ENG 4994 Syllabus (Spring 2018)


ENG 4994: Seminar in Theme/Genres

Taco Literacy: Writing Transnational Mexican Foodways

Steven Alvarez, PhD ENG 4994, CRN 15146 / Spring 2018

St. Augustine, Room 158 T/F 9:05 am-10:30 am

alvares1@stjohns.edu Marillac Hall 139

tacoliteracy.com Office Hours: T/F 11:00 am-1:00 pm, or by appointment

(718) 990-5887         
In recent years, there has been a steady increase of interest in the transnational migrations of Mexican food popularized by bloggers, television food shows, and travel journalists. In addition to the immense number of reviews, trade publications, and cookbooks, important social justice issues in regard to multilingualism, cultural appropriation, migrant labor, and the translation of indigenous cuisine for corporate consumption have also become topical. This course will examine transnational community foodways literacies from the angle of social justice, and how these foodways situate different literacies, rhetorics, and forms of cultural knowledge across borders. Readings will include Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food by Jeffrey M. Pilcher, Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother: Indigeneity and Belonging in the Americas by Roberto Cintli Rodríguez, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America by Gustavo Arellano, and Tortillas: A Cultural History by Paula E. Morton. For more about the class see @tacoliteracy on Twitter and Instagram.

Course Goals

  1. Students will contextualize global perspectives of Mexican foodways to local, New York City varieties of Mexican foodways.
  2. Students will write about personal connections to Mexican foodways and articulate their sense of what Mexican food means culturally as part of American and global cuisine.
  3. Students will edit writing and reflect on their writing process.
  4. Students will revise a body of informal writing into larger researched projects.
  5. Students will formulate definitions of foodways from different sources.
  6. Students will maintain WordPress and Instagram digital platforms to publish fieldwork and research.


Required Texts

Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother: Indigeneity and Belonging in the Americas 2nd Edition

by Roberto Cintli Rodríguez  

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: University of Arizona Press; 2 edition (November 6, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0816530610

ISBN-13: 978-0816530618


Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food

by Jeffrey M. Pilcher  

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (March 1, 2017)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0190655771

ISBN-13: 978-0190655778


Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America

by Gustavo Arellano

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (April 16, 2013)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1439148627

ISBN-13: 978-1439148624


Tortillas: A Cultural History

by Paula E. Morton

Paperback: 184 pages

Publisher: University of New Mexico Press (October 15, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0826352146

ISBN-13: 978-0826352149


Tardiness, Attendance, Participation, and Late Work Policies

TARDIES: We meet at 9:05 am—not 9:10, not 9:20, and certainly not 9:30. I do not tolerate tardiness, and I find it disrespectful. If you have problems with the time commitment for this course, I suggest finding another section that better suits your schedule. Excessive tardiness will be noted and will affect your final grade.


ATTENDANCE: Attendance is mandatory. Class discussion depends on the entire class being present. Because this course meets two times a week, you are allowed three unexcused absences throughout the course. After that, your final grade will drop by one letter grade for each additional absence. Prolonged absences due to illness or absences due to having to attend a university-sponsored event (athletics, theater, music, field trip) will be excused if you provide me with proper documentation from an appropriate authority. You are responsible for all work due for any missed class as well as for the readings and work for the following class. You are also responsible for any work covered during the class you missed. You should get the phone numbers of a couple of your classmates in case you miss a class. You can also contact me by e-mail.


PARTICIPATION: Students must participate actively in class. This is not a lecture course; it is a hands-on course where participation and interaction are required for learning and success. Participation means being a part of class (not checking e-mail, texting, playing games, doing homework for other classes). Be aware that grades for participation are not only based on how much you talk in class but also how respectful you are to your classmates, to me, and to your work.


LATE WORK: The assignments in this class build upon one another and culminate in your final research assignment. It is necessary for you, then, to complete each assignment before the next begins. Late or skipped assignments will seriously hinder this process. I RESERVE THE RIGHT NOT TO ACCEPT ASSIGNMENTS PUBLISHED LATE. That’s in bold and caps so you get my emphasis, de veras.  If you feel that you will not be able to make a deadline, or if you must miss class on the day the assignment is due, you must contact me in advance so we can work something out. If your assignment is not published by the time I get to where I ask you to publish it online, I will skip you in the grading and you will receive no points. 


Assignment Platforms

The research project is a term long, and it will be completed in stages—assignments 1-5 and published as a WordPress website. Your assignments will focus on issues discussed in class, or your reflections responding to readings/documentaries/writing from the course. Three major assignments will form the core of your study. You can use your Instagram posts/images/videos to compose these assignments, but you must edit the pieces.


Your assignments will be published on a site that will become an extended single text archived online. The revised larger project will develop with the additional information and insights you gain through your fieldwork as you become more familiar with Mexican food, literacies, and local issues. With a research assignment like this, you will be free to add information and observations gained over time instead of feeling that earlier assumptions and conclusions are set in stone. Use the readings in class and your instincts to guide your topic choice and how you connect all five assignments.


You will depend on your classmates, tutors in the Writing Center, and me as readers who will help you make decisions about how to present material and how best to interest your audience, but ultimately you will be the expert on your particular study of your chosen topic. You can spend a lot of time developing and revising, working on certain aspects of your writing, and all of this effort and expertise will be reflected in your final project and your grade. That means that your attention to revision and your awareness of your own work habits, strengths, and weaknesses will become a very important element of your writing process. Your final course grade will be based primarily on your participation, active blogging, and your community engagement.


Major Assignments

In Assignment 1 you will write about your personal connections to Mexican food and your sense of Mexican food as part of US and global cuisines. For this assignment, you will compose a photo-essay reviewing a local Mexican restaurant, following a particular dish you have researched. Using the models of reviews we have read in class, your piece must tell a story and capture aspects of taste and emotion connected to food literacies and the location. The foodways narratives of the Southern Foodways Alliance archive are demonstrative in this respect and models to emulate. Your photos should also tell a story that gives voice to flavors. You must also include five translations of words from Spanish, and describe the roots of words, making note of indigenous loanwords. The text should include 6-8 photographs embedded within the body of the blog page, as well as captions. The text must be 1,200 words and include correct MLA works cited and hyperlinked sources.


In Assignment 2 you will engage with food politics by researching the production of ingredients in a second dish, as well as the history of this dish. You are to research into variances, local varieties, and the movement of the dish to different locations across Mexico and the United States. In addition, you must also research the production of ingredients and preparation of the dish. Your text must include 10 photographs/images that depict the dish as well as preparation and migration maps. The text must be 1,500 words and include correct MLA works cited and hyperlinked sources.


In Assignment 3 you will conduct a literature review of a topic related to your research interests. You will research 5 articles related to your interests and include reviews for each article you uncover. For each article, you must summarize key points or ideas that connect to your previous two assignments. You will be evaluated on the quality of your sources as well as how you engage with them. For each source, you must include quotes with which you practice close-reading analysis of both culinary research methods and key findings. The text must be 2,000 words and include correct MLA works cited and hyperlinked sources.


In Assignment 4 you will explore local foodways through community voices by conducting team interviews with a classmate. (I will assign individuals for pairs to interview.) You and your classmate will interview an individual with deep connections to Mexican food and culture. You and your partner will conduct an interview, and you will use it to compose a written profile. Your profile must quote directly from the interview, while also engaging five sources from your literature review and two quotes from either or both Taco USA and Planet Taco. Your portrait should focus on your interviewee’s lived experience connected to culture, history, geography, and migration. You must also include 4 photographs from the interview and 4 relevant videos or maps that connect to what you uncover. You must also include a short slideshow (published on YouTube) that represents part of the interview, so you must have a high quality audio record of the interview. The published text must be 2,000 words and include correct MLA works cited and hyperlinked sources, published on both partners’ blogs. You must also provide me the signed interview release form distributed in class.


In Assignment 5 you will review your previous research and fieldwork as you compose a critical reflection that engages a scholarly argument concerning a topic or topics from your previous assignments. This text will be the capstone writing for your semester-long portfolio where you offer insight into each assignment and where your research has travelled up to this point, as well as potential directions for future research. You must include 10 photographs/ images from your semester-long research that best encapsulate themes you present in your reflection. This text will be 750 words and include correct MLA works cited and hyperlinked sources. Included in this assignment, you are to finalize the visual preferences for your WordPress site, including (1) updating your header image and background colors and personalizing your website title, (2) updating your “About” page to include your contact information as well as your Instagram username, 3) updating the sequential order of blog pages, and 4) creating a single references page where you will house all the sources from your previous assignments, and 5) adding an Instagram page on your blog where you give a sample of five-ten of your own images, followed by a 100-word reflection on using Instagram for foodways writing.


Assignment Due Dates

Assignment 1: 2/6

Assignment 2: 2/16

Assignment 3: 3/10

Assignment 4: 4/13

Assignment 5: 5/8


All assignments will be published as pages on your website.


Instagram and WordPress Posts

You will compose 60 Instagram and 24 WordPress posts for the semester, broken up into four sets. These posts will generate material for you to use for your formal assignments, as well as serve as a space for you to experiment with archiving your research. The dates for the four sets of posts are listed below.


IG and WP Posts Set 1:  2/2

IG and WP Posts Set 2:  2/27

IG and WP Posts Set 3:  4/10

IG and WP Posts Set 4:  4/27


Evaluation / Grading

The grading for the course will break down as follows:

IG Posts: 15 POINTS

60 x 0.25 points each


WordPress Posts: 12 POINTS

24 x 0.5 points each


Compositions:           _ 60 POINTS

Assignment 1                8 points

Assignment 2              10 points

Assignment 3              12 points

Assignment 4              15 points

Assignment 5              15 points


Participation               13 POINTS


Total                                     100 POINTS



St. John’s University is a diverse community of teachers and scholars committed to the principles of truth, love, respect, opportunity, excellence and service. Members of the St. John’s University community strive to create an atmosphere that embodies the University’s Vincentian mission. Students and faculty commit themselves to the pursuit of wisdom and academic excellence while fostering a responsibility of serving others. As members of this community, students are expected to maintain the principles of compassion and the values of honesty and academic integrity.

In accordance with this policy, students acknowledge their commitment to the values and principles of the mission of St. John’s University with the Academic Honor Pledge, adopted in 2003 by the University Community and Student Government. For more, see: http://www.stjohns.edu/student-life/queens-campus-life/office-student-conduct/academic-honor-pledge


In cases where students feel unsure about a question of plagiarism involving their work‚ they are obliged to consult their instructors on the matter before submission. When students submit work purporting to be their own‚ but which in any way borrows ideas‚ organization‚ wording or anything else from another source without appropriate acknowledgment of the fact‚ the students are guilty of plagiarism. Plagiarism includes reproducing someone else’s work‚ whether published or not. Evidence of plagiarism will be dealt with according to the university’s regulations.



The University Writing Center provides a place where all University students, faculty, and staff are welcome to discuss their writing with trained writing consultants.  It exists to collaborate with all writers.  In addition to providing one-to-one consultations with students, the Writing Center sponsors readings and presentations by students and faculty, as well as faculty conversations about writing pedagogy and research methods.  To learn more, explore the Writing Center’s website: http://www.stjohns.edu/academics/provost/institute-university-writing-center.


I offer one point of extra credit for each documented tutoring session you’ve attended. See me for details if interested.


Students with Special Needs

The Office of Disabilities Services coordinates equal opportunities for students with disabilities. These services are designed to ensure, for all students, full participation in programs and activities offered throughout the St. John’s University. The aim of these services is to improve the quality of the academic, social, and personal lives of students who have a disability and to provide barrier-free educational opportunities, assisting students in becoming self advocating and independent.


Marillac, Room 134

Tel: 718-990-6867

Fax: 718-990-2609


Monday to Thursday, 8:30 a.m.  to 4:30 p.m.

Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m