Cookbook Analysis

“In the symbolic representation that man has historically given of himself, mastery of fire and the cooking of foodstuffs have continued to be perceived as a main element in the formation of human identity and of man’s evolution from a wild to a civilized state.”

                                                                          –Massimo Montanari, Food as Culture

Conceptual Design

This assignment builds upon the two food media literacy concepts we have studied thus far this semester:

  • Food media are constructions | They are neither natural nor “windows to the world.” Rather, they are historical constructions that shape (and in turn are shaped by) contextual and cultural factors.
  • Food media use languages that are governed by codes and conventions unique to each medium | Technical and symbolic codes comprise a system of signs that create meaning according to a generally accepted way of doing something.

These concepts therefore position the cookbook as both a communication medium and a cultural artifact. It is not enough to discuss a technical code used such as the textual components of a recipe alongside a photograph without saying how they are conventionally used to create meaning beyond the recipe itself. For example, the technical code of narrative storytelling has recently emerged in the cookbook publishing industry as a conventional means of portraying specific cultural values such as the importance of familial relationships, environmentalism, heart health, efficiency, technological determinism, etc.

Analysis Guidelines

  • Select a cookbook to analyze. You must bring your cookbook selection to class on Wednesday Oct 17th. It can be either print or digital and you may choose from any time period in any of the collections listed here:

Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project

Cookbooks and Home Economic Collection at UCLA

Vintage Cookbooks

The Epicurious Cookbook Canon Longlist

Barnes and Noble Top Picks in Cookbooks

  • Write a 1250-word essay in which you analyze your cookbook as both a communication medium and as a cultural artifact. Use the following key questions of media literacy (as applicable) to gather data for your analytical essay:


    • Who authored and/or published this cookbook? Does the book have an auto/biographical or storytelling component? Does it have advertising?
    • Why was this cookbook published?
    • Who is the target audience? What does the author/publisher want you to do as the reader?
    • What does the author/publisher want you to remember?
    • Who might benefit from this cookbook? Who might be harmed by it? Are the messages about food good for you and/or the target audience?
    • What actions might the reader take in response to reading this cookbook?


  • What ideas, values, information, or points of view about food, cooking, and cuisine are overt? implied?
  • What stories (about food, culture, politics, economics, society) are told in or through this cookbook?
  • What is left out that might be important to know?
  • What techniques are used and why?
  • How does the format/publishing techniques communicate impact the messages presented?
  • What images are used as part of the cookbook? In what ways do they add to the book’s message?
  • Is there fidelity between what the author claims in the introduction or preface and what the cookbook actually does?
  • What does this tell me about food preparation? cooking? cuisine? culture?
  • How might different people understand this cookbook differently?


    • When was this made?
    • How does the author/publisher convey cultural ideas around cooking/cuisine during that particular time and place?
    • Is there any aspect of the cookbook that you have difficulty understanding?
    • What values does the author convey? Does food take on any metaphorical meanings? How are things like nationality, language, culture defined through recipe titles, ingredients, etc?
    • Does the cookbook include any health advice? If so, what is it?
    • Where or how was it shared with the public?
    • How credible is this information, and how do you know?
    • What are the sources of the information comprising the cookbook?
    • Can I trust this source to tell me the truth about this topic?
    • If the cookbook represents a particular cultural or ethnic group, what does it convey about assimilation versus authenticity?
    • What questions, if any, does this cookbook generate for you?

Written Essay

Your essay should include the following standard components:

  • Introduction containing a basic synopsis of the book, its media format, and publication information (including URL, if applicable).


  • Submit your essay through the Cookbook Analysis Assignment in Canvas no later than 5:00pm EST Wed November 7th.


  • File format should be doc, docx, or rtf. Canvas will not accept PDF or other file formats for this assignment.

Grading Criteria

This assignment is worth 100 points or 20% of your final course grade.

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