Teaching Food in Literature (UPDATED: Abstracts 9/7/20)

deadline for submissions: 
September 7, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Jeff Birkenstein

Teaching Food in LiteratureOverview

It might sometimes seem as if food runs our lives. And, indeed, it might. Sure, we need to eat to survive, but we all know that food is usually so much more. Food is sometimes glorious. Food can also be a periodic or daily struggle to acquire, prepare, or consume. Food is something many of us somehow take for granted, even as we struggle with deciding what to eat every day . . . indeed, multiple times a day! Food is also identity and culture; it is narrative and story. Food is gain and loss, comfort and distress, extravagance and austerity. The cultural, ideological, and political issues surrounding food—its creation, distribution, acquisition, and consumption—are at the very foundation of who we are individually and collectively, about where we belong, and from where we are excluded. Food is everyday and for as long as we live, even on days when we don’t have access to it or are fasting. 

Given the ubiquity of food in our bodies and our culture(s), it is no surprise that from the beginnings of literature, the representation of food has been an important contributing narrative factor in countless (con)texts. Sometimes food is merely present because literature is about people and people must eat. But sometimes food in literature is something much more. Food can propel a narrative, describe a character, undergird a plot, and on and on.
Significant food in literature—that is, food that is integral to the narrative being told—is worthy of both teaching and study. The goal of this edited collection is to encourage an in-depth, multivalent, relevant, and current conversation—with plenty of examples for teaching—regarding the intersection of teaching both food and literature. Submission details are below.

The Collection’s Structure

The following is merely a place to start. The final structure of the collection will depend on the essays proposed and selected.

A Note: All essays should at least in part discuss the specific teaching strategies or pedagogy you have employed in the classroom related to food and literature. Although not required, you are also encouraged to provide actual teaching materials, with commentary, etc., if helpful to your essay. I imagine this distribution might be 50/50 (those with included teaching materials, and those without), but we shall see.

Another Note: Please cast your subject and genre net wide, across literary time and space. Study cookbooks, either as literature or cultural artifact? Great. Deal with topics ranging from gluttony to moderation to food abstinence? Terrific. I’m like Oliver Twist asking for gruel: “Please . . . I want some more.”

Yet One More Note: Though postsecondary levels and classroom types are of principle interest for this collection, in keeping with the MLA’s desire to increase outreach to all levels of instruction, I would very much like to include some essays from K–12 teachers, as well.


Let’s start here, with definitions. What is food studies? What do we mean by merging food studies with literary theory and pedagogy and practice? Why is this important? Interesting? Relevant? Explore the concept of food studies and literature from any and all angles. What do we mean by these various terms and ideas? Why is it important to use food as a critical lens with which to approach and analyze literature in the classroom?


What specific theoretical approaches have been useful—or, not—and why in your classroom? Explore some of the main theorists and their work and how their writing can be successfully used in the classroom. Choose a debate in the field, argue for a position, and explain how this argument would be or has been useful for you in class.


Every discipline has the potential to engage with literature, food, food cultures, food practices, and food studies. Often, a classroom outside language and literary studies uses literature or literary texts to explore a discipline. Working with individual texts, explore the liminal space between academic disciplines and how teaching food adds significantly to the classroom.


What food text(s), primary and secondary, have you found particularly productive in your teaching? Focus on how to construct a class around these specific texts (literature, theory, cinema, or media). You need not mention only those texts that have traditionally been considered literary, as you should explore the entire panoply of the human literary imagination. 

To contribute to this volume, please submit a 200–500-word abstract and a CV (abbreviated is fine) by 7 September 2020. E-mail MS Word documents to Jeff Birkenstein (jbirkenstein@stmartin.edu). Also, of course, please don’t hesitate to ask any questions. In advance, thank you for your interesting ideas; I look forward to learning from you. A few important details to be considered: permission must be granted by students for any quotations used (whether oral or from student papers); only previously unpublished essays considered; and, finally, you can learn about the MLA guidelines for submission on the MLA Web site.