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INTERVIEWING AN INFORMANT: THE AMERICAN FOOD SYSTEM Main points: • Choose someone (family, friend, coworker, friend of a friend, etcetera) who

INTERVIEWING AN INFORMANT: THE AMERICAN FOOD
SYSTEM

Main points:

• Choose someone (family, friend, coworker, friend of a friend, etcetera) who works in
some segment of the American food system; you can think as far outside of the box as
you need to.

• Do background research on their segment of the food industry and current issues
facing it (so if they work at McDonald’s, do research on fast food working conditions,
sexual harassment, nutritional value of fast food, and so on), using two academic
sources, one of which must be an article from either the Washington Post or the Wall
Street Journal, plus the Lorr text as a third source; do not use the workplace website as
one of your required sources (you should cite it if you use it, but it doesn’t count as one
of the required sources).

o Come up with questions to ask that person (either your own or ones you base
off of my sample ones below), and analyze their responses to you.

• Directly connect your informant’s experiences to those of someone in Lorr’s text.

• Examine your informant’s experiences using one theoretical perspective.

• Due via Blackboard as indicated in the syllabus (worth 10%, or 100 points towards your
grade)

Interviewing informants is an important part of participant observation. For this assignment,
you will tie the Benjamin Lorr book The Secret Life of Groceries to the world around you by
interviewing one person whose livelihood is related to the subject of his book: the American
food system, from farm to supermarket to table.

You will choose one person to interview. This person must be a current or recent employee in
the particular line of work you are investigating, and preferably should have this job as their
major source of income (not just as a side job). If your job is in one of these areas, you may
interview a coworker.

For example, persons you can interview include those who are in:

• agriculture (farmer, migrant farm worker, vendor at a farmers’ market, etc)

• employee in a supermarket, “supercenter” or convenience store that primarily sells food
(stockperson, cashier, etc)

• a person who delivers food (such as an employee for a trucking or other company who
primarily delivers food products)

• the food industry (fast food, restaurant worker or owner, bartender, etc.)

• experts or scholars (natural or social scientists who study food systems)
You must officially obtain this person’s permission to interview them. I will provide a form,
which you can give them (physically or virtually), or if you must, obtain their verbal consent and
note this on the form. I will provide a copy of this form with this assignment and rubric.

In conducting this project, you will do the following things:

• Conduct background research on the industry that your informant belongs to, using at
least three total sources other than the textbook:

o One of your sources must be the Benjamin Lorr book The Secret Life of Groceries
(you must spend at least half a page total talking about this source); and

o You must also use at least two journal or newspaper articles or reports, one of
which must be from either the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal.
You must spend at least half a page total talking about the research from each of
these outside sources as well (not counting block quotes). For sources other than
the newspaper you subscribed to, it is best to use one of the library databases to
find this source if possible. Lorr offers sources in his own book, though there are
more up to date sources available in the library’s many databases, and you
should work to find some of those more recent ones.

• Ask your informant why they work at this particular job, and how do they handle food –
for example, is this person someone who raises chickens, picks apples, makes cheese,
serves hamburgers, unloads pallets of bananas, etc. Is this the person’s only job? How
does this job affect this person’s eating habits? And so on (I will give a list of sample
questions which I strongly urge you to use).

• Plan on allotting about 20 to 30 minutes for this interview (or you can correspond with
your informant via email if that is easier). You may record the interview, but please do
not submit the recording or a transcription of it.

• Write an introductory paragraph about the informant (it is up to you and your informant
if you keep them anonymous) along with some background information about the
industry (and the employer if it is a large employer, like Wegmans or Food Lion, for
example), and how their job fits into the overall American food landscape.

o As part of this paper, note which of Lorr’s informants’ situations is most like that
of your informant, and how.

• Then choose at least three questions that you asked them to explore in greater detail in
your paper (you must note what the questions were in your paper). Please do not just
quote the person and leave it at that: give context and write in a narrative or bullet
point format.

• Conclude your paper by noting your feelings throughout the interview process, and
what you learned from your informant about their link in the food industry. Here
(preferably throughout your paper, but at least at this point) you should apply one of
the theoretical perspectives we have discussed in class and your text to what you have
learned from your informant and your research: symbolic interactionism, social conflict
theory or structural functionalism.

• Please keep your paper to about 4 pages maximum, double-spaced, with 12 point font
and 1” margins.

Here’s the breakdown of the grade for this paper. It is worth 10% of your course grade. Your
grade will be calculated up to a total of 100 points:

1) An introduction to your interview paper, including
a. the informant’s name or pseudonym, line of work and employer (you may also

use a pseudonym for the employer), and background information about your
informant’s line of work, using Lorr and a second outside source – 12 points

b. your connection between your informant’s experiences and the Lorr text – 12
points

2) At least three (3) questions – which you must mention in your paper – that you have
asked your informant (you may include your research from Lorr and your second source
throughout this section as well, and you may include your theoretical discussion here
too) – 8 points each (24 total)

3) A conclusion to your interview paper, including
a. what you have learned from your informant and your research about their part

of the American food industry – 6 points
b. a discussion of at least one of the theories and how it applies to what you have

written about in this interview paper – 16 points
4) Format: Grammar, spelling, punctuation and readability – 7 points; 3 ½ to 4 pages,

double spaced, 12 point font, 1” margins – 7 points; proper citations and formatting in
APA format (note: abstract is not necessary for this paper, even though it is typical for
correct APA formatting) – 7 points

5) Permission to interview informant – you must note this either by including the form, an
email of consent (with name blocked out if your informant wishes to remain
anonymous), or a screenshot of consent via text message, etc. It must be more than
just mentioning somewhere in the paper that you asked – 9 points

When you write this paper, you must include which questions you ask your informants in the

text of your paper. The following is a list of interview questions to choose from. Some of these

questions you will want to ask unchanged. Others you may want to alter or eliminate (please

read over this list of questions to make sure some make sense to ask your informant). You may

want to add your own questions that are specific to your informant or their job or situation.

Again, make sure you choose questions based on the person you are interviewing. For example,

a question about whether your informant is one of several generations of family members in

their job might make more sense to ask the owner of a long-established restaurant or a dairy

farm, and not for an employee at Wawa. Again, these are questions to get you started. These

questions are written in the second person, as if you are addressing your informant.

• If you are comfortable discussing your salary, do you think it is fair for the amount of

hours you put in?

• Is your workplace unionized? If so, how does the union benefit and/or hurt you as a

worker? If not, how might your workplace benefit from having one (or not)? [This

question is most appropriate to ask someone at a large store, supermarket or

agribusiness farm, less so a small family farm or family-run restaurant]?

• How does this job help you make ends meet?

• How does your job affect your family life / school life / etc.?

• Is your job tied to a family business, and [if your informant is part of that family] how

long has your family been involved in it?

• Was there ever a time when family members chose to do other things than the family

business, and how did this affect the family?

• What kinds of discrimination / harassment do you see on the job? [This could be

directed at employees or customers]

• Do you eat the food they give you at work? Does your workplace compensate you for

food eaten there or taken home?

• What are your own eating habits? Do you eat or drink the kinds of things you work

around?

• How do you think the food that you sell / grow / cook benefits or affects society?

• How has the COVID pandemic affected your job / workplace / customers / coworkers?

GRADING RUBRIC – INTERVIEW PROJECT

What needs to
be included

12 points 8 points 5 points 2 points 0 points

Information
about
informant, and
research about
informant’s
occupation
and workplace
– 12 points

Student gives
background
information
about the
informant’s life,
job, workplace,
including at least
one article from
the Washington
Post or Wall
Street Journal
plus at least one
other
appropriate
outside sources,
with ½ page of
text each (other
than the
textbook)

Student gives
adequate
background
information
about the
informant’s life,
job, and
workplace,
including either
one article from
the Washington
Post or Wall
Street Journal or
another
appropriate
outside source
(or two passable
sources) plus the
text, but with ½
page text total

Student must go
further in
discussing the
informant’s
circumstances
and workplace,
using at most
one passable
article (but not
the Washington
Post or Wall
Street Journal),
plus the
textbook;
student only
uses company
website as
background
research (ex.:
using only the
Food Lion
website as their
source)

Student needs
to go further in
analyzing the
occupation and
(if possible) the
informant’s
circumstances
and workplace,
using either
questionable
sources
(Facebook,
About.com,
Wikipedia, or
non-recent
research) and
nothing else, or
just the
textbook

Student includes
nothing in
introduction
about
informant’s
occupation or (if
possible)
workplace

Connection
between the
informant /
workplace /
job and the
Lorr text – 12
points

Student makes a
strong, thorough
connections
between the
Lorr text and
their informant’s
daily life and
occupation, with
at least ½ a page
of text total

Student does an
adequate job in
making
connections
between the
Lorr text and
their informant’s
daily life and
occupation – but
could go a little
further

Student does a
fair job
connecting the
Lorr text to their
informant’s daily
life or
circumstances,
but must go
much further

Student makes
at best a brief or
vague
connection
between the
Lorr text and
their informant’s
daily life or
circumstances

Student includes
nothing in
introduction
about the Lorr
text in the paper

What needs to
be included

10 points 8 points 6 points 2 points 0 points

Discussion of
each of three
questions – 8
points each
(24 total)

N/A Student does
thorough job of
discussing how
their informant
address the
question.

Student does
adequate job of
discussing how
their informant
address the
question,
including some
brief analysis of
their responses

Student does at
best a fair job of
discussing how
their informant
address the
question, at best
quoting the
informant
verbatim and/or
leaving out the
question being
asked

Student does
little more than
tell the reader
what they know
about them,
leaving out any
interview
responses with
their informant

What needs to
be included

16 points 10 points 6 points 4 points 0 points

What you have
learned from
your informant
and research
about their
part of the
American food
industry – 6
points

N/A N/A Student does
thorough job in
discussing what
they learned
about the
informant’s
segment of the
American food
industry,
working
together the
interview and
research

Student does
adequate job in
discussing what
they learned
about the
informant’s
segment of the
American food
industry, but
leaves out much
analysis of the
information
learned from
interview and/or
research

Student does
not include this
part of the
conclusion, or
has no
conclusion at all

Application of
theory to your
interview – 16
points

Student does
thorough job of
applying
sociological
theory to the
informant’s
story, showing a
solid grasp of
symbolic
interactionism,
social conflict
theory or
structural
functionalism

Student does at
best an
adequate job of
applying
sociological
theory to the
informant’s
story, going into
some detail
about how
theory applies to
the informant’s
situation, but
could go into a
little more depth

Student shows
at best a basic
grasp of the
sociological
theory they use,
or mixes
different
theories
together
without any
evidence of
understanding
them

Student shows a
poor grasp of
the sociological
theory they use,
confusing one
theory for
another or
making it
unclear what
theory they are
talking about

Student does
not discuss any
of the theories
and shows no
evidence of
trying to do so

What needs to
be included

7 points 5 points 3 points 2 points 0 points

Format:
Grammar,
spelling,
punctuation,
readability – 7
points

Paper has no
grammatical,
spelling or
punctuation
errors, and is
written in an
academic format

Paper is mostly
free of
noticeable
grammatical,
spelling or
punctuation
errors, and/or is
written in an
acceptable
academic format
(not informal)

Paper has
several sloppy
typos, and is not
written in an
academic format
(is too informal)

Paper has
several
grammatical,
spelling and
punctuation
errors, and/or is
not written in an
academic format
(too informal,
for example)

Paper has major
problems with
grammar,
spelling,
punctuation or
tone (very
informal, use of
texting
language, or has
so many
mistakes that it
is difficult to
read the paper)

Format:
Structure of
paper – 7
points

Paper is
correctly
formatted (is
four pages, is
double spaced,
uses appropriate
12 pt font, has
1” margins, is
left justified, no
page-long
paragraphs)

Paper is mostly
correctly
formatted (has
one or two of
the following: is
less than 3½ or
more than 5
pages, has
spacing, font
size,
justification,
margin, or other
formatting
issues)

Paper has some
formatting
issues (has some
of the following:
is less than 3
pages, and has
spacing, font
size,
justification,
margin, or other
formatting
issues)

Paper is
incorrectly
formatted (has a
few of at least
one of the
following: is less
than 2 ½ or
more than 6
pages, has
spacing, font
size, justification
margin, or other
formatting
issues)

Paper has major
formatting
problems (has
most of the
following in
some way: is
less than 2
pages, has
major spacing,
font size,
justification,
margin, and
other
formatting
issues)

Format: Use of
APA format – 7
points

Paper correctly
uses APA
format,
including cover
page, page
numbers,
abstract,
citations and
works cited
section)

Paper
adequately uses
APA format,
specifically
getting only a
few things
wrong

N/A Paper
inadequately
uses APA
format, or
specifically uses
a different
format

Paper has no
clear format at
all; in-text
citations poorly
done; works
cited is just a list
of URL’s

What needs to
be included

9 points 5 points 3 points 2 points 0 points

Prof of
consent to
interview
informant – 9
points

Student has
form or
otherwise clear
statement that
informant has
given their
consent to being
interviewed for
this project in
some way
(preferably
through
provided form,
or email / text
consent if not
possible)

N/A Student
mentions in
paper that
informant has
given consent,
but does
nothing more
(that is, no
consent form,
screen shot of
email or text
consent)

N/A Student does
not
demonstrate
that informant
has given their
consent to being
interviewed in
any way

THINGS THAT WILL LOSE POINTS

Item left out or left incomplete Points deducted

In-text / end-of-text citations and/or bibliography not included -100 (I will not accept

this paper until these

are added)

Ideas for this project were taken from the following sources: “A Brief Ethnographic Interview” (AnthroProf.org,
“Cultural Anthropology Interview Assignment”
(Southern Nazarene University, and “Interviewing Tricks for Student
Ethnographies” (David W. McCurdy, pages 173 – 177, in Strategies in Teaching Anthropology, Patricia C. Rice and
David W. McCurdy, editors, Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2000)

SOC 102 Interview Project
Disclosure and Informed Consent Form for Research Participants

Please email or present this to your informant at your earliest convenience.

The Social Problems (SOC 102) class of Prof. John Donahue at Harford Community College is engaged in

a class project of researching and writing about the food system in the United States and Maryland,

from the point of view of a person who is currently working or has once worked as part of it in some

way. Students in this class are required to do research about this segment of the American food system

in the context of the text The Secret Life of Groceries by Benjamin Lorr, who does the same. Students

will try to connect the experiences of a person the author discussed to the person they are interviewing

(you)!

We are happy that you have agreed to be interviewed; your input is valued and will aid the student in

understanding the sociological research process and the workings of our food system today. The student

is responsible for accurately transcribing your responses to their questions by taking as complete notes

as possible. The student is encouraged to use a pseudonym (fictitious name) in their paper so that your

identity will remain confidential, but it is your choice if you wish to remain anonymous or not (you do

not have to). Importantly, if you feel uncomfortable or do not wish to answer any question, you are not

obligated to do so.

If you have any questions regarding this project or interview you may contact:

Prof. John Donahue at the HCC Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences, 401 Thomas Run Rd. Bel Air,

MD (443) 412-2375 or [email protected]

Student Interviewer’s Name _______________________________________________

Student Interviewer’s Signature____________________________________________

Contact Information _____________________________________________________

Interviewee’s Email or Phone (you may provide one or both)

______________________________________________________________________

____ I give my consent to be interviewed (sign below or check line to the left; if virtual consent is given,

the interviewer should check here: ____, and ignore the signature line below)

Interviewee’s Signature (you may sign with a pseudonym if you wish to remain anonymous)

____________________________________ Date ____________

Interviewee’s Comments/Concerns if any:

mailto:[email protected]

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