Blogging (about food) gets creative juices flowing

Juicy, sizzling steak, delectably moist chocolate cake, seasoned Greek salad — for the kindred-spirited food lovers in the seminar “Writing About Food,” blogging about dishes like these is almost as exciting as actually eating them.

The “Writing About Food” blog — created for the 15-person English 116 seminar taught for the first time this semester by professor Barbara Stuart — provides a unique public forum for students to share their thoughts on food-related topics. The blog, one of the seminar’s most popular features, not only has given students a platform for sharing recipes and food “secrets,” such as the free ice cream tacos available in the Chaplain’s Office, but also has complemented the more traditional teaching tools of classroom discussions and essay writing, Stuart said.

“[It] taps into a skill set most students have been developing since childhood,” she said. “The visual component of blogging puts the writing into a kind of comfort zone.”

The class requires students to post at least once every two weeks to a class blog, which can be found at http://wordpress.commons.yale.edu/engl116-stuart/, in addition to the usual reading and essay-writing. So far, the more than 100 posts have ranged from reviews of restaurants in New Haven and New York to a description of one student’s experience making bagels at home over spring break.

“There really isn’t anything that’s better than hot bread … smothered in butter and jam or whatever topping suits your fancy,” Katharine Dryden ’11, a class member who posted an entry on bagelsto the blog March 26. “The crisp outside, the chewy inside, the perfect ratio of crust to interior bread, fresh out the oven … the idea left my mouth watering.”

Stuart and her students both said in interviews that they welcome contributions to the blog by other members of the Yale community. Anyone, Stuart said, who has a Yale netID can access and post to the blog.

“I want people in the Yale community to start blogging with us,” Dryden said. “It would be fun to get a sort of give-and-take going.”

Inspiration for the innovative teaching idea came from Robin Ladouceur, an instructional design specialist in the academic media and technology department, and Ken Panko, the manager of the Yale Instructional Technology Group, who spearheaded the Teaching with Technology Tuesdays series. The series, started in Spring 2008, sponsors weekly training sessions teaching faculty how to bring technology into their classrooms.

Stuart, who plans to teach “Writing About Food” again next spring, initially experimented with the medium of classroom blogging while teaching an English 114 seminar last fall, “Election 2008.” She said she found that the blog format helped students think through course’s content and enhanced their writing skills.

Though Internet prose is sometimes perceived to be “abysmal,” Stuart claims Yale students are not typical bloggers. In fact, blogging often encourages more carefully constructed prose since writers are voicing their opinions for a public audience, she said.

“In [English] 114, I discovered from [students’] posts that their prose was well written and the content had depth,” she said. “When I questioned the English 114 students about the quality of their blog posts, they said they were better because they were writing for a public forum.”

All four students interviewed said they were enjoying the class, which they had chosen to take based on its topic. For Lauren Campbell ’11, a self-described “hard-core reader of food blogs, cookbooks and newspaper dining sections,” deciding to take Stuart’s class was a no-brainer.

“As soon as I heard the topic for this class, I knew I had to take it, even though I’ve already taken English 120,” said Campbell, who added that even her college admissions essay centered on food. “This class was really an opportunity to get credit for what I like to do in my free time.”

Margaret Tung ’10, who has her own food blog called “Tung in Cheek,” said Stuart’s class was the perfect opportunity to combine her passions for food and blogging. She added that although she was initially hesitant about her ability to write about food — especially in such a public domain — she has enjoyed developing her own unique voice.

“The Internet is a fascinating and amazing mode of communication,” she said. “[The class blog] brings nearly everything you wanted to know about food together — policy, flavors and background.”

Students in Stuart’s seminar also have the opportunity to go on five different field trips to bakeries, farms and a cheese shop around New Haven — and blog about it. These field trips will culminate in a meal during reading week, in which students will prepare food collected from each of their field trip locations — including spare ribs from Four Mile River Farm in Old Lyme, Conn., and cheese from Caseus, a cheese store on Trumbull Street.

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