Syllabus: A Seat at the Table

FWIS 138
The Rhetoric of Food

First-Year Writing Intensive Seminar

This course will examine the way food and food rhetoric shape our perceptions of the self and our connections to larger civic issues. Core topics include food as an identity marker, the appropriation and sanitization of global cuisines, the rise of foodie culture, and food tourism.

In The Rhetoric of Food, Matthew Wells, lecturer of the Program in Writing and Communication, introduces students to food as not just necessary for survival but crucial to human history and connection. This first-year writing intensive seminar encourages students to analyze their own relationships with food and how food shapes society, culture and current events such as gentrification and climate change.

“I wanted to choose something where we could talk about big-ticket issues, like the environment, racism and gentrification,” Wells said. “But I also wanted a course where there could be some levity involved. One day we could handle something that’s very heavy, and the next day we could talk about our favorite food scenes from a movie.”

For each class, students are assigned readings about topics including cultural appropriation in fast-casual restaurants and the preparation of food in prisons and school cafeterias. Wells also shows documentaries such as “Chef’s Table” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” These materials present students with the process, often long and arduous, of how food arrives on our tables.

Murtaza Kazmi ’25 is excited about learning more about food outside of nutrition. “We don’t just eat to survive. We also eat to thrive, to celebrate, in moments of sadness or frustration. And really, food is, even though it’s a bit of a cliche answer, something that connects us all.”

Wells hopes that through this course, students can begin watching and reading content with curiosity. “Food seems like it’s way over here, and political science is way over there. But there are probably a lot of connective tissues between the two. That’s what I hope students take away from it — that ability, beyond being able to craft a really beautiful sentence, to connect all of these things that we interact with.”