History of American Food


  • HIST 413
  • Summer 2022
  • 1H (June 6 – July 2)
  • 3 Credit Hours
  • Remote asynchronous (ie no set meeting times)
  • Fred Gibbs (fwgibbs@unm.edu)

Course Description

When you think of Mexican food, or Italian, or Chinese, a range of dishes and ingredients immediately spring to mind. But what about American food? Is there such a thing? Does this concept even make sense?

This course explores both historical and contemporary ways of thinking about ‘American’ food and the relationship between food and identity. We look at the changing meanings of food and foodways throughout US history, particularly how people have attached cultural values to certain foods yet rejected others, and how foodways are so frequently an expression of personal, community, and national values.

While the history of food in the U.S. runs throughout the course, the main goal is to see how much fun we can have exploring different perspectives on how we use food as means of self-expression. The history is really a means to an end: to think more critically about meanings of food in the present.

Learning Objectives

  • Describe how food shapes identities at various scales from the personal to the national.
  • Provide historic examples of how attitudes toward food are influenced by shifting cultural, social, religious, scientific, and political values.
  • Become more critical consumers of writing about food, whether about cooking, dieting, authenticity, appropriation, production, etc.
  • Think more critically and deeply about the uses and meanings of food and food choices both historically and in everyday life.

Where to find stuff

  • Syllabus. You’re already here! Remember there are two pages: this one and the schedule page.
  • Course Canvas Page. We use Canvas for submitting and grading work (quizzes, essays, etc). But that’s it. It also has links to other digital components of the course. There is no course material in Canvas
  • YouTube Channel will host all our videos. I put links to everything on the syllabus once they are uploaded, but I don’t barge into your inbox just to tell you there’s a new video. If you want such notifications, you can subscribe to the Channel and get notifications that way.
  • Zotero is our tool for accessing readings. The Readings and Books section below has all the details. It will take less than 5 minutes to get set up with it.

Work Requirements

It’s summer

As an upper level history course compressed into a month, this class is meant to be a challenge. But I do recognize that it’s summer, that we’re still recovering from this past year, and that we all have busy lives outside of class even when not (still) amidst a pandemic. AND YET: We can work hard and learn a lot together without taking ourselves too seriously.

Slow and Steady

Not having actual class meetings deprives us of some collegial conversation and debate, but it presents new freedoms as well. There isn’t much to do most days except do the reading, think about it, and take a short quiz or write a brief reading reflection. There are two slightly longer reflections and a final reflection so that you can show off what you’re learning from the course as a whole.

Required assignments and points

The little equations after the assignment type indicates number of assignments x points for each = total points

Grading Scale

Whatever the exact number of points we end up with, your grade is determined by percent, as indicated below. You can always see at any point exactly what your grade is in Canvas.

Percent Grade
98+ A+
92-97 A
90-91 A-
87-89 B+
82-86 B
80-81 B-
77-79 C+
73-76 C
70-72 C-
66-69 D+
60-65 D
59- F

Submitting Work

Work towards your wants

Some of you just want a C to fulfill a UNM requirement. Some of you want a B to maintain a solid GPA. Some of you want an A because top grades are really important to you. Put in the work that justifies the grade you want for each assignment, and if you’re not getting the scores you want, LET ME KNOW. Usually a few minor tweaks go a long way towards improving your scores. Please know I want to do everything I can to ensure that the work you’re putting in matches the grade you want.

Extra Credit

On all quizzes and assignments, the goal is to show how much you learned from the reading(s). I try to highlight what I think are the most important points in the questions themselves, but there’s lots of cool stuff to learn. Writing more than the question requires, if clearly informed by the readings, will usually get you extra credit points for that question. If you’re really into a topic and have a little extra time for an assignment, it’s an easy way to make sure you’re on track for the grade you want. These add up quickly!

If you are worried you are falling just short of a grade you’re aiming for, there is an easy way to ensure you get it! Do a Food Documentary Critique (worth up to 10 points). WARNING: This critique assignment is EXTRA. You can do this ONLY if all other work is turned in on time. This should be emailed to me directly by July 5 (when all course work is due).

Readings and Zotero

All course materials are provided at no cost. You will NEVER have to find anything on your own. I’m always amazed at how many students don’t know this by the time they take the syllabus quiz. Don’t be one of them! All readings not already online are accessible through a tool called Zotero. Follow the below instructions to get connected and access the course readings.

Step 1: Create a Zotero account

If you don’t have one already, sign up for a free account at zotero.org. Creating a Zotero account requires only that you specify a username, password, and email address. You will not get any spam from Zotero or anyone else because of your Zotero account. Use your UNM email address!!!!!

Step 2: Make sure you are logged in at zotero.org

You should see your username or a “Log Out” link on the top nav bar. If you see a “Log In” link, you need to log in. Pretty straightforward.

Step 3: Request to Join our group library

Visit our Zotero Group homepage, and click the red “Join” button off to the right, which will send an email to me. As soon as I see it (usually within the hour unless you’re doing it late at night), I’ll approve your request to join the group. There is nothing else you need to do at this point.

AFTER ABOVE: Accessing Readings

Once you’ve completed the steps above, and I’ve approved your request to join our library, you can access our course readings most easily via our Group Library page. Double-clicking an item brings up a PDF of the article or chapter. Again, EVERYTHING you need that isn’t already online is available via our Zotero group library.

A few items in our Zotero library have more than one PDF attached to them. If you’re getting the wrong chapter when double-clicking at item: Single click on the item to select it, then click the “Attachments” tab near the upper right of the page. You’ll see links to all PDFs for that item and you can select the PDF you need and click the icon to open it.

In addition to separate articles and book chapters, we have one sort of free, online textbook that we use to provide useful overview:

  • Jennifer Jensen Wallach, How America Eats: A Social History of U.S. Food and Culture (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014). online via UNM

Familiarity over mastery

If you peek at the reading schedule page, you might think there is a lot of reading. You’re right! Naturally, as an intensive 1H summer humanities course, there is a fair amount of reading. This is unavoidable because I respect the challenges and demands of a compressed four-week course that provides a rigorous learning experience. The workload is comparable to any average 1H upper-level humanities course, whether in person or online, but is obviously more intense than a regular full semester course.

Almost all readings are meant for a broad (largely non-academic) audience and therefore are relatively quick reads. At the same time, most are smart, articulate, and give us plenty to talk about, especially as we put them in conversation with each other, and how they tell very different stories of American Food. For almost everything we read, we’re reading to ENGAGE with it, not because it’s right. There is a LOT to disagree with across the readings, and we don’t all have to agree on anything.

Academic Honesty

Please ask for help in understanding and avoiding plagiarism (passing the work or words of others off as your own) or other forms academic dishonesty. Doing something dishonest in a class or on an assignment can lead to serious academic consequences, including failing grades and expulsion from the University. Come talk with me about your concerns or needs for academic flexibility or talk with support staff at one of our student resource centers before you do something that may endanger your ability to complete your degree.