History and Geography of Food Production

Fall 2017 • HIST 300-002
info | readings


  • TH 12:30 - 1:45 @ 136 DSH
  • Fred Gibbs (fwgibbs@unm.edu) @ 1077 Mesa Vista Hall
  • Office Hours: T 2-3; Th 10-11

Course Description

This course explores how supermarkets have come to look like they do. Taking chronological and thematic approaches simultaneously, we’ll look at the impact of science and technology on food production, processing, and distribution (such as canning, refrigeration, GMOs, techno-foods). We’ll also put these developments in larger social, cultural, and demographic contexts, including the growing divide between food producers and consumers, urbanization, and food deserts, the rise of food corporations and global conglomerates, governmental regulation, organics, and sustainability. In tackling these topics, we’ll touch on issues related to food justice, environmental history, workers’ rights, nutrition, marketing, regulation and so on. Even more broadly, we try to identify connections between agriculture, ecology, consumerism, capitalism, media, politics, and the history of science and medicine (all as related to food choices).

To cover so many topics, our reading list takes a smorgasbord approach from academic and popular literature. Some of the readings go together well, others seem a bit more isolated. Some of them reinforce each other, others contradict each other. There isn’t any clear narrative or story that this course tries to tell; we sample widely from the buffet and to think about food production from as many angles as possible. The hope is to provide a stronger sense of where and how food is produced and the many and mostly hidden consequences of the many complicated global systems that facilitate the incredible choice of food at our fingertips. The course does not try to tell you how to eat, but hopefully how to think more critically about the implications of our food production and consumption choices.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Think broadly and critically about how food is produced, disseminated, and consumed.
  • Learn the history of various facets of our food system

Work Requirements and Grading

  • Thorough preparedness and engaged participation in most every class meeting. This is a class that’s focused on cultivating different perspectives about how we can think about food production, not just memorizing and regurgitating supposedly important “facts”. (20%)

  • Serious effort and on-time completion of the short writing assignments (usually ~250 words). (20%)

  • Serious engagement with peer review assignments (commenting on each others’ work). (15%)

  • Pop quizzes. (15%)

  • NOTE: Because of the size of the class, it’s not feasible for me to provide significant feedback for everyone on each assignment. When I collect assignments (which I don’t always do, even when they are due) I assign a number grade from 4-10 (if you don’t turn in it, you get a 0). I hope you will visit office hours (or make an appointment) to discuss the rationale behind your grade, if you’re interested.

  • Midterm ad analysis (~800 words) as explained on the schedule. (15%)

  • Final essay (~1200 words) explaining what you’ve learned in the course. This sounds like a joke, but this seriously affects your grade, and it’s the last impression you get to make. We’ll look at examples and prepare for this important exercise ahead of time. (15%)

  • You can resubmit all assignments once before the end of the term for re-grading. You get about the average between the two grades. Please keep in mind how busy you’ll be at that time, mostly doing new work for other courses that needs to be submitted. This is a safety net, but not something you should plan on using.

  • Late work is not accepted unless due to a medical emergency. You can submit work per the resubmission policy to avoid getting a 0 for the assignment.

  • I heartily encouraged you to speak with me at any time about how I think you’re doing in the class and how it can be improved (if at all).

  • If life gets overwhelming during the semester, it can be tempting to drift away from an elective course like this that doesn’t have big exams scheduled from time to time. Rather than disappear (which compromises not only your attendance grade, but also all subsequent assignments), please come talk with me about how we can accommodate your circumstances and thus avoid digging a huge hole from which it becomes increasingly difficult to escape.

Required Readings

There are no required books for the course. All readings that aren’t already online (and some that are) will be available through the class Zotero library. This will be discussed in class, but for reference, please see the instructions for connecting. The URL for the group library is https://www.zotero.org/groups/1647225/food-production-unm/items.