2014 – 2015 First Chapter Essay Contest

This year the Essay Contest is also open to all undergraduates! First-year entrants will compete separately for prizes.


Choose from among the prompts below and prepare a 5-8 page, double-spaced essay (including bibliography).

While the prompts below are starting points, your essay should stand alone: its purpose and significance should be clear to people unfamiliar with the prompts.  

Consider the purpose for your piece.  On one level, your essay will have a broad purpose: to invite general readers into a fuller understanding of an aspect of food studies. Yet the essay should not be an informative report nor an opinion piece; rather, we seek a more purposeful analysis that invites the reader to carry your work forward somehow.

To make your purpose more specific, consider your audience. Will your primary audience be scholars, citizens, or activists? Choosing a primary audience will provide direction and focus in your piece.  You may write to scholars to push them toward clearer definitions of the problem or more appropriate research methods. Which scholars in which fields? What are the consequences of their current definitions or methods? OR, your insights might prepare citizens for relevant civic action. What action? How? Why now? OR, you might target activists already involved in political or community work. How are they currently engaged, and how will your insights shape their approach? As you can see, knowing your purpose and audience will shape what you say, how you organize it, and how you develop it.

Choose a purpose that requires thoughtful engagement with sources, such as scholarly articles or informed, public commentary. To make your essay more than an informational report, use your sources to borrow concepts, extend theories, reveal underlying values and/or question assertions.

Though the prompts are inspired from Will Allen’s book, you do not have to mention The Good Food Revolution or Growing Power explicitly. If you do, assume your readers have a general knowledge of it but that they may not remember specific passages or claims.

Essay Requirements
5 – 8 pages, double spaced. Provide a bibliography, and in-text citations or footnotes, using the citation format that is most appropriate for the type of piece you are writing.
For example. humanities papers often use MLA; social science papers use APA, anthropologists use Chicago parenthetic; and Journalists and activists follow their own citation protocols, which often involve naming the source within the sentences or through hyperlinks. Choose one and be consistent.

Submission Process
Please email submissions to gwuwp@gwu.edu .
Use subject line “First Chapter Essay Contest.” Include:

  • a cover sheet with your name, title of essay, class year, and contact information (both email and phone)
  • a copy of the essay with its title but without your name. Include page #s
  • follow the citation style appropriate for your audience.

Judges will be faculty from across the university.

Deadline for Essays: January 26, 5:00 pm.

February 9: Winners will be announced
February 27th: Winners will present at University Writing and Research Conference.


First year students:

  • First Place: $250
  • Second Place: $100
  • Honorable Mention: $50

Sophomore, Junior, or Senior:

  • First Place: $250

Prizes provided by the GW Campus Stores and Sodexo. All winners will also be invited to present at University Writing and Research Conference on February 27 and have their essays published.


Choose any prompt below. While the prompts are starting points, your essay should stand alone: its purpose and significance should be clear to people unfamiliar with the prompts.  


  • During his question and answer session in September, Allen cautioned GW students that approaching food studies from a policy perspective is too limited..  We don’t need more “think tanks,” he says; we need “do tanks” (p. 39)  What does he mean? Do you agree?  Explore the logic of his position and make your case.  Where can concerned people make the most impact?
  • Those who mobilize for social justice draw on a wide repertoire of rhetorical strategies to engage public attention and action.  (We can think of rhetoric as the art of effective persuasion, advocacy, and other forms of communication).  What kinds of public argument are necessary in the food justice movement? Does this issue raise unique challenges, given some of the complexities of the issue and potential public solutions?  For example, who is most affected and who needs to get involved? Is it hard to rally a “public” response? Why?
    Make a case for the kind of rhetoric you see as necessary for food justice work (or a part of that work).  Base your proposal on a specific situation in The Good Food Revolution or another specific occasion that calls people to respond to food injustice. Work closely with that situation to provide concrete examples of the rhetorical strategies you advocate.
  • The organization Just Food defines food justice in the following way: “Food Justice is communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food. Healthy food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate, and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals.” We can understand food injustice as a situation where a community faces barriers to exercising that right.
    Choose a project that you are aware of that is working to rectify conditions of food injustice, perhaps in your own community, and analyze how they are approaching this work.  How do they focus their efforts? How do they engage people to the work? What obstacles or challenges do they face? Drawing on public or academic sources that explain how this project fits within a broader context, Identify and analyze the aspect of their work that is most important for your audience.


  • In telling his story, Will Allen links concerns about growing healthy food with a historical look at African American farmers.  Do you think it’s important for people to understand the farm crisis through the lens of race?  What elements of broader food issues are made visible through this approach? While you may consult additional sources, draw on The Good Food Revolution to show how those broader issues are or are not addressed in this text.
  • Our Multicultural Student Services Center’s Black Heritage Celebration 2015 theme is “Redefining Blackness.” How do The Good Food Revolution and the broader urban agriculture and food justice movement speak to this theme? What are the challenges to redefining agriculture as a vital and necessary part of Black culture and life? How might these challenges be met?


  • Although Will Allen talks about Growing Power as a business that he would like to see sustain itself economically, the organization continues to rely on grants and other forms of funding. Does an organization have to fund itself to be considered successful? What models of business, social entrepreneurship, or nonprofits are appropriate for addressing food issues, and why?


  • If you have engaged with any of the issues in The Good Food Revolution in your classes, analyze some element book, using the methods and materials of that discipline, to extend our understanding of the issues or the solutions.  For example, looking at the book from the view of communications class, one might compare the websites and messaging of Growing Power and similar urban farms to explore the specific communications challenges of such programs.  Looking at the book from the perspective of a biologist, one might review the ecosystems of the aquaponics and other growing systems that he and other farmers have developed, identify the biological concepts that those systems depend on, and consider the challenges of maintaining them.  A student in a public health class might talk about how that field approaches the problem of food deserts, and whether such an approach aligns with or challenges the approaches that farmers like Allen take.  What questions are raised in other fields? Does looking at the book from the perspective of multiple disciplines reveal interesting, new questions?