Getting class credit for midnight taco runs may sound like a delicious, salsa-filled dream — but it’s about to become very real. As of this semester, the University of Kentucky is offering a class called “Taco Literacy: Public Advocacy and Mexican Food in the U.S. South.”
Cliff’s Notes: Eat tacos. ‘Gram them. Write about them. Get an A+.
“This class allows our students to explore the issues of immigration, inequality, workers, intercultural communication, and literacy through the prism of food,” professor Steven Alvarez told Vice. Alvarez is an assistant professor in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies department. “My hope, at the very least, is to have my students build more connections with the community and help with public writing—things like helping out small Mexican restaurants with menus and website design if they’d like.”
So, okay. The class is ostensibly about more than just tacos.
Alvarez told Vice he was inspired to create the class after visiting a Southern Foodways Alliance symposium. “The oral histories of food that I heard were amazing. The stories were really impactful, but the food became secondary. It was more about the social connections that people were making with food.” Social connections he hopes his students will make as they research the evolution of Mexican food in Kentucky and discover its relation to inequality, worker’s rights, and literacy among the fast-growing immigrant population in the state.
The actual eating of the tacos is the easiest part of his class. Forming coherent sentences to describe the experience as a whole (other than, “Wow, this thing that I’m eating here is mind-blowing!”) is more difficult. Just check out the description of the class’s first written assignment, found on the Taco Literacy website:
You must visit a restaurant and describe the meal, as well as the presentation, keeping a narrative of your experience. You can use dialogue, description, and also your senses to tell the story. You should also describe ingredients, and pay attention to presentation. Be sure to review the menu and link the restaurant if they have a social media presence.
In addition, students will collect stories from “Mexington,” Lexington’s barrio and post on Instagram with specific class-related hashtags. There’s also taco-related assigned reading, including Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, the Tacopedia, Taco USA, and Tortillas: A Cultural History (“I try to break down to my students that a really good taco will always depend on the tortilla.”)
Although the class is still in its first month, it seems to be well-received so far, with more people enrolled than Alvarez anticipated. Not all the students’ #lifegoals involve eating tacos and writing about them for a living. Some are planning on attending law school post-graduation, while others want to go into grant-writing for nonprofits.
Which is fine with Alvarez. He’s grooming his students to be better communicators, after all. “This course will make you savvy when it comes to rhetoric. Sure, there is no one way to become a writer, but I give my students tools to think of themselves as writers and build portfolios full of writing to use for the rest of their life.”
One thing the students surely all have in common, though: a deep love of tacos. No word yet on whether the Taco Cleanse will be a part of the class.