463/563 Specialized Reporting: Writing About Food

Fall 2015
Tuesday-Thursday 12-1:50, Allen 137

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
Other articles are available online (see links in this online syllabus) and on the class Canvas site.

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, you can find fascinating 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), community gardens and food activism. There are stories about work in the food trades and industries--profiles of chefs, 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 and 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.


In this class you should develop:

I've taught this class several times, but the class is always 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

Attendance is important. Classes will be a mix of discussion of readings and issues, including discussions and interviews with with visitors, and review of stories. 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 short profile, a story about ethnic food and cultural connections, a story about a food trend and a food issue-piece. Most assignments will be short (2-3 pages). The last assignment will be a longer story (4-5 pages).


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, similar to the criteria used in any reporting or writing course. Examples include accuracy, completeness, focus, grammar, punctuation, etc.

Some Important Information:

If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your participation, please notify me as soon as possible. You are also welcome to contact Disability Services in 164 Oregon Hall at (541) 346-1155 or disabsrv@uoregon.edu. If you are not a student with a documented disability through Disability Services, but you would like for me to know about class issues that will impact your ability to learn, I encourage you to come visit with me during my office hours. More information is available at the Accessible Education Center.

Here is a statement from the Dean of Students office on academic misconduct:

Academic Misconduct:
The University Student Conduct Code (available at conduct.uoregon.edu) defines academic misconduct. Students are prohibited from committing or attempting to commit any act that constitutes academic misconduct. By way of example, students should not give or receive (or attempt to give or receive) unauthorized help on assignments without express permission from the instructor. Students should properly acknowledge and document all sources of information (e.g. quotations, paraphrases, ideas). If there is any question about whether an act constitutes academic misconduct, it is the student's obligation to clarify the question with the instructor before committing or attempting to commit the act. Additional information about a common form of academic misconduct, plagiarism, is available at Additional information about a common form of academic misconduct, plagiarism, is available on the UO library website.

In this class, what this means in practice is that you do your own work, except for any assignment that I announce may be done by a group. Most, possibly all, assignments will be done as individual projects. It also means that you don't use other published work in your stories without proper attribution.

Tentative schedule

Note the word tentative

Week 1: (Sept. 29, Oct. 1)
Tuesday: Introduction
Thursday: Food writing as reporting, types of food stories, food terminology,
Several short food stories--shows some of the range:

  • 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
  • What the Inuit Can Tell Us About Omega-3 Fates and 'Paleo' Diets
  • Global Warming From the Economist
  • 7 ways to plant potatoes From Organic Gardening
  • A watchful Eye on Farm Families' Health Text and video--Mark Bittman of NYT
  • The Secret to Food-Writing Success

  • NY Times dialect quiz
  • Dialect Survey and Maps

    Week 2: (Oct. 6, 8)
    Tuesday--profiles and sketches
    Thursday: Skype interview with a cook, who also happens to be my daughter.

    On Canvas:

  • Profile Interviewing, by Mike Thoele
  • Cohen--Ninkasi's female brewer From The Register-Guard Special Publications
  • Long profile of a prodigy chef From the New York Times Magazine.
  • Moving to Noma
  • In the Chef's Kitchen (Hard copy--from a student story)
      A couple from Best Food Writing:
  • "The Cheese Artist," By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl. p. 119-128.
  • "His Saving Grace," By Kevin Pang. p. 289-308. Long profile. Very good read.

    Assignment due Sunday, Oct. 9. E-mail me the short profile of the cook we interviewed by Skype. Note, this is a new due date.

    Week 3: (Oct. 13, 15)

    Describing food
    Food reviewing
    Discuss profiles; Profiling a food, a vegetable, a fruit?
    Going to the source

    From Best Food Writing:

    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
  • "The View from West 12th," by Pete Wells. A not very positive review.

    Food and controversy

  • Pete Wells' scathing review of Guy Fieri's Times Square restaurant
  • Fieri strikes back
  • The NYT public editor's take on the controversy

    Week 4: (Oct. 20, 22)
    Food and Culture
    Tastes of Home, ethnic foods, holidays
    What food means to people from different cultures and places

  • "Meet the Parents," By Eddie Huang, p. 330-334.
  • "Spin the Globe," By Francis Lam, p. 308-313.
    Other articles:
  • Po Boy--New Orleans

    A few from R.W. Apple
  • The Glorious Summer of the Soft-Shell Crab, p. 9-18.
  • In Hoagieland, They Accept No Substitutes, p. 27-34.
  • The Meat that Made Sheboygan Famous, p. 96-101.
  • The Secret Sauce of Worcester, p. 178-182.
  • Much Too Good for a Bagel, p. 204-208.
  • From the Vines of Vesuvius, p. 281-288.
  • Where the Buffaloes Roam, p. 289-292.
  • A Trip to the Heart of Dim Sum, p.350-357

  • Assignment--short food review--best if it's a food or restaurant you're already familiar with. Due Thursday, Oct. 22 at the beginning of class.
  • In-class visitors: Several faculty members from different parts of the world talking about food from home.

    Week 5: (Oct. 27, 29)
    The restaurant trade Cooking as a career, culinary education
    Food as a business, the shift to catering and other specializations
    Possible field trip to LCC culinary program

    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 requires registration to read) )
  • 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
  • Celebrity chefs--New Orleans
  • Half- baked Food Reviews? From Journal Sentinel Online
  • Restaurateur fights back against Yelp review
  • Bloggers, We Will Bury You From Restaurant Hospitality magazine
    (now requires registration to read)
  • Whiteaker Community Dinner--volunteer form

    Week 6: (Nov. 3, 5)
    Wine, beer, etc.
    A growing option, but not an easy career.
    The science of food production--the chemistry of beer-making, winemaking and whiskey. Trends: Home brewing and wine-making
    From R.W. Apple:

  • Bourbons in the Cognac League, p. 57-61.
  • A Rugged Drink for a Rugged Land, p. 198-203.
  • Behind the Redwoods...p. 134-141.
    Other reading
  • Beer Spills into History Books--Good story about Oregon hop and brewing history.
  • The Growler Rush By Eugene Weekly
  • Cider Insiders: An Old-fashioned Drink Gains Popularity in the Northwest From the Register-Guard (no longer available)
  • The Truth about the Origins of IPA From The Beer Connoisseur (no longer available)
  • Wine 101 Some basic information; Some is getting a bit old. From OregonWines.com.

    Visitor--Jerry Sass of Sass Winery
    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 Nov. 5 at the beginning of class.

    Week 7: (Nov. 10, 12)
    Food, science and politics, trends
    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 farmer From Iowa Public TV
    From Best Food Writing:
    "The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater," by Erica Strauss, 36-40.

    Week 8: (Nov. 17, 19)
    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 Wrong An op-ed column in NYT

    Visitors: Representative from Huerto de la Familia, possibly also from from Willamette Farm & Food Coalition and Slow Food.
    Background links:
  • Huerto de la Familia
  • Willamette Farm and Food Coalition
  • Slow Food Eugene
  • A student profile of Tom Barkin, former local and regional Slow Food officer.

    Week 9: (Nov. 24)
    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 Nov. 24

    Assignment: Trend or issue story, due Nov. 24
    No class Nov. 26--Thanksgiving holiday

    Week 10: (Dec. 1, 3)
    Food writing Impact of the web, Yelp and other review sites, etc...

  • Tuesday, Dec. 1, Skype interview with Lee Dean, food editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune

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

    The United States of Thanksgiving A Thanksgiving dish for each state

  • A Star-Tribune story about the controversy and the social media reaction
  • The NYT public editor's column on the flap
  • Minnesota Facebook page
  • Another NYT attempt

  • 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
  • Maintaining a Long-Term Blog From 101 Cookbooks
  • 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 Tuesday, Dec. 8 by 4 p.m. This story can be an expanded version of one of the earlier assignments--with more reporting. Note, this is a new due date--it had been Dec. 4. You can turn it in early if you wish.