Writing 101: Food Choice (Reilly)

Course Information

Instructor: Prof. Lee Anne Reilly

Choosing foods to eat may at first seem like a simple choice:  Eat what you like.  But the question “What’s for dinner?” can quickly become complicated – Eat healthy, but what does that mean?  Eat organic, but is it worth the cost?  Eat sustainably, eat locally, become vegetarian, become vegan. Eat for pleasure, for convenience, for comfort.  Each of these choices can be made quickly, or can involve a series of decisions based on complex social, ethical, and scientific considerations.  Several recent popular books, including Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, explore these questions.  The focus of this course will be to understand, evaluate, and respond to the scientific basis of the arguments in these and other popular texts.

First, you will come to understand these authors’ arguments through a series of blog posts in which you ask and answer specific questions about the texts.  Second, you will evaluate the scientific basis of the arguments in these popular texts by selecting one argument or issue that interests you and proposing a research question about it.  To gather the information you will need to answer your question, you will locate scientific papers and other sources of evidence from disciplines relevant to your question to produce an annotated bibliography that will help you organize your research process.  Finally, through a series of drafts, you will respond to your chosen topic with a critical review in which you build your own scholarly argument to highlight the strengths and counter the weaknesses of the arguments from your readings.

In addition to reading and producing scholarly writing (the tidy finished products), we will focus heavily on the process of prewriting to expose and experience the less tidy forms of writing that occur in scholarly practice.  You will experience the cyclical nature of writing as you move back and forth between your research question and your literature search, refining each as the other develops.  The ability to understand, evaluate, and respond to written argument will serve you in the many forms of writing you will encounter at Duke and beyond.

Student Writing Assignment

What are students writing? 1) Research proposal,  2) Critical review (academic argument based on current scientific literature).
For whom? 1) Research advisor, graduate committee, funding source,  2) any reader interested in understanding the complex aspects of food production, distribution, and consumption.
Where would such writing typically be found? 1) A research/dissertation proposal, or requests for research funding,  2) an opinion paper in a scientific journal such as Nature or Science.
Why would someone usually read it? 1) to assess the feasibility and scientific value of the project,  2) to gain an understanding of some aspect of food studies.

Reader requirements: experience reading, writing, and evaluating proposals, especially thesis or dissertation proposals, as well as opinion papers based on scientific evidence.  Students are free to explore a range of topics related to food studies, so readers with expertise in any discipline related to food studies would be welcome (agriculture, ecology, economics, health and nutrition, ethics and animal welfare, community education, cultural/religious aspects of food choice, etc).

See examples of reader bios for this course

Student – Reader Interactions

Intro Meeting

  • Sept 30 – Oct 7
  • Discuss research proposal

Draft #1 Critical Review

  • Student sends Critical Review, first draft, by Oct. 25th
  • Meet to discuss feedback Oct 28th – Nov 1 (no written feedback necessary)

Draft #2

  • Student sends second draft by Nov 10th
  • Reader sends written feedback (at least a day before meeting)
  • Meet to discuss feedback Nov 12 – 20th


  • send final copy to reader as well as instructor
  • (meeting to discuss optional)