Eat Your Words class showcases Whittier’s flair for experiential learning

April 10, 2024

Whittier College knows how to whet a student’s appetite.

Students in the class Eat Your Words – Food, Culture, and Writing have a unique opportunity to get in touch with their senses. Led by Professor Jonathan Burton, the new academic offering in the English department mixes together assignments like reading Michelle Zauner’s memoir Crying in H-Mart followed by making kimchi stew, annotating food criticism, and learning about the surprising history of mac and cheese for a fresh course.

Burton designed class projects, like analyzing a historical cookbook of the students’ choosing, to allow students to explore foods that speak to their appetites and identities. Students have written about everything from Chinese dried plums called li hing mui to Costco tiramisu. 

“Because they're getting to pursue the things that are important to them, they are invested and having a lot of fun,” Burton said.

In March, the class visited Whittier’s Bizarra Capital restaurant to eat fideo — a Mexican noodle soup — that famed Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold wrote about. The restaurant is run by chef Ricardo Diaz ’93, who majored in business administration at Whittier and opened his first restaurant in 1997. 

Students visited Bizarra Capital for Whittier College’s Eat Your Words – Food, Culture, and Writing class. The restaurant is run by chef Ricardo Diaz ’93. | Brandy Vargas/Whittier CollegeDiaz originally wanted to be an architect, but said Whittier’s liberal arts education expanded his horizons about world cultures, history, and food. Being a part of that educational experience for another generation of Whittier students was a fun opportunity for him.

“I love doing the same thing that Whittier did for me — opening up their perspectives about cultures,” Diaz said. “Being able to do that through food is exciting.”

A recent lab had students make tamales alongside prominent food writers like Javier Cabral from LA Taco, Laurie Ochoa from the Los Angeles Times, Gab Chabrán ’07 from LAist, and cookbook author Paola Briseño-González. In addition to the tamales, the lab had both the students and guests take turns at the open microphone to share stories about food pairings.

Business administration major Nick Coltrin, a third-year student from Livermore, is writing about the 1873 book The Housekeeper’s Manual by Catherine Beecher sister of Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe. He loves how the class stretches his writing abilities by having him craft a narrative with as much detailed sensory description as possible.

“It's really good to get out of your comfort zone and try something new,” Coltrin said. “A lot of places don't offer a class like this.”

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