It’s a long way from Staples High School’s English classrooms to the culinary wing. And while English lies at the heart of every school’s curriculum. “cooking” — if it’s offered at all — is an elective.
But for several years, Staples’ “Food in Literature” class has been a popular, always filled offering.
Though it involves the stomach, it’s no gut. “Food Lit” is demanding. It forces students out of their comfort zones.
Sure, they eat well. But they also learn life skills. Like how to read, write and think.
The course is a collaboration between English instructor Kim Herzog and culinary arts teacher Cecily Gans. Meeting back to back for 2 periods, they guide their students through a balanced menu of food and literature, adding a dash of whatever is needed to keep every day fresh and challenging.
It’s a master class in all the skills of cooking (following instructions, flexibility, time management) and reading and writing (critical thinking, analysis, synthesis).
The core text last semester was “With the Fire on High,” Elizabeth Acevedo’s novel about a teenage mother who feels free only in the kitchen. Students read other fiction and non-fiction too.
As part of their writing, they research and then produce an op-ed on a food issue of their choosing. Topics this fall included delivery apps, GMOs, food waste, food insecurity, obesity, supermarket “food deserts, gender stereotypes in advertising, sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, the overabundance of food on social media, and eating in the age of COVID.
Throughout the semester, students choose themes that appeal to them. It can be a food based on their heritage, an important concept, or something that strikes their fancy.
This past semester, themes ranged from foods of Asia, South America and the Southern US, to challah, “picky eaters” and healthy trends.
Each theme represents a starting point for individual creativity. Students design blogs, which this year expanded to include how-to videos, TikToks, listicles, and “lessons learned” entries.
The goal is to experiment with different ways to engage audiences, while understanding the rapidly expanding world of food blogging.
Each week, the class features 2 or 3 students on its Instagram account (@foodlitshs).
Students post reviews too. They range from restaurant dining and takeout or curbside experiences, to a meal cooked by others (or themselves) at home.
Class members even learn how to write recipes. It’s not as easy as it looks.
The class ends with “menu wars.” Five judges render verdicts. It’s as intense — and tasty — as any cooking show on TV.
“Food Lit” students dig in to meaty issues, from Day One. They’re hungry for knowledge.
Is your appetite whetted? To see samples of Herzog and Gans’ students’ fall semester work – their blogs, op-eds, recipes, photos and more — click here.