Works for extra credit

This page contains listings about, and links to, things you can do for extra credit. You can do up to 2 per quarter. If you do 2, they should be of different genres–one book and one film, for example. The basic writeup model for books and films is modelled on your blog–500 words, posted with categories and tags, a title, and a “take” on the work. Introduce the book/film and the most key structures, movements, stylistic elements and other standout features. Summarize it on its own terms. And bring some angle of interpretation to it.

Ideally, you link it to a class reading or discussion. Or use it to make connections. Or illuminate/explore something we didn’t have time to talk about. For example, our class is mostly about texts, but you might want to know about more historical things (famine, rice as a historical material, political protests, how sushi got to California, the invention of various foods or food fads in Japan) or you might want to explore how issues about food have played out in other places/texts (the films Peepli Live!, Food, Inc, Eat Drink Man Woman, 301/302, etc.)


Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. The book that started it all…in establishing food as a legitimate and nuanced field of study. Tracks the parallel histories of sugar as a middle-class consumer good in 18th c. Britain, and the Caribbean slave trade/sugar cane cultivation. Here is Mintz himself on his project, in retrospect.

Japanese edition of Sweetness and Power

The Sushi Economy, by Sasha Issenberg…a general trade book about how sushi became popular in the US. Interesting claim(s) for technology in the world of sushi.

Four Fish, by Paul Greenberg. A sobering look at the biographies of 4 fish–pescographies?–first published in the New York Times magazine. Somewhat elegaic, as Greenberg is also a bona fide fisherman, and also bracing in terms of sustainability issues as the fishability of the ocean remains in question.

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser. This book came out 10 years ago, and changed the way people think of the food they get at places like McDonald’s. It’s a graphic description of industrial agriculture with a focus on humans and how they are shaped by the imperatives of industrial agriculture–to grow certain things (a very limited number), eat certain things (deriving from a few varieties), work certain ways (low wages, long hours, in dangerous often ethnically segregated jobs, e.g. in the meat processing industries), and consume certain things (lots, esp. of corn-based foods). The results are an increasing gap between what rich and poor are able to eat, and a food economy driven in large part by the imperatives of industrial agriculture–which means corn syrup spiking your food and monocultures driving out bio-diversity and privatizing the plant world. It’s a great piece of investigative reporting, and very readable. The film version of Fast Food Nation is Food, Inc


The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On–an action documentary by HARA Kazuo. It spotlights a little-discussed aspect of food–cannibalism! Here, during WW2. Here’s a description from a review by a former student:

With The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, Hara focuses on Pacific War veteran and anti-Emperor activist Okuzaki seeking explanations for the deaths of soldiers in his regiment that occurred after the war had officially ended. Okuzaki suspects that they were cannibalized, or killed by superior officers because of the cannibalism they had witnessed. The camera follows him as he seeks out former army officials and relatives of the deceased, frequently resorting to verbal and physical abuse in order to get answers from his less-than-forthcoming targets. Conclusive answers are never provided, but several former officers essentially admit to cannibalism, and to killing soldiers to cover up what they did.

Urban Homesteading: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City

If you’ve always been curious about how to keep bees on your balcony, this is the book for you. The authors, Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne, live in LA (Silver Lake), blog @, and are active in the local foods movement, At present, they are building a bread oven in their yard, and working to get state legislation changed so that people can sell stuff they make in their back yards. They had some success along those lines with the Food and Flowers Freedom Act of 2010, which changed LA city code to allow so-called “truck farming,” or growing things in your yard to take to market. IMO, there is a Japan link here, in that the anti-truck farming code was put in place in 1945, just as many Japanese American farmers were returning to (try to find) their land after being released from the internment camps. This is  a book that is full of ideas and invention, giving you prototypes and models, as opposed to teaching you THE ONLY way to re-create a 19th-century period chimney. See: chickens, water supplies, baking, foraging, starting seeds, and much much more. There may even be a section on “bait,” à la Minamata, but I’ll have to look…

For Japanese readers/writers

Sawanoboru-sensei, a prof at Keisen University, has written a really nice guide to growing organic school gardens. She runs the first school garden in Japan to be certified organic. It’s in Japanese, pegged to the Japanese school calendar, which starts in April. This guide has a general intro to growing organically, lots of pictures of “gear,” and many short essays on particular veggies and their histories.

“Four Seasons of a School/University Garden”

We don’t have anything like it in English, so I’d like to translate it, and customize it to LA growing season and school calendar. If you are interested, email me, and I’ll send you the table of contents–you can choose a 5-page section. The prose is pretty easy, though the vocabulary may be a bit new. Don’t worry, that’s why we have 専門用語辞典.

Some other titles…
Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Ag Destroyed the Tasty Tomato. NPR story here. Silent Spring meets Harvest of Shame meets The Jungle. Half labor history, half environmental history, and half culinary history–three halves are about right for this era of inorganic growing. Sprung from a piece of journalism originally published in Gourmet–not normally thought of as hard-hitting in tone, the magazine was publishing some very interesting work when it, sadly, folded. You can read the article version here. You will have to get the book from a local public library.


2 responses to “Works for extra credit

  1. Could we do a blog post about the film version of fast food nation?

  2. Sure, that would work.

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