The Poetics of Food & Labor

Prior to the workshop, students should read the following:

Discuss the readings

Invite students to re-read the poems and portions of the interview out loud. Ask what lines or sections stood out to the students and why.

Freewriting Exercise

All three readings deal with individuals who produce food for others—Tongkat talks about cooking in disaster and protest scenarios; “Dirt” is from the perspective of a young farmworker in a beet field; and in “Lessons,” Woodson writes about a mother who was reluctant to learn to cook, but still prepares pancakes for her children. Taking inspiration from these writings, take ten minutes to free write about someone you know and/or admire who works in food production—be it at home, preparing meals for family; on a farm; in a factory; in a restaurant; or anywhere else. If you can’t figure out where to start or feel stuck, refer to the following questions:

  • What kind of food production does this person do? What does their process look like? What ingredients or materials do they work with? What is the end result of their work?
  • Do you feel that they are fully appreciated for their work, overlooked, or something in between?
  • What is your relationship to this person? If you could say anything to them, what would you say?
  • Bring your free write to life by using the five senses:  see, hear, touch, taste, smell.


Turn your free write into a poem/creative writing piece in a format of your choosing. You might write a persona poem, from the perspective of that person; an ode, honoring them; or a portrait poem, describing them and the work they do.



To honor those who do food production work in poetry & prose

Education Level: 

High School




Writing Prompt

Time Frame: 

1 hour

Required Materials: 

Pencil/pen, paper

Literary model: 

Cheshire Tongkat interview, "Dirt" by Gary Soto, "Lessons" by Jacqueline Woodson