Thinking About Food Assignment Prompt

As you know, a key indicator of academic writing is the ability to identify, participate in, and contribute to a relevant conversation on a specific topic or issue. In this project, we are continuing to practice the reading, interpretive, and writing activities that enable us to become more proficient at this kind of work. Take the project seriously and you’ll both learn something and make a real contribution.

In addition to developing fluency with TRIAC and Barclay’s paragraphs, summary, paraphrasing, quoting, and signal phrasing, this project asks you to develop more autonomy in your reading and writing projects.

Project Background: In this project, you are invited to consider the ways food is produced in the United States and think about how the economic, cultural, and environmental factors that shape food production make it challenging to eat mindfully and ethically. Your goal in this paper is to explore and think critically about what other writers have written while working your way to your own informed statement of beliefs about eating ethically.

Barbara Kingsolver
Photo credit: David Wood

In “Called Home” Barbara Kingsolver explains why her family decided to grow their own food. For Kingsolver, dependence on our industrial system of food production has unexpected economic, social, political, and environmental consequences, of which eaters should be aware. Like Kingsolver, activist Michael Pollan is critical of industrial food production. In “The Animals: Practicing Complexity,” Pollan explores a possible alternative to industrial food production, examining the food production practices of a small farm in Virginia where human beings, animals, and plants live in an interspecies ecosystem governed less by industrial economics than by “coevolutionary relationships.” For Kingsolver and Pollan, eating within the industrial food system is ethically challenging, requiring us to think carefully about the broader consequences of the choices we make.

Thinking carefully about any ethical issue can be difficult, especially in matters we tend to take for granted or have strong feelings about. Anthrozoologist Hal Herzog explains that, when it comes to animals, human beings don’t think very rationally, and often find themselves unable to make consistent ethical decisions about how to treat them. While writing about genetics rather than food production, Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, argues that ethical decision making must be guided by a “moral compass.”

Photo of Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan
Photo credit: WUNC

Recommended Organization for your essay

Using ideas, language, and examples from both Kingsolver and Pollan, present the aspects of their critique of industrial food production system that raise what seem to you to be the most compelling ethical questions in need of discussion. Bittman, Manning, and any of the very short excerpts I’ve distributed in class are usable too.

Then, using language from the Dalai Lama, Herzog, and Pollan, consider whether the practices of Polyface Farm seem to you to be able to resolve any of the ethical questions industrial farming raises while also considering possible ethical, economic, or social implications of revamping our food production system to work more like it does on Polyface Farm. You’re welcome to include some of the sources critical of Polyface in this section.

Finally, describe the structural, economic, and cultural factors that have influenced your own eating habits and use your discussion of Kingsolver, Pollan, Herzog, and the Dalai Lama to consider what it would take for you to eat more ethically. In your discussion, you might want to consider one or two actions you could take to contribute to reducing your ethical load when eating.

The Assignment

Write an essay in which you join the public conversation about the ethics of food production. Recommended length: 1500 words or more.


Assignment Goals: Practice: integrating your ideas with the ideas of others; summary, paraphrase, and direct quotation; using signal phrases, parenthetical citation and works cited; annotating texts, using writing-to-learn strategies to improve comprehension, synthesis. Develop more autonomy in the reading and writing process.

Photo of The Dalai Lama - Tenzin Gyatso

The Dalai Lama – Tenzin Gyatso

This assignment asks you to synthesize a thread of a conversation about the ethics of food production with the purpose of formulating your own view on eating in a society fed largely through the industrial food production system, and thereby contribute to it.

  • Barbara Kingsolver, “Called Home” in her Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Harper Perennial, 2007, 1-22. “
  • Michael Pollan, “The Animals: Practicing Complexity” in his The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, The Penguin Press, 2006, 208-225.
  • The Dalai Lama, “Ethics and the New Genetics” in his The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science & Spirituality, Broadway Books, 2005, 187-201.
  • Hal Herzog, “Animals Like Us,” The Utne Reader, July-August 2011.
  • Readings from the poultry industry journal WATTPoultry USA.
Be sure to:
  • Hal Herzog with a snake wrapped around his arm

    Hal Herzog and friend

    Join the conversation between Kingsolver and Pollan by re-asking one or more of their questions about the ethics of food production and re-considering their answers in light of your own thinking.

  • Be clear about your perspective or point of view on eating ethically.
  • Briefly and appropriately introduce Kingsolver and Pollan’s texts in a way that sets up your project for this paper.  This does not require an extended summary.  Rather, it requires a brief ‘introduction’ or background and focused engagement with those of their key concepts or ideas you choose to work within the paper.
  • Go beyond the gist: Be sure to use summary, paraphrase, and quotation to integrate ideas, examples, and language from specific passages drawn from Kingsolver, Pollan, Herzog, and the Dalai Lama into your paper.
  • Use Barclay’s formula to make concrete connections among Kingsolver, Pollan, Herzog, and/or the Dalai Lama, and your own eating experiences.
  • Use TRIAC or Barclay’s formula to frame paraphrased and quoted passages, making sure to explain how they help support ideas or claims that you are developing.
  • Distinguish what you are saying from what Kingsolver, Pollan, Herzog, and the Dalai Lama are saying by using voice markers and signal phrases.
Important Dates

Complete draft (introduction, body, and conclusion; minimum 1,000 words) due April 16.

Full revision (1,500 words or more) due April 25.