A list of essay questions will be distributed prior to the mid-semester break. As well engagement with the course readings, this paper requires further reading and research from outside the course material but bear in mind that it should apply a scholarly and sociological perspective.
Essay Topics for SOC 302
Essay One: The American poet Wendell Berry notes that ‘Eating is an agricultural act,’ Michael Pollan (2006:11) says that eating is also ‘an ecological act, and political act too. Discuss this proposition with reference to an in depth discussion of at least one example.
Essay Two: How and in what ways is food and eating connected to ideas of home and ideas of homeliness? You may also like to start with the course readings but your essay should involve some independent research and thinking beyond these.
Utilizing the case study of one particular food/or meal discuss how this food/meal is related to individual as well as group identity, (for example, class or gender or ethnic or national identity). Here you might like to talk both about the symbolic importance of this food, its aesthetic qualities as well as its preparation, its eating and production. You can include some personal information in this essay but you should also include some scholarly/academic sources (including course readings) to support your argument/s.
Essay Three: ‘Australia doesn’t really have a national cuisine’. Discuss.
For this question (however you answer it) you might like to consult as a key text Michael Symons. One Continuous Picnic: a history of Australian Eating. Melbourne University Press 2006. But your research should obviously go beyond this text. You might like to think, for example, of what exactly is meant by a ‘cuisine’ in the first place? How is a ‘cuisine’ different to a particular food item?
(NOTE: We will not over this topic specifically in the lecture series. So this topic is only suitable if you have a real interest in the question and will obviously involve some independent research and thinking).
Essay Four: Write a review of two fictional films OR novels that have food and eating at the centre of their narratives. In your review, you should demonstrate how these narratives connect to at least one of the themes that we have discussed in this class, (for example food and the senses; food and memory; eating and sociability; food and identity etc. You should include in your review some references to scholarly literature possibly from the course outline on the themes encountered).
Essay Five: Write a review of two scholarly books that focus on food and eating: these may be ethnographic, sociological, or historical texts but you should try to select a series of books that tie into particular themes, for example, food and politics; food and identity; food and the media; food and gender OR books that focus on a particular food, for example, meat, sugar (to name only two). The aim here is to write a ‘review essay’ of the two books that draw out the similar and contrasting threads of the authors’ analysis and what makes them work or not, for you the reader. What kind of evidence do the authors use to make their arguments? Are their arguments convincing, enlightening, flawed? Why should we read them? How do they connect to the course themes? (Here you should say something about why you selected these two books. You might like to look at the course outline for some ideas on books, but you are welcome to go beyond this list. If in doubt or need some help please get in touch with me).
Essay Six Conduct a ‘commodity chain’ analysis of a single food item that is part of your everyday eating practice. This essay involves some detective work. You need to trace a single foodstuff’s ‘travels’ and ‘costs’ through the food chain, from farm to plate. You should try and uncover the links between production and consumption of this food. The following questions illustrate some of the threads you can focus on in your analysis. You don’t have to follow all of them but you should try to follow at least three:
Production: So you should try and find out the way in which this food is produced and grown and here pay attention to the role of agricultural technology and/or labour that is involved in growing the product. Are the raw ingredients grown for example by small farmers or corporate agri-business? How much does the farmer make in producing this product? What percentage of the retail price goes to the farmer? How are the workers treated in the production of this food?
Processing: Your essay could also detail the steps by which raw ingredients from the farm are transformed into the food product we buy in the supermarket or in a restaurant. How do processers attempt to extend the product’s shelf life (i.e. preservatives, canning, packaging, freezing etc)? Which companies do this processing? What else do they make?
Marketing: How is this product packaged? Advertised? Displayed? And Priced? Who sells the product? Analyse the advertising for images, myths, values, gender issues, stereotypes etc
Consumption: Who consumes this product, how and why? What is the role of this food in the life of the family, community, ethic group, and nation? Also you might think about: Is this product sustainable? Is the product good for me? Safe to eat?
NOTE: This essay topic on the commodity chain analysis is suitable for a group project, for two or three people, as well as individuals. If you are interested in the ‘group’ option, please come and talk to me about it. Answering the question will involve a good amount of research – including library research and web-based materials, and even interviews. You will need to use your imagination and your best detective skills in order to complete the assignment. Even so, you will probably hit some dead-ends in the process. A few dead-ends are acceptable, but if you are having trouble getting any useful information you should choose a different food item/product.
Essay Seven: Should a true feminist be a vegetarian?
Discuss this question using the sources from this course, as well as your own independent research and thinking. In your answer you might like to consider the following statement: “Sexual violence and meat-eating, which appear to be discrete forms of violence, find a point of intersection in the absent referent.”
– Carol Adams (1995) The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, Continuum, p. 43
What does Adams mean? How strong is her argument?
You also might like to consider the following question in your response: What are the implications for feminism of associating women with vegetarianism, and with alternative health in general?
Suggested Reading from Judy: (see lecture script on the topic for more references, or find your own):
Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. Continuum, 1995.
Adams, Carol J. “Ecofeminism and the Eating of Animals” in Hypatia, 125-145, Spring, 1991.
Allen, Jeffner. “Women and Food” in the Journal of Social Philosophy, 15, 34-41, Summer, 1984.
Coward, Rosalind. The Whole Truth: The Myth of Alternative Health, Faber & Faber, 1989.
Fiddes, Nick. Meat, a Natural Symbol. London, Routledge, 1991. GT2868.F53
Inness, Sherrie A, ed. Cooking lessons: the politics of gender and food. Lanham, Md, Rowman & Littlefield 2001. GT2853.U5 .C66/2001
Lupton, Deborah. Food, the Body and the Self. London, Sage, 1996. TX357.L87
McKenna, Erin. “Feminism and Vegetarianism: A Critique of Peter Singer” in Philosophy in the Contemporary World, 1(3), 28-35, Fall, 1994.
McKenna, Erin. “Women, Power, and Meat: Comparing The Sexual Contract and The Sexual Politics of Meat” in the Journal of Social Philosophy, 27(1), 47-64, Spring 1996.
Pateman, Carole. “The Sexual Contract and the Animals” in the Journal of Social Philosophy, 27(1), 65-80, Spring 1996.
Paxton George, Kathryn. “Should Feminists Be Vegetarians?” in Signs, 19, 2, 1994.
Essay Eight: ‘Vegetarianism is simply a passing fad’. Discuss this statement using sources from the course outline as well as your own independent research and thinking.
Essay Nine: Photo Essay and Mini ethnography. Locate a community urban gardening project in your area, or in any area of Sydney. Try to find out the history of the gardens. Carry out some observational research of the gardens and (with permission) take some photos of the urban gardens. Do some ‘scoping’ research recording oral histories of some of the gardeners. Try to find out what they get out of the community gardening project. Try to locate some scholarly literature on urban gardening movements to enhance your analysis. (There’s plenty see below) Your final essay should include a report on your experiences, some analysis and a photo essay documenting your experiences, the gardens and the gardeners.
NOTE: if you are interested in this option please talk to me beforehand so I can discuss with you questions of ethics
Some useful sociological references on urban gardening in the US context below:
White, Monica M. 2011. “D-Town Farm: African American Resistance to Food Insecurity and the Transformation of Detroit.” Environmental Practice. Vol. 13 (4).
White, Monica M. 2011. “Sisters of the Soil: Urban Gardening as Resistance in Detroit.” Race/Ethnicity: Multicultural Global Contexts. Race/Ethnicity: Multicultural Global Contexts. Vol. 5 (1).
White, Monica, M. 2010. “Shouldering Responsibility for the Delivery of Human Rights: A Case Study of the D-Town Farmers of Detroit,” Race/Ethnicity: Multicultural Global Contexts, Vol. 3 (2): 189-212.
There’s also quite a lot of material on urban gardening movements in other cross -disciplinary journals that you can find:
For example: for Melbourne see
Johnothan ‘yotti’ Kingsley and Mardie Townsend 2006 Dig In the Social Capital: community gardens as mechanisms fro growing urban social connectedness. Urban Policy Research 24(4) 525-537
Elise Harris 2009 The Role of Community Gardening in creating healthy communities. Australian Planner 46(2) 24-27
Laura Stocker and Kate Barrett The Significance and Praxis of community-based sustainability projects: community gardens in Western Australia Local Environment: The international journal of justice and sustainability 3(2)
See also Special Issue of Local Environment: The international journal of justice and sustainability 2011 Vol 16(16) for a number of papers including intro article : Developing ‘community’ in community gardens Chris Forth, Damien Maye and David Pearson
(For people interested in food in cities in general and the history of food provisioning to cities a highly recommended text is Carolyn Steel’s Hungry City although this book is not at all directly on urban gardening movements) Next time around we’ll do a lecture on it!
Essay Ten: Over the last few decades a number of consumer movements have emerged that critique the current organization of the food system. Some of these movements, such as the Slow Food movement are highly organized, while others, for example, Freeganism, Locavorism, are not.
For this essay select one of these movements – organized or not – and do some research on their origins, ethical practices around food and eating and their politics. Attempt a sociological explanation as to why these movements/practices have emerged and gained traction in the contemporary era.
Essay Eleven: Over the last few years a number of food scandals have occurred in the global food system (for example 1990’s Mad Cow’s Disease, the 2015 horse meat scandal) that have provoked a lot of anxiety over the safety of what we eat. For your essay focus on one example only. Using scholarly sources, as well as media reports provide an outline of what occurred in these incidents, to the best of your ability. In the second part of your essay provide some more analysis. What do these incidents tell us both about the modern food system and the cultural anxieties that eating in the modern world often invokes?
3. Research Paper: (2,000 words, weighting 40%)
A list of essay questions will be distributed prior to the mid-semester break. As well engagement with the course readings, this paper requires further reading and research from outside the course material and should apply scholarly and sociological approach to answering the question.
The final essay should follow normal essay formats and style, with introduction , body that sets out the argument and the material, and conclusion etc. The only exception to this might be the photo essay assignment that can be set out as an ethnographic report plus photo essay. Please see me if you want to do this topic.