Personal Essay

The idea of this paper is to write an essay about yourself and food. Our immersion in recent literature in food studies raises lots of questions and concerns about food systems, and your own life experience is a good place to think about such questions.

How do you now see yourself and food?

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), the first author to describe his work as essays, considered essays as "attempts" to put his thoughts into writing. This kind of essay is both a personal reflection / exploration and an inquiry into a question of broader, public signficance. It is not simply description or a narrative of events, but an inquiry.

This essay should not be a five-paragraph paper or in a formulaic structure. It's structure should evolve from the what you discover you want to say. While there should be a focus, it is not necesarily trying to make an argument, so it doesn't need an explicit thesis. The point is to think deeply and carefully, consider complexities drawing on new understandings from our class reading, discussion, blogs, and viewing.

  • This essay could be written drawing on memoir as you focus on some experience/issue/theme in your past explored in part in light of what you have learned about food systems.
  • Or, the essay could be a personal philosophical exploration as you consider questions such as, 1) How do I decide what I should eat? 2) How do I rethink my education in the light of what I am learning about food and food systems? 3) How might I make a difference, now or in the future, in addressing issues raised by food systems?
  • Or, the essay could be ethnographic or address family history. What is the relationship of my family to food production / systems? How has that relationship evolved? What are the health, ethical, political dimensions of my family's relationship to food?

The paper should be in first person ("I"), demonstrate insight, and make connection to reading about food systems. You can quote from sources and use endnotes, but this is not a research paper. You will likely want to write a lot, then rewrite, revise until the essay is polished and conveys what you want to convey. Your audience is a general reader interested in the topic of food and food studies. It should show careful editing, and be at least 4-5 pages long.

Here are some questions Becky DeOliviera proposes to help generate ideas for the essay:

1. To what extent is food an important part of your social and family life? Examples?
2. Does what you eat form a part of your identity? If so, how?
3. Do you ever make decisions about what to eat or not eat from a moral or ethical point of view? Examples?
4. How would making radical changes to your eating habits influence your relationships or other aspects of your life?
5. How much emphasis should an individual place on determining what to eat? Does food matter? What should/could you do based on what we are learning?
6. How do food choices relate to other aspects of being part of a community?
7. How do food choices relate to personal and corporate responsibility?
8. If economics were not an issue, would you eat differently than you currently do? In what ways?
9. How has your reading in this class so far affected the way you think about your and/or your family’s relationship to food? Examples?
10. How has reading student blogs affected the way you think about food? Have you had any new insights as a result of reading others' thoughts?

Created by: allen.webb@wmich.edu
Revised Date: 1/14