food scenes observation and report 1

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Food Scenes: Observation and Report:

Your food journal assignment asked you to reflect on your own food choices and patterns by documenting what you ate for 10 days. Now, we are turning our attention to public food scenes and studying the experience of shopping for food in public places (restaurants, grocery stores, farmers markets, etc). For this assignment, you will observe two food establishments, one local and one corporate/franchise. You will first observe each location for 30 minutes, taking careful notes, then you will write up a report connecting your experiences to the course readings about local food. While doing your observation, you’ll be engaging in primary research, that is getting a first-hand account of the food scenes you study. Detailed instructions are provided below the assignment objectives.


  • Perform, first hand primary research, and engage critically with texts/places in your community
  • Identify aspects of local and corporate food that help shed light on the definition of “local food”
  • Learn to analyze texts, structures, and interactions in order to determine what stories each location tells about food
    • Include a brief discussion of each place and the food, interactions, structures, and texts you observed
    • Discuss the differences between each place
    • Explain HOW these differences impact experience and WHY they are important*
    • Using your observations, explain the stories/narratives that each place is telling about food. In what ways do the places tell similar stories? In what ways do they tell different stories?
    • Connect your observations to the ideas in Kliman’s article (such as local food and purity, the definition of local food, etc). What new insights can you offer based on your observations? Any surprises? You may also connect to other readings about local food b


Step 1: Choose your observation places — do this well in advance of the assignment deadline

You should pick one (1) local food establishment (owned by community members and unique to that community) and one (1) corporate/franchise food establishment. You should pick places that are similar to each other (e.g. [Athens Farmers Market and Kroger] or [Seaman’s Grocery and Kroger] or [Bagel Street Deli and Wendy’s] or [Casa Nueva Cantina and Applebees].

Matching places based on the type of food is less important than matching places based on the type of restaurant/food establishment. For example, it is better to match the local Hot Dog stand (like O’Betty’s Red Hot in Athens) with a fast-food Mexican chain (Chipotle) than it is to match the local sit-down Mexican restaurant (like Casa Nueva Cantina) with the fast-food Mexican chain (Chipotle). The sit-down restaurant is aiming to provide a much different experience than the fast food restaurant, so even though they provide a similar style of food, they are not the best places to compare. However, the local hot dog stand (or local burger joint, etc) is aiming to provide a quick bite option similar to a Chipotle or Qdoba, etc.

I’ve included some restaurants from the Athens, OH area below in two columns just to give you an idea. However, if you do not live in Athens, you’ll need to find your own local and corporate/chain restaurants. If in doubt, you can check with me about your places. Here are some Athens, OH ideas.

Column A: Local

Column B: Corporate/Franchise

Athens Farmers’ Market*


Seaman’s Grocery


Casa Nueva

Chipotle/Q Doba

Jackie O’s


O’ Betty’s Red Hot


Village Bakery

Bob Evans

Bagel Street Deli

Taco Bell

Union Street Diner

Tim Horton’s

*The Athens Farmers’ Market

Location: 1000 E State St, Athens, OH 45701

Hours: Saturday 9am-12pm & Wednesday 9am-1pm

Step 2. Observation

You need to spend 30 minutes at each location. Ideally, you should have a notebook with you and you should take detailed notes.

You should focus on:

Types of Food: What is offered? Look at ingredients on the menu if available. Look at the products on shelves at grocery stores/farmers’ market. Do you notice any patterns? Are there types of food that seem to be emphasized and/or celebrated? Are there types of food or ingredients that are explicitly not offered?

Interactions: How are people behaving in the space? What do they do? How do they interact with the food (picking it up, examining it, talking about it)? How do they interact with each other (what types of conversations, body language, etc)?

Structures: How is the location structured? How do people move through the space (line, aisles, order at counter, table service, etc)?

Texts: Pay attention to things like menus, signs, artwork on walls, information pamphlets, advertisements, etc. Examine these and think about what they can tell you about the place? How do these places try to portray the food? What words, images language do they use?

Step 3: Report

After taking your notes, you should write a 3-4 page paper (12pt font, 1-inch margins, double-spaced). In this paper you should:

*In this paper, you will want to go beyond pointing out differences to actually explaining the impacts and effects of these differences. For example, it’s not enough to say, “Wendy’s has a menu up above the counter and Casa has paper menus.” You need to explain the effects/impacts. Why are these differences significant? How do these different choices affect people’s experiences of food in the place? How do these differences contribute to different stories or attitudes about food? Etc.


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