Food Ethnography observation

The purpose of this assignment is to give you hands-on experience in using key anthropological methods of participant-observation, as a means to identify cultural elements of how people manage food and eat. This assignment will allow you to gather and interpret your own data on food and culture in the same way that a cultural anthropologist would do. Anthropologists use both talking to and observing people as the ways they collect data on culture. We give students an option to try out one method for this assignment.

You can choose either to do interviews with family/friends (Option 1: Interview) OR conduct observations in a public space (Option 2: Observation). After your interviews or observations are complete, you will expand, reflect on, and analyze your field notes. Both options employ the same grading rubric (see bottom of the page) and take about the same amount of time to complete (~7 hours). However Option 1 (Interview option) is designed to be done at home and safely during lockdowns/curfews/quarantine, etc.

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This assignment is worth 200 points (20% of final grade)

Pick ONE Only:


OPTION 2: FOOD ETHNOGRAPHY – OBSERVATION – click for more details

You must locate a public or accessible place in which people are getting and eating food, and where you can observe them doing so. Ideally, you should choose a place to do the observation for this assignment that is of a different cultural context than your own (e.g. an ethnic restaurant different from your own ethnicity) and where you have not been before. It will be easier to take notes on things that are new to you than something you see every day. Possible places to conduct your observations include: food truck event, an ethnic food market, a public religious meal, a farmers’ market, an ethnic restaurant, coffee shop, military base cafeteria, or the food section of a street fair or carnival. You need to pick a place that will allow you to make observations and record notes of people eating, drinking, cooking, shopping for, or preparing food. If none of these places/events are available to you, suggest something comparable to your TA and get approval.

ATTENTION: You may need to ask permission (from a manager, etc.) to hang out for a while and take notes in certain environments, like food stores. Explain your presence there is for a class assignment at ASU. (It will help if you wear an ASU shirt and possibly if you show your ASU ID.) Be sensitive to the fact that managers may not want students interfering with their business, and clients may be wary or even afraid of strangers who seem to be conducting surveillance. You should adjust your behavior to culturally appropriate norms. For example, do not take photographs during a religious service, or of the contents of people’s shopping carts. On a positive note, if you take a notepad into a restaurant and order a meal, they may think that you are a restaurant critic and take extra care when preparing your food!

CAUTION: DO NOT enter any site that you feel may be dangerous. If you sense a situation becoming dangerous, leave immediately!


1. Before you begin, make sure you review four important documents:

Assignment 2 Grading Rubric (see bottom of the page here)

Assignment 2 Observational Guidelines and FAQ (must read!)

Murchison – Participant Observation (read this before you begin)

The template for preparing the assignment

2. Choose the place you will visit according to the directions above.

3. Go to the place you selected and conduct participant observation for 1.5 hours. You may also “participate” if you think it is appropriate and you are comfortable. For example, at an ethnic food market, buy one or two small ready-to-eat products. As appropriate, eat what you purchased. Find a place to hang out and conduct your observations. If you are at an ethnic restaurant, order and eat a meal — but make sure you keep watching everything that is happening around you!

4. Take copious notes; these are typically called “jottings” and done by hand. You should focus on documenting PEOPLE and ENVIRONMENT. You should consult the “Guidelines” handout (above) for instructions on what to document. For example, if you visit a food store you should try to document: the products for sale, the layout of the store, who comes and goes, any interactions you see or participate in, languages used, and (if possible to do respectfully & at a distance) what people buy. Record your own reactions to the food you tasted, the site, and the people you see there.

5. Once you get home, use the Assign



We suggest that you devote the most of your writing time on the other sections of the assignment that require more synthesis to ensure the best possible grade. Identifying and correctly citing peer-reviewed literature is part of what you are being assessed on in this assignment. Here is general assistance for locating and using scholarly references and examples of how to cite them in APA format.

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