INTERVIEWING AN INFORMANT: THE AMERICAN FOOD SYSTEM

• Choose someone (family, friend, coworker, friend of a friend, etcetera) who works in some segment of the American food system; you can think as far outside of the box as you need to.

 

• Do background research on their segment of the food industry and current issues facing it (so if they work at McDonald’s, do research on fast food working conditions, sexual harassment, nutritional value of fast food, and so on), using two academic sources, one of which must be an article from either the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal, plus the Lorr text as a third source; do not use the workplace website as one of your required sources (you should cite it if you use it, but it doesn’t count as one of the required sources).

 

o Come up with questions to ask that person (either your own or ones you base off of my sample ones below), and analyze their responses to you.

 

• Directly connect your informant’s experiences to those of someone in Lorr’s text.

 

• Examine your informant’s experiences using one theoretical perspective.

 

• Due via Blackboard as indicated in the syllabus (worth 10%, or 100 points towards your grade)

 

Interviewing informants is an important part of participant observation. For this assignment, you will tie the Benjamin Lorr book The Secret Life of Groceries to the world around you by interviewing one person whose livelihood is related to the subject of his book: the American food system, from farm to supermarket to table. You will choose one person to interview. This person must be a current or recent employee in the particular line of work you are investigating, and preferably should have this job as their major source of income (not just as a side job). If your job is in one of these areas, you may interview a coworker. For example, persons you can interview include those who are in:

 

• agriculture (farmer, migrant farm worker, vendor at a farmers’ market, etc)

 

• employee in a supermarket, “supercenter” or convenience store that primarily sells food (stockperson, cashier, etc)

 

• a person who delivers food (such as an employee for a trucking or other company who primarily delivers food products)

 

• the food industry (fast food, restaurant worker or owner, bartender, etc.)

 

• experts or scholars (natural or social scientists who study food systems) You must officially obtain this person’s permission to interview them. I will provide a form, which you can give them (physically or virtually), or if you must, obtain their verbal consent and note this on the form. I will provide a copy of this form with this assignment and rubric.

 

In conducting this project, you will do the following things:

 

• Conduct background research on the industry that your informant belongs to, using at least three total sources other than the textbook:

 

o One of your sources must be the Benjamin Lorr book The Secret Life of Groceries (you must spend at least half a page total talking about this source); and

 

o You must also use at least two journal or newspaper articles or reports, one of which must be from either the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. You must spend at least half a page total talking about the research from each of these outside sources as well (not counting block quotes). For sources other than the newspaper you subscribed to, it is best to use one of the library databases to find this source if possible. Lorr offers sources in his own book, though there are more up to date sources available in the library’s many databases, and you should work to find some of those more recent ones.

 

• Ask your informant why they work at this particular job, and how do they handle food – for example, is this person someone who raises chickens, picks apples, makes cheese, serves hamburgers, unloads pallets of bananas, etc. Is this the person’s only job? How does this job affect this person’s eating habits? And so on (I will give a list of sample questions which I strongly urge you to use).

 

• Plan on allotting about 20 to 30 minutes for this interview (or you can correspond with your informant via email if that is easier). You may record the interview, but please do not submit the recording or a transcription of it.

 

• Write an introductory paragraph about the informant (it is up to you and your informant if you keep them anonymous) along with some background information about the industry (and the employer if it is a large employer, like Wegmans or Food Lion, for example), and how their job fits into the overall American food landscape.

 

o As part of this paper, note which of Lorr’s informants’ situations is most like that of your informant, and how.

 

• Then choose at least three questions that you asked them to explore in greater detail in your paper (you must note what the questions were in your paper). Please do not just quote the person and leave it at that: give context and write in a narrative or bullet point format.

 

• Conclude your paper by noting your feelings throughout the interview process, and what you learned from your informant about their link in the food industry. Here (preferably throughout your paper, but at least at this point) you should apply one of the theoretical perspectives we have discussed in class and your text to what you have learned from your informant and your research: symbolic interactionism, social conflict theory or structural functionalism.

 

• Please keep your paper to about 4 pages maximum, double-spaced, with 12 point font and 1” margins.

 

Here’s the breakdown of the grade for this paper. It is worth 10% of your course grade. Your grade will be calculated up to a total of 100 points:

 

1) An introduction to your interview paper, including a. the informant’s name or pseudonym, line of work and employer (you may also

 

use a pseudonym for the employer), and background information about your informant’s line of work, using Lorr and a second outside source – 12 points

 

b. your connection between your informant’s experiences and the Lorr text – 12 points

 

2) At least three (3) questions – which you must mention in your paper – that you have asked your informant (you may include your research from Lorr and your second source throughout this section as well, and you may include your theoretical discussion here too) – 8 points each (24 total)

 

3) A conclusion to your interview paper, including a. what you have learned from your informant and your research about their part

 

of the American food industry – 6 points b. a discussion of at least one of the theories and how it applies to what you have

 

written about in this interview paper – 16 points 4) Format: Grammar, spelling, punctuation and readability – 7 points; 3 ½ to 4 pages,

 

double spaced, 12 point font, 1” margins – 7 points; proper citations and formatting in APA format (note: abstract is not necessary for this paper, even though it is typical for correct APA formatting) – 7 points

 

5) Permission to interview informant – you must note this either by including the form, an email of consent (with name blocked out if your informant wishes to remain anonymous), or a screenshot of consent via text message, etc. It must be more than just mentioning somewhere in the paper that you asked – 9 points

 

When you write this paper, you must include which questions you ask your informants in the

 

text of your paper. The following is a list of interview questions to choose from. Some of these

 

questions you will want to ask unchanged. Others you may want to alter or eliminate (please

 

read over this list of questions to make sure some make sense to ask your informant). You may

 

want to add your own questions that are specific to your informant or their job or situation.

 

Again, make sure you choose questions based on the person you are interviewing. For example,

 

a question about whether your informant is one of several generations of family members in

 

their job might make more sense to ask the owner of a long-established restaurant or a dairy

 

farm, and not for an employee at Wawa. Again, these are questions to get you started. These

 

questions are written in the second person, as if you are addressing your informant.

 

• If you are comfortable discussing your salary, do you think it is fair for the amount of

 

hours you put in?

 

• Is your workplace unionized? If so, how does the union benefit and/or hurt you as a

 

worker? If not, how might your workplace benefit from having one (or not)? [This

 

question is most appropriate to ask someone at a large store, supermarket or

 

agribusiness farm, less so a small family farm or family-run restaurant]?

 

• How does this job help you make ends meet?

 

• How does your job affect your family life / school life / etc.?

 

• Is your job tied to a family business, and [if your informant is part of that family] how

 

long has your family been involved in it?

 

• Was there ever a time when family members chose to do other things than the family

 

business, and how did this affect the family?

 

• What kinds of discrimination / harassment do you see on the job? [This could be

 

directed at employees or customers]

 

• Do you eat the food they give you at work? Does your workplace compensate you for

 

food eaten there or taken home?

 

• What are your own eating habits? Do you eat or drink the kinds of things you work

 

around?

 

• How do you think the food that you sell / grow / cook benefits or affects society?

 

• How has the COVID pandemic affected your job / workplace / customers / coworkers?

INTERVIEWING AN INFORMANT: THE AMERICAN FOOD SYSTEM

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