463/563 Specialized Reporting: Writing About Food

Spring 2014
Monday-Wednesday, 4-6, 211 Allen

Prerequisite: J361
This page can be found at http://journalism.uoregon.edu/~jrussial/j463/

309C Hall 346-3750
Office hours: Tues 10-11, Wed, 1-2:30. Or by appointment, or drop by. I'm around quite a bit.
E-mail: jrussial@uoregon.edu. Note, browsers often need to be set up to use this type of e-mail link. If you're not sure how to do that, you can cut and paste the address into the address field of an e-mail program.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Best Food Writing 2013

Course overview

The course is a broad-based exploration of writing about food. Good food writing depends on good reporting, and this class will focus on both reporting and writing.

The possibilities for stories are almost endless. In this region alone, there are interesting trends involving farm-to-table movements, winegrowing and winemaking, amateur and professional brewing, artisan production of cheese, meats, and other foods, home gardening, etc. There are trends, such as community supported agriculture (CSAs) and community gardens. There are stories about work in the food trades and industries--profiles of chef, cooks, innovators and growers.

Writers can look at food from such diverse perspectives as culture, politics, commerce and science. Food is a business for many, a career for some. Stories about food range from quick-hit pieces about a new restaurant in town or a new food entrepreneur to multi-part, long-form series that examine issues involving food production, consumption and safety. Several of these have won the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism. For example, Richard Reed of The Oregonian won a Pulitzer in 1999 for a series called The French Fry Connection, which looked at the journey of potatoes from fields in the Northwest to French fries in an Asian McDonald's restaurant as an example of the interconnected global economy.

To explore some of these areas, I'm planning to bring in visitors and have Skype interviews with folks involved in different aspects of food. I'm not seeing this as a class primarily about restaurant reviewing, though that might be a small part of it. I'm expecting students to be writing a variety of stories and possible some still photos and video. We can create a web site if we want. I taught the Cyberjournalism class for years, and we produced an original web site for each class.

I taught this class before, in Spring '12, but because the class is relatively new, it will be a work in progress. Your suggestions about what aspects of food writing you're interested in will help make the class a success. Also, if you have ideas about interesting people to talk with, let me know

Class sessions

Allen 211Agate 204A.

Attendance is important. Classes will be a mix of discussion, review of stories and visitors. If you are going to miss a class, I need to know in advance. If I do not find out before the class, it may affect your evaluation grade.


There will be a mix of assignments, including, most likely, a profile, an issue piece, a story about an ethnic food and its place in a specific culture, a story about trends in food production, an interview with a cook or chef.


Grades will primarily be based on stories written. Twenty percent of the grade is based on class participation and attendance. Class participation includes being prepared for discussion and taking an active role in asking questions of visitors. One unexcused absence won't count against you, but more than one will, Grading will be based on criteria of publishability.

Tentative schedule

Note the word tentative

Week 1: (March 31, April 2)
Monday: Introduction
Wednesday: Food writing as reporting, types of food stories
Several short food stories to read for Wednesday:

  • Global Warming From the Economist.
  • Spring Gleaning From Portland Monthly
  • First the Dishes, then the Revolution Also from Portland Monthly (Can drop this?)
  • Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective Willamette Week Q&A on why they teach people how to slaughter animals
  • Duane's World Stumptown founder opens a restaurant
  • 7 ways to plant potatoes From Organic Gardening
  • The Secret to Food-Writing Success

    Week 2: (April 7, 9)
    Monday--profiles and sketches
    Skype interview with a cook, who also happens to be my daughter.

  • Ninkasi's female brewer From The Register-Guard Special Publications
  • Stephanie Pearl Kimmel of Marche
  • Profile of a chef in Maryland Mostly Q&A
  • Long profile of a prodigy chef From the New York Times Magazine.
  • In the Chef's Kitchen (Hard copy--from a student story)
      A couple from Best Food Writing:
  • "Fish and Game," By Peter Barrett. p. 281-288. This is as much a profile of a restaurant as it is of a chef couple.
  • "His Saving Grace," By Kevin Pang. p. 289-308. Long profile. Very good read.

    Wednesday--More on profiles Profiling a vegetable or a fruit?
    Assignment due Wednesday, April. 9--short profile of the cook we interviewed on Skype.
  • NY Times dialect quiz
  • Dialect Survey and Maps

    Week 3: (April 14, 16)
    Food and Culture
    Local and regional flavor
    Discuss profiles
    Going to the source

    From Best Food Writing:

  • "Meet the Parents," By Eddie Huang, p. 330-334.
  • "Spin the Globe," By Francis Lam, p. 308-313.
  • "The Cheese Artist," By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl. p. 119-128. Other articles:
  • Po Boy--New Orleans
  • Tabasco, from The Economist

    A few from R.W. Apple (possibly)
  • The Glorious Summer of the Soft-Shell Crab, p. 9-18.
  • In Hoagieland, They Accept No Substitutes, p. 27-34.
  • Bagging the Endangered Sandwich, p. 35-41.
  • The Meat that Made Sheboygan Famous, p. 96-101.
  • The Secret Sauce of Worcester, p. 178-182.
    A few short articles on describing food
  • 5 Steps to Transform Meals into Writing Experiences From Writer's Digest. This might take a while to load, but it's worth it.
  • Describing food Too many adjectives, including some that might run afoul of "Truth in Menu Labeling Laws" Here's another explanation of the range of those laws.
  • Our Secret List of Banned Words Serious Eats. Pretty funny comments too.
  • Six Rules for Dining Out How a frugal economist finds the perfect lunch. From The Atlantic.
  • Jonathan Gold on reviewer anonymity

    Week 4: (April 21, 23)
    More Food and Culture
    Tastes of Home, ethnic foods, holidays
    What food means to people from different cultures and places
    Describing food
    Readings-- from R.W. Apple (possibly a few of these):

  • Much Too Good for a Bagel, p. 204-208.
  • From the Vines of Vesuvius, p. 281-288.
  • Where the Buffaloes Roam...p. 289-292.
  • In Germany, Spring Wears White, p. 293-298.
  • The Miracle of Rye, p. 299-303.
  • A Trip to the Heart of Dim Sum, p.350-357

    From Best Food Writing:
  • "The View from West 12th," by Pete Wells. p. 88-90. A not very positive review.

  • Assignment--short food review--best if it's a food or restaurant you're already familiar with. Due date April 23 at the beginning of class.
    In-class visitors Monday, April 21: Several faculty from different parts of the world talking about food from home.

    Week 5: (April 28, 30)
    Wine, beer, etc.
    A growing option, but not an easy career.
    The science of food production--the chemistry of beer-, winemaking and whiskey. Trends: Home brewing and wine-making
    From R.W. Apple:
    (Possibly a few of these)

  • Bourbons in the Cognac League, p. 57-61.
  • A Rugged Drink for a Rugged Land, p. 198-203.
  • Behind the Redwoods...p. 134-141.
  • The Growler Rush By Eugene Weekly
  • Beer Spills into History Books Good story about Oregon hop and brewing history.
  • Cider Insiders: An Old-fashioned Drink Gains Popularity in the Northwest From the Register-Guard
  • The Truth about the Origins of IPA From The Beer Commoisseur
  • Tourists Drawn to Distilleries, Breweries
  • Wine 101 Some basic information; Some is getting a bit old. From OregonWines.com.
    Visitor--Jerry Sass of Sass Winery (April 30)

    Week 6: (May 5, 7)
    Food, science and politics
    Genetically modified crops--issues of intellectual property and lobbying power, monoculture and disease resistance, irradiated food, the organic movement
    Readings--Pollan--The Omnivore's Dilemma--Part 1

  • A race to save the orange by altering its DNA By Amy Harmon (New York Times)
  • A debate between Pollan and a Missouri farmerFrom Iowa Public TV
    From Best Food Writing:
    "The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater," by Erica Strauss, 36-40.

    NEW DUE DATE!Assignment--research an ethnic dish, write about it--history, what it means to people of that ethnicity, interview at least one person who has that heritage. Due date May 5 at the beginning of class.

    Week 7: (May 12, 14)
    The restaurant trade Cooking as a career, culinary education
    Food as a business, the shift to catering and other specializations
    From Best Food Writing:

  • "Tyranny: It's What's for Dinner," by Corby Kummer from the Atlantic, p. 19-31.
  • "Confronting a Masterpiece,"by Matt Goulding, p. 74-87.

  • About gastropubs From Nation's Restaurant News (NOW BEHIND A PAYWALL)
  • "Who's Rocking to the Music? That's the Chef" From The New York Times
  • A Woman's Place Is Running the Kitchen
  • Burger Queen very long New Yorker profile of a chef
  • Chef profile in Q&A format
  • Celebrity chefs--New Orleans
  • Half-baked Food Reviews? From Journal Sentinel Online
  • Bloggers, We Will Bury You From Restaurant Hospitality magazine
    Changed date: Wednesday, May 14, Visit to LCC culinary program. Meet in class at 4 (don't be late), and we'll carpool over to Lane. We'll be back by 6

    Week 8: (May 19, 21)
    Local trends
    Local sourcing (King Estate restaurant); Artisan trends. Reaction to a large degree to the criticisms seen in the Pollan book.
    Wheat farming, raising pork, cheeses, backyard chicken-raising, organic gardening, etc....

    Reading--Pollan, (Part 2)

  • "Can You Really Save the Planet at the Dinner Table?" A critique of The Omnivore's Dilemma by an economist.
  • Another critique of Pollan focusing on world hunger
    From Best Food Writing:
  • "Slow Cooking, Slow Eating," by Edward Behr, p. 41-47.
  • "The Meaning of Local," Todd Kliman, p. 52-72.
  • 9 secrets to finding the best local food From Organic Gardening
  • What Farm-to-Table Got WrongOp-ed in NYT
    Visitors: Representatives from Willamette Farm & Food, Slow Food and Marche.
    Background links:
  • Willamette Farm and Food Coalition
  • Slow Food Eugene
  • A student profile of Tom Barkin, former local and regional Slow Food officer.
  • Marche Restaurant
    Assignment: Three trend story ideas based on the Pollan book, due May 19 (mentioned in class 5/5). Should be no more than a page total. One paragraph each--What is the trend? How does it relate to the book? Who or what are possible sources? Where could you pitch the idea for possible publication?

    Assignment: Trend or issue story, due May 21

    Week 9: (May 28)
    Cookbooks, food and health
    Issues with allergies, food intolerances, (gluten, dairy) etc.
    Cookbooks--What's in a cookbook?

    Reading--Pollan, (Part 3)
    R.W. Apple-Stalking the Wild Morel...p 109-17.

  • The Ultimate Block Party From a Sunset Magazine contest.
  • Profile of cookbook author Joan Nathan
  • Cookbook Sales Flourish ... even though book publishing overall is down

    Assignment: What's in a cookbook? For class discussion May 28
    No class May 26--Memorial Day holiday

    Week 10: (June 2, 4)
    Food writing Impact of the web, Yelp and other review sites, etc...

  • Dishing About Food Writing Out of a Crowded Field, Seven Writers You Should Know About. By Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune
  • An April exchange about making a living in food writing
  • America's oldest brewer Direct to consumer
  • King Estate Building community through social media and news
  • Association of Food Journalists
  • AFJ statement of ethics
    Assignment: A longer piece--extended profile, issue or trend story, etc., (4-5 pages) due June 9. This story can be an expanded version of one of the earlier assignments--with more reporting
    Monday, June 2, Skype interview with Lee Dean, food editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune

    "Lee Dean's cookbook website
    Star-Tribune's food section