Food Writing

Dec 2014

If you're reading this, you're probably already convinced of taking whatever Prof. Adams is offering because she offers really good courses and hey, it's an English class. You're probably just double-checking CULPA to make sure it won't be a total disaster. Read further; it will be. I'm speaking on Food Writing, but I think my warning will be universal. Don't let the optimism of the class' fun name tempt you-- this is far from the socioeconomically sensitive, culturally inclusive, tasteful course you might imagine Food Writing to be. The fact that it fulfills the 'American' requirement on the English major list indeed means it shuts out everything about food experience except those of white, rich suburban ladies who like to whisper disdainfully about the Food Network. It's what your cynic friends will think it is when you tell them what you're taking: McDonalds-shaming, fermented food-frotting elitism. The review from 2012 is still completely relevant. She gets her hands on classes that sound and have the potential to be great, and you'll be drawn into taking them. The syllabus and the readings might even sound good. It's friendly for bloggers, only held once a week, and great if you want to do a lot of writing and get a lot of feedback. But get ready for the most toxic seminar environment you can encounter at Columbia. Let me start with an example of how she's responded to students: Student during writing workshop on another student's piece: "You talked a lot about your family connections in the food industry in this piece, and I have to admit I felt a bit alienated by all the brands." (not verbatim, basically what was said; I was only half-listening as it was the end of class and I was left exhausted as usual) Professor (verbatim): "Well, it sounds like you're jealous." No moderation whatsoever. No organization, no smiles, no rules. She sets up a Hunger Games competition among the students. You're free to make whatever kinda bullshit comment you want with little intervention; be as offensive as you please, and your fellow classmates will probably not have the chance to call you out. What fun! In the rare cases whereas the professor does interrupt, it's a put-down or quick switch of the subject (extremely unhealthy facilitation skills here). You've got pre-meds, English majors, Sociology majors, GS, BC, CC, your friend across the hall, whatever, a slew of perfectly nice students outside of FW suddenly forced to turn into monsterously bitchy, expert food and art connoisseurs who talk over one another to dominate space, time and available professor feedback. The environment and professor are horrible, so vulnerable attitudes among your classmates will become horrible too. Certainly the students who took Food Writing couldn't have been all bad, but the professor's condescension and bicker-mongering made for mean-spirited competitiveness to come out over every contentious topic. There is especially no use for this jousting when we're all writing a bunch of papers, not competing for preset test grades. How does one seriously argue about Food Writing topics, you ask? Well, this class was basically women in bad moods arguing whose experience was most relevant. Though you knew everyone was good at heart, there were a couple of severe problem people in the class who consistently made uncalled-for, aggressive comments and tangents. Nothing was done except for a few uncomfortable looks exchanged. On top of the many papers and the blog that everyone crap-posts to (maybe a fourth of the class took it seriously and actually involved the readings in their responses) every week, as mentioned, you are required to throw a piece of your writing to the wolves at some point. There is fear like any other class that has workshops, but this time it's different. The activity is generally constructive in nature, but again, no moderation on the discussion. Feels like everyone is on the American Idol chopping block rather than a fun, relaxed celebration of one another's diversities and skills. People are basically encouraged to go Simon Cowell on your shit but will be 200% obvious that they have never read it to begin with. The "real writers"/go-getters who actually do read the pieces tend to get even more brutal; it's hard to blame this on the professor but she certainly could have been preventative. Then you got the field trips. I really enjoyed these, but they took the life out of me for the first half of the semester--sincerely get a calendar and make sure you can get all the volunteering/trip dates in on the original occasion, otherwise your experience will be hell. Finding make-up opportunities sucked. Also, some of them you will have to pay for (for no good reason, you don't receive anything and still have to pay for your own transportation). I'm sure she's a good and fine person, just a bit inaccessible both as a teacher and a supporter. And it makes the class bad, so bad. Adams seems busy or something, always. This is a class that apparently nobody (including her) has enough time for. Take this (or any of her courses) if you got thick skin, can ignore 70% of your classmates (or drag a friend with you), can write, can stick up for yourself, and literally have no other options to fill your sched. Worth it for the easy scheduling but the courseload doesn't match.

May 2012

Unfortunately, this class was awful and the professor was abysmal. She is the stereotypical "scumbag teacher"--she arrives to class late and then launches a public chastising if you need to leave on time to make it to your next class, she had the class critique a piece of student writing when the student was absent without the student's knowledge and without making it anonymous (she said it was anonymous but revealed information about the student to the extent that we all knew who it was, and then criticized both her writing and her personally), and generally seems to expect all of our lives to revolve around her class. She was bad at generating class discussion and bad at lecturing. She tended towards this weird conspiratorial tone that only furthered the atmosphere of elitism, decadence, and snobbery associated with "foodies." She was condescending, treating the students like children (making generalizations and assumptions about our many and varied limitations, not all of which were remotely true or applicable). I believe she was at some level genuinely oblivious as to how repulsive her manner was and how off-putting I and other class members found it. I'm sure that her personality jives with some people, but I am not one of them and I know others in the class felt the same way as me. Maybe she isn't a genuinely awful human being, but as a prof. she's kind of the worst. She's a fair grader, erring slightly on the critical side of fair (write well for good grades). The readings were wonderful--I couldn't put any of them down for an instant when I was reading. The readings broadened my understanding of food appreciation, production, preparation, and science immeasurably. The "field trips" were illuminating and worthwhile. The writing assignments were inspiring and helped drive me to create thoughtful pieces that were genuinely exciting for me to write. I loved everything about the class--except the time spent in class itself. Download the syllabus and stay away.