The Recipe of Me: Food, Culture, Identity and Memoir

So much of who we are is defined by the food we eat. In light of the upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving I thought I would share a unit study that I have taught in the past with both elementary and middle school students. Students participated in this memoir unit of study that addressed food and cultural identity.

William Zinsser writes, “A memoir takes us back to a corner of the writer’s life that was unusually vivid or intense. Memoir is not only about emblematic moments, it’s also about the themes, the strands, that run through our lives.”

For many of us, food can make us nostalgic. Holidays are times to sit around the table and share stories. This unit was about collecting the stories and writing about one memory we savor.

There were four assignments that made up this unit:

Assignment #1 – You are a reporter, and it is your job each evening up until the day the assignment is due, to observe what goes on in your household when it is time to eat. Who prepares the food? What is eaten? What is the conversation in the kitchen? What is said when you are eating? These are just a few of the things we want to know.

Assignment #2 – You are a photo journalist and your task is to take pictures of how your family celebrates the holidays. Most of our memories revolve around the holiday table. Capture these memories with your camera. We will use the photographs for writing our memories.

Assignment #3 – Interview the people or person in your household who does the cooking. We will create the questions in class, practice interviewing, as well as write up the results to complete the assignment.

Assignment #4 – You will make a dish that is made and celebrated in your household to share with the entire class. On a specific date, we will celebrate the diversity of cultures, people and food in our classroom.

Students’ memoirs and recipes were published in a class anthology. Students wrote everyday in writing workshop and various excerpts of memoirs were shared aloud with the class to model their writing. Tapping into family stories heightened students’ engagement. Behind a great meal is a great story: think of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate or Joanna Kadi’s Food For Our Grandmothers. We used excerpts from these stories and many others to entice students to write. This unit was designed to heighten students’ senses and stretch their writing abilities.

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