Teaching American Culture: Food

· Topic: Food, American culture.
· Skills: Grammar, vocabulary, speaking, reading.
· Content: collocations, expressions of quantity, idioms &proverbs.


The food we eat reveals a lot about the way we live. One of the most significant signs of globalisation, for instance, has been the extension of fast food chains and brands around the world. On the other hand, a wide variety of local cuisines has travelled to other countries through immigration, leading to more cosmopolitan eating habits. Food is not just a question of taste; it’s also a question of politics, ethics, identity, health and many other issues linked to the way it is produced, distributed and consumed. Food sustains us in more ways than we think. It is one of the elements that contribute most significantly to our sense of national and cultural identity, and from childhood on it conditions our perception of gender roles. But new working patterns are now beginning to change the role food plays in our lives.According to the World Heath Organization, obesity is one of the today’s dominant health issues, especially in western countries. Starting in the USA, eating habits have dramatically changed because of the rapid spread of cheap fast food and snacks, high in calories but low in nutrients, with the result that more and more people, particularly the poor, are becoming severely overweight. In fact, scientists are discovering that junk food doesn’t just make you fat. It can also have adverse effects on behaviour and even mental ability.

1. Ask your students to make a list of what they usually eat in a day for breakfast. Make them compare their list with their partner.

porridge with strawberries
2. Tell them to remember any American film or TV shows they’ve seen. What do American eat? Tell them the following report:
“From eggs Benedict to liver and grits, breakfast in America is many things to many people. But there are a few familiar touchstones, an ABC News poll finds, including cold cereal and frozen pizza. Perhaps most surprising is that nearly four in 10 adults disregard their mothers’ injunctions about the most important meal of the day and usually skip breakfast entirely. Among those who do partake of the morn- ing meal, moreover, a third have to wolf it downsizing to half of those under 45, who’re apter be juggling jobs and kids. Cold cereal, it finds, tops the list of most common breakfast foods, cited by 31 per- cent of those who eat breakfast. About 2 in 10 usually eat eggs (with or without bacon or ham) and just over one in 10 usually have a bagel, toast, muffins or pastry. Thirty-nine percent of Americans have, at some point, eaten cold pizza for breakfast. Regarding their usual breakfast, women are eight points more likely than men to eat cold cereal (35 percent to 27 percent); men, in turn, are nine points more likely to have bacon and eggs (15 % to 6 %). But cold cereal is still the top choice for both sexes”.

American hamburguer

3. Ask them how American food has influenced their eating habits. Introduce the following facts about nutrition in the English-speaking countries:
A. Soft drinks: In the 1950s tea was the most common drink for British children, today is non-alcoholic beverages that contain loads of sugar. According to a recent survey, children aged 4 to 18 drink 2/3 more fizzy drinks than milk
B. Junk food: A new report on US eating habits reveals that almost a quarter of the calories American people consume come from nutrient-poor ‘junk food’, including chocolate bars, salty and sweet snacks, burgers and fries.
C. BBQs: Australian families often have BBQs (barbeques) at weekends. A favourite Australian meat dish is steak stuffed with oysters while a traditional Aboriginal speciality is kangaroo meat.
D. Brunch: On Sunday morning American have brunch (breakfast + lunch) consisting of coffee, yoghurt, cereals and pancakes served with lemon and sugar, jam or maple syrup.

4. Hand out an extract of Fat Land by Greg Critser that presents American eating habits. You may need to explained the following words or expressions:
· Supersized: gigantic.
· Share this view: agree with someone.
· Food scares: outbreaks of food-related illnesses.
· FAO: Food and Agriculture Organisation.
· GMOs: Genetically Modified Organisms. ·
· In the long run: over an extended period. · Harmful: damaging.
· Losing sight of: beginning to forget.

5. To make sure they’ve understood the text, prepare false/right questions. Ask them to correct the wrong ones. For instance:

a. American kids started eating snacks to a considerable quantity between meals.
b. A high variety of meals in one’s diet increases body fatness.
c. Supersized portions make people eat less.
d. The presence of high-calorie snacks has changed American eating habits.
e. Eating snacks and sweets contributes to obesity.

6. In the text, there are many expressions of quantity. Explain those expressions like ‘a piece of’ or ‘a bit of‘ are often used to limit an uncountable noun. However, these words aren’t very precise and it’s better to use the right expression.
Example: In a shop you ask for a loaf of bread; at home you ask for a slice of bread.
a slice of cake
a glass of water
a bar of chocolate
a pinch of salt

Introduce the lesson with examples on the board, let your students observe and deduce the rule by themselves, ask them to fill with the correct word by turns, com- ing to the board one by one, checking that everybody understands the rule. Accor- ding to Jim Scrivener, eliciting and being catalytic are two key ways of teaching. First draw language, information and ideas from students rather than telling them every- thing. Then, encourage autonomous learn- ing and self-exploration in your students, help them to make them what to do.

7. Ask your students if they know what a collocation is. If the answer is negative, explain the definition:“a word or phrase that is often used with another word or phrase, in a way that sounds correct to people who have spoken the language all their lives, but might not be expected from the meaning”. Announce that you’re going to show them some examples related to food.

a. This dish tastes like canned /dairy soup. I much prefer a bowl of soup that is freshly made.
· Canned soup: a soup preserved in a metal container.
· Dairy: made from milk such as cream, butter and cheese.

b.James’ on a diet – he has to give up all bitter/rich foods for a month.
· Bitter: with an unpleasantly sharp taste.
· Rich foods: if foods are rich, they contain a large amount of oil, butter, eggs or cream.

c. When I opened the fridge, I realise the milk had gone rotten/off.
· The milk had gone off: if food or drink goes off, it is not good to eat or drink anymore because it is too old.
· Rotten: decayed.

d. The meat that the local supermarket sells is often tough/rich meat.
· Tough meat: describes meat that ‘s hard to cut or to eat.

e. I always buy yellow lemons because I know they are strong/ripe.
· Ripe fruits: fruits that are developed and ready to be collected or eaten.
· Strong: with an intense flavour or a large amount of spice.

f. I like curry, as long as it tastes quite mild/weak.
· Mild: describes food or a food flavour that is not very strong
· Weak: describes a drink that contains a lot of water compared to its other contents so that it doesn’t have a strong flavour.

g. The last apple in the bowl had to be thrown away because it was juicy/rotten.
· Juicy: juicy fruits contain a lot of juice, which makes them very enjoyable to eat.

h. When I opened the pack of meat, I realised from the smell that it had gone bitter/bad.
· The meat had gone bad: the meat is not safe to eat anymore.

8. Tell your student that the food is often related to idioms and proverbs. Do they know the difference?

· Idiom: a group of words in a fixed order that have a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own.

· Proverb: a short sentence, etc., usually known by many people, stating something commonly experienced or giving advice


A. Food Idioms

· As cool as a cucumber: very calm or very calmly, especially when this is surprising: She walked in as cool as a cucumber as if nothing had happened.
· Give somebody food for thought: to make someone think seriously about something: The documentary about corporations’ policies gave me food for thought about consumerism.
· Go/sell like hot cakes: to be bought quickly and in large numbers: The new game is apparently selling like hot cakes
· Take something with a pinch of salt (UK) / take something with a grain of salt (US): to not completely believe something that you are told, because you think it is unlikely to be true. You have to take everything she says with a pinch of salt; she does tend to exaggerate.
· Piece of cake: something that is very easy to do: The exam was a piece of cake.
· Have your cake and eat it: to have or do two good things at the same time that are impossible to have or do at the same time. You can’t have your cake and eat it: if you want more local services, you can’t expect to pay fewer taxes
· Couch potato: a person who watches a lot of television and does not have an active life: Don’t be such a couch potato and get up!


B. Food Proverbs

You are what you eat.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
A smiling face is half of the meal.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.
At the table with good friends and family, you do not become old.

2 thoughts on “Teaching American Culture: Food

  1. Nice mix of language and cultural input here. Food was a topic that my university student always chose in a course on social issues. Among other things, I used excerpts of Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and had them watch “The Meatrix” (just google it -it’s great!) The best part, though, was asking them to write down everything they ate for three days. For each item they should check yes or no to these questions: “I know everything that is in this product.” – “I know where it comes from and/or how many kilometers it traveled.” – “I know how/under what conditions it was made.” It was eye-opening. Feel free to email me if you are interested in copies of materials.

    Liked by 1 person

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