In a medium-sized Combs Hall classroom, combine one cool professor, a dozen sharp summer-school students and a dash of inspiration. Blend well.
That’s the recipe for UMW Professor of English Colin Rafferty’s seminar, Let’s Eat: Writing About Food.
Designed to whet appetites for wielding together words, the tantalizing course takes a novel approach to two topics we often take for granted. When it comes to food – and writing – we devour the finished product with little thought of the tedious decision-making that went into them.
Students analyzed the rhetoric of cooking shows, read works by famed food authors and – perhaps everyone’s favorite – wrote odes to beloved dishes, paired with samples to share. The communal essence of mealtime fosters an atmosphere of creativity and collaboration.
“By bringing food into the classroom as a subject, we engage the critical thinking skills,” said Rafferty, who’s taught the five-week writing-intensive course since arriving at UMW in 2008. “By bringing food into the classroom as an actual thing, we build our community. If we eat together, we’re a group working on our writing together.”
Summer 2013 was especially satisfying, he said, with a “great mix of students … willing to bring a lot of their lives to the table.” They dined on injera, an Ethiopian flatbread; mochi, Japanese rice cakes; ful, Egyptian-style fava beans; and other ethnic fare. This year’s session was tasty, too, featuring odes to Aunt Candy’s cornbread, Grandma’s soda-pop cake and more.
“Just wrote the phrase ‘narrative of the pizza sandwich’ on an essay. #summerschool,” Rafferty tweeted in May.
Sink your teeth into these mouthwatering samples of student writing:
Reserved for occasions such as birthdays, parties and other events that don’t happen often enough, Momma’s Mac and Cheese is always the crowd favorite. It may or may not be the first dish on the table but it will certainly be the first empty dish taken off the table.
– Rachel Feola
What I really like about this recipe is that for me, it’s imbued with the essence of my Aunt Candy, who is as sweet as her name implies. When I make and serve Maw-Maw’s Texas cornbread, I find myself smiling a little broader, laughing a little louder, saying ‘bah, y’all!” to my guests when they leave instead of just “goodbye.”
– Becca Arm
My grandma loved to put the date on everything, including her recipe for soda pop cake. To this day, I treasure her recipe, printed from a typewriter, dated 1975 in Peoria, Illinois.
– Andrea Stegman
My mami’s spaghetti with meat sauce is, like, _the_ dish. It is the dish everyone expects at big family dinners, what I look forward to on my first day of vacation and what I could eat every day for the rest of my life.
– Margaux Wegeng
Pancakes and I have been friends since I was a child, and I can remember getting overexcited in that way that children do when my mom would announce “breakfast for dinner!” and pour the batter onto the griddle.
– Emma Augustine
Rafferty hopes his students’ foray into food writing will inspire them to keep at it.
“It’s not like calculus, where you can teach the rules and the steps,” he said. “There’s no secret of writing; it’s all about practice and getting better.”