Food Assignment #3: Close Reading and Critique

Michael Pollan’s famous advice is often distilled into seven words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Yet the details of his “manifesto” have received a lot of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Many community activists point to the lack of access to fresh produce in many urban, rural and low-income areas, while a number of agri-business executives and economists proclaim the impossibility of the kind of small-scale farming Pollan advocates. As we are now experts on the details of Pollan’s program as well as familiar with a number of arguments from some of his detractors, your assignment is to choose an aspect of Pollan’s argument that has been critiqued and take a position in that debate.

Advice: The best essays will stake out a strong position within the debate, and will not simply take one side or the other but will attempt to reframe the debate with new ideas or information.  To do so you will need to address multiple positions in the debate—not just your side.  What is impractical, unfeasible, or missing a crucial piece of information?  What are some potential counterarguments you might address? Your essay should articulate a clear thesis, which should guide your entire paper, and be supported throughout with evidence.

Audience: Readers who are sympathetic to and critical of Michael Pollan

Format: 1200-1800 words (4-6 pages); MLA format

Deadlines: Draft due in class for peer review on MONTH DAY
Final draft due in class on MONTH DAY


Type: Develop an argument to analyze the tensions between two sources

Rationale: The purpose of this assignment is to give students practice engaging with argument and counter-argument.  In doing so, they will critically evaluate evidence, practice doing their own analysis, and explore tone, voice, and style.

Pre-Draft Activities:

  • Blog responses to related readings
  • Close reading and annotation of passage
  • Workshop on argument and counter-argument
  • Paper proposal
  • Outline or essay summary

Readings: Pollan, In Defense of Food or “Unhappy Meals”; Hurst, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”; Cowan, “Can You Really Save the Planet at the Dinner Table?”; Shapiro, “Holy Church of Food”

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