twist and unique lens of food.
Jacob says that the great thing about food writing is that it can “wander over dozens of subjects; the storytellers and their craft are what bring it together. It’s easier to choose what to write about if you understand why you want to write about food in the first place” (10-11). Jacob provides examples of reasons for food writing such as passing down family recipes, food history or capturing the cuisine of a country. No matter the reason for writing about food, its about connection between people and the food around them. This brings it back towards the theme I hope to have for my course. Not only do I want to teach a skill that is transferable elsewhere but I also want to bring communities together with food and the writing of our experiences with it.
The writing process all begins with invention and research and is often the toughest thing to teach a student. I know it was the most difficult thing for me to grasp as a student. Susan E. Antlitz in Taking Flight: Connecting Inner And Outer Realities During Invention describes overcoming this difficulty by “connecting personal identity and purpose to more public contexts and subjects” as a way to help people write more confidently, no matter the topic. Antlitz goes on to say that “some college writers see the writing that is done for classes as separate or different from one’s personal goals and interests”. Being able to focus on your own identity and thoughts and your own influences is one of the tenets of what I want my course to be about. I want my students to be able to bring their experience and feelings to the table and have their voice heard and know that they matter. Doing this through food writing can also be a way for students to express their own individuality and culture. Because of these factors, it can be said that invention and research can be easier to overcome if students connect with the rest of the world as a whole and allow the audience to understand the writer more effectively.
Knowing now that using our own experiences towards invention and research, we can talk about I want to approach this early part of the writing process. There are many ways to approaching invention and research but through targeted prewriting strategies such as clustering and outlining students can take their unorganized mess and polish it into workable and manageable items. For example, Brian Wasko in 3 Prewriting Strategies for Any Writing Project, says about clustering “is an easy and graphic way to capture your ideas on paper while showing how each idea is related to the others”. You begin by placing topics in lists or centered and then start drawing other words and phrases that are related and so forth. From this, you begin to start to form categories or sub topics that will eventually later become part of second form of prewriting, outlines. These subtopics can later be drilled down into chapters or even character deep dives that will help develop your plot or parts of your essay. Once you have exhausted your clustering ideas, you can begin to work on your outline. Wasko says it is “the painstaking organization of thoughts” and that it can “loosen the clogged ideas in your brain and get something onto an otherwise blank sheet of paper”. He goes to discuss combining these two methods to help first brainstorm your cluttered ideas and form them into actual concrete thoughts and then from there form the basis of what will become your outline. The beauty of this is that it can be applied to any type of writing such as fiction writing and even food writing for the course I am describing. Of course there are other methods of invention that are possible but clustering and outlining is something I have found works best in almost any case.
Research on the other hand is important especially when doing creative nonfiction writing such as food writing. Research should be part of any writing course and in this case, is necessary not only when doing food history or the etymology of a food item but in the cultural and historical aspect of a food item or the customs that come along with it. The Quillbot website page Expository Writing breaks down several steps in the research process. While not all of it is relevant to our kind of writing, it does serve a broad purpose to give students a structured way to research various kinds of topics. For example, the first three steps involve “identify and develop your topic” by forming it into a question that must be answered. From there you can begin to find background information by looking up keywords in offline and online resources such as articles on the topic or other relevant subtopics. There are several steps in between the end of it but some of the last steps include an evaluation of resources and the citation of those resources. During the invention and research stage of my course, I do want to spend a good deal time discussing the importance of research and again how transferable the skillset is. I want students to feel that what they are learning is not only for the narrow category of food writing. It is something they can take with them and apply elsewhere.
Another part of the theme has to do with collaborative writing and peer review. I have had great success myself as a teacher and a student with both collaborative writing and peer review. For example, the Tips for Collaborative Writing and Peer Reviewing Assignments website through the University of Oldenburg lists several ways that both collaborative and peer review can be used inside the classroom and their benefits. When speaking of peer review the website says “many students want honest feedback on their writing and feel cheated if they receive cursory, highly critical, or highly uncritical feedback” and then goes on to list several guidelines for effective feedback sessions such as “exchanging copies of your writing, edit the paper by writing brief, specific comments, write summary comments” as well as specific examples on areas to improve to correct. I also believe that giving the students a chance to ask questions back to the reviewer is important when clarification is needed. I have found this added feature beneficial as a student and a teacher. It keeps the dialogue open between peers and instructor. It all goes back to the openness and collaborative nature of the course I hope to create.
The website also discusses collaborative writing which can be used in conjunction or in isolation with peer review. “The key ingredients of successful group work are leadership, planning, effective communication, equal division of labor, and equal sharing of responsibilities for results” and then the website goes on to list what key elements should be included such as an overall description of the final project, criteria for success, an outline, editing and reviewing strategies, and most importantly a way to handle disputes. Since collaborative writing deals with many different people, the chance for people butting heads can increase. What I like to do is have a dispute process in place that if and when something occurs, there is a process that all parties have previously agreed to can follow. This goes back to having collaboration as an integral part of my course and giving students a feeling of being included in the process. I have found this is effective from a student and instructor point of view. I like knowing that is expected of me and what to do if an issue arises. I think this stems from the years I spent as a call center worker where dispute processes were integral to the success of any company. I find the most useful in collaborative writing when students can find their strengths and weaknesses right away since projects can often span weeks or even a semester. Because of this, students often learn what works for them and what doesn’t and in the end learn something about how they interact with others.
The final part of my theme deals with proofreading, editing and revision. Up until now, I have been relying mostly on research on methodology and other research I have done on the subject. Revision has been something I shied away from for most of my writing career. It wasn’t until I enrolled at SNHU where I was forced to revise and edit my own work. It made me see that it was something doable and achievable and not unlike invention and research, revision could also be broken down into baby steps and be built upon. The following methods can be applied as well to any kind of writing whether its fiction or nonfiction, including food writing such as in my course. After a complete draft is finished, I do one complete line edit of the piece. According to the article What Is the Difference between Copyediting and Line Editing on the NY Book Editors website, “a line edit addresses the creative content, writing style, and language use at the sentence and paragraph level” and looks for items such as “run on sentences, words or sentences that are extraneous, redundancies, confusing narratives, and words or phrases that may enhance your meaning”. Since this is the lengthiest portion of revision, I like to do it first and get a lot of the major concerns out of the way, so the student can focus on the content of their message rather than how it’s conveyed. From there I like to shift focus to the bigger picture and look for theme, point of view, and how tightly focused the narrative needs to be.
At this point, I also like to do a run through for voice and see what the student is trying to achieve. Before a final proofread is done, I like to scan the piece through the eyes of a copy editor which according to the same NY Book Editors website, copyediting “addresses flaws on a very technical level” and searches for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, flags ambiguous or factually incorrect statements, and any other larger macro concerns dealing with consistency. Saving this for last ensures that the majority of errors and revision have been completed before one final proofread looking at the piece through a bigger picture lens. I know that it can be a lot for students but I found that this tier level version of editing works best and can definitely be applied for coursework in the instruction of writing, including food writing.
My vision for this course is something I have alluded to earlier but will elaborate here further. Expository writing courses have been in existence for almost 150 years in a form that would be recognizable to today’s students. In First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice, edited by Deborah Coxwell-Teague and Ronald F. Lunsford point out “what we think of today as first-year composition can trace its origins to the implementation of a written admissions exam at Harvard in 1874. Given the perceived weakness in students’ performance on these exams, a composition course—originally conceived as remedial—began at Harvard in 1885”. What I love about this is that a composition course was created out of necessity and not necessarily because it was something somebody intended to go out and create out of desire. I know that most early composition courses were stiff and according to Coxwell-Teague and Lunsford focused on “mechanics and essay structure” up until the middle 1920’s when Allan Gilbert described a course in a more modern way. “Teacher of Freshmen must deal with big things, ideas and books that hit the intelligence of students. The teacher of Freshmen who gives himself to trivial things and neglects the weightier matters of good literature does not make his course for literacy”. Now we begin to see course creation that focuses on such things as theme, meaning, ethics, the big picture as well as the form and function of writing. The dichotomy starts to form that ideas are just as important as how we write and equalizing the “soul” of a writer along with the mechanics of it all.
Coming from the RGV, a border region, ESL and bilingual education has and always will be an important function of any education system in the region. I mention this because, given the fact that the ethnic population of the RGV is 95% Mexican American, cultural representation will be part of my course. I want the culture and stories and our region to be in full display and this becomes especially important when discussing a culture’s food and the rituals that come along with it. Given that language has always been important in any composition course, I want students when discussing their regional cuisine to be able to put their culture openly and confidently on display and feel truly represented. Part of this course will be in the traditional lecture and discussion format but as I discussed earlier, collaborative writing and peer review to be pillars in my pedagogical strategies. I also hope to employ learning communities where students are able to learn a portion of the material and then teach the rest of the class what they have learned. This works especially well when learning parts of essay writing and/or invention and research methods. Students are able to learn a fraction of the material and still get the full picture when being taught by the other students in class. I have seen this work perfectly as a student and an instructor. I truly believe that giving students a chance to be owners of their own educational experience, it in fact gives them further drive and reason to succeed. Conceptually I hope to break the course down into invention and research strategies, learning the ins and outs of how to write food articles, and of course the all-important editing and revision portion.
Beyond this I want to include a section where we focus on the business aspect of their food writing, where they can learn how to apply their skills and talents to make money if this wish or simply how to professionally publish their material out there publicly. Doing this will give students another reason and skill that can be transferable to other parts of their life, giving the course added value. Just like Deanna Martinez in How to Get Started in Food Writing points out that getting into the business of food writing one must find out what food writing they enjoy. For example, “food blogging allows you complete control over the content you publish, how often you post, and the one in which you write about it” while “if you enjoy working with others, writing food articles for an online writing site may be the way you want to go” or even if you want to freelance “typically magazines and websites offer compensation for your articles but are harder to come by” and “the key to becoming a successful freelance food writer is research”. So it’s all dependent on what you enjoy and if you want to make income out of your food writing. The great thing is that food writing can be done successfully for income and just as a side hustle to get your creative juices flowing.
I have mentioned some of the goals I hope to achieve with this course but let me focus on the ones that are most important to me. I have two goals in mind when it comes to the overall success of my course. I want my students to learn transferable skills that they can use in other parts of their lives and secondly, I want them to leave the class with either a manuscript for a creative piece or a concrete plan on where/how to use their food writing articles that were written in class. Transferable skills is something that I always strive to employ students with no matter the course I teach. Besides the obvious writing and composition skills in any writing class that students can take with them and apply in other classes, I want students to also have an experiential experience with food. Ligaya Mishan in What We Write about When We Write about Food states “when we write about food, we are already writing about class struggle. To read about an extravagant meal can be a vicarious substitute for not being able to afford one or make us feel superior to those who waste money on such follies. We especially love tales of astronomically priced meals gone wrong”. This can be especially apparent in communities where extravagance is not a common thing like in the RGV. In the largest city in the RGV of McAllen, Texas, the average income hovers around $25,000 and almost a quarter of the population lives in poverty according to the U.S. Census Bureau Quickfacts: McAllen City, Texas website. So for a community that usually can’t afford pricier meals, it is nice to live through other’s experiences as well as write and research foods that normally would be out of reach such as truffle or rack of lamb.
Which brings me back to what I want students to physically leave my class with. Since part of the class will be focused on creating work and making it available and ready for publishing, regardless of the avenue of publication, I want to discuss the actual piece of work that will be done at the end of the course. I find it extremely important that students leave my course with something tangible that they can say, “I created this”. It makes the rationale of the class much more real to them. I want students to be able to take their work back to their communities and allow them to share it amongst themselves and give validation to their food and culture and show the rest of the world that local cuisine and the culture it derives from are just as important as any other mainstream food as French or Chinese. We all come from unique melting pots of culture and food and it’s my main overarching goal to bring to light the food of the rest of the world through the lens of each individual community that exists out there.
Antlitz, Susan E. “Taking Flight: Connecting Inner And Outer Realities During Invention.” Writing Spaces, 2010, https://writingspaces.org/past-volumes/taking-flight-connecting-inner-and-outer-realities-during-invention/.
Coxwell-Teague, Deborah, and Ronald F. Lunsford, editors. First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice. Parlor Press, 2014.
“Expository Writing.” Quillbot, 2022, https://quillbot.com/courses/expository-writing/chapter/the-seven-steps-of-the-research-process/.
Jacob, Dianne. Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Restaurant Reviews, Cookbooks, Recipes, Stories, and More. 4th ed., Marlowe & Co., 2005.
Martinez, Deanna. “How to Get Started in Food Writing.” Writer’s Digest, 14 July 2022, https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-nonfiction/how-to-get-started-in-food-writing.
Mishan, Ligaya. “What We Write about When We Write about Food.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Feb. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/18/t-magazine/food-writing-journalism-criticism.html.
“Tips for Collaborative Writing and Peer Reviewing Assignments.” University of Oldenburg, 2022, http://www.c3l.uni-oldenburg.de/cde/tips.htm.
“U.S. Census Bureau Quickfacts: McAllen City, Texas.” United States Census, 2021, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/mcallencitytexas/PST045221.
Wasko, Brian. “3 Prewriting Strategies for Any Writing Project.” The WriteAtHome Blog 3 Prewriting Strategies for Any Writing Project Comments, 26 Aug. 2011, https://blog.writeathome.com/index.php/2011/08/3-prewriting-strategies-for-any-writing-project/.
“What Is the Difference between Copyediting and Line Editing” NY Book Editors, 2023, https://nybookeditors.com/2015/01/copyediting-vs-line-editing/.