HIST 412: Food, Technology & Society


  • 3 Credit Hours
  • Spring 2022; 11 - 11:50 MWF
  • Fred Gibbs (fwgibbs@unm.edu) @ 1077 Mesa Vista Hall
  • Student Hours: 1:30-3:30 Wednesdays via Zoom (find the link on the UNM Learn course page)

Course Description

It’s easy to take supermarkets for granted. It almost seems natural that they should abound with vibrant and uniform vegetables, tasty snacks, and highly perishable but perfectly safe meat and dairy products. But the seeming inevitability of our grocery stores obscures the complex and frequently surprising history of the intersection of food and technology. But by carefully considering the tension between our desire for pure, natural food and our desire for cheap, convenient food helps us understand how technology is constantly reframing our relationship to food.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Think broadly and critically about the social implications of technological change with respect to food production and distribution
  • Evaluate how food technology continually alters our relationship to food
  • Describe key shifts in food technology in their historical contexts
  • Explain how history helps us ask better questions about developing food technologies

Readings & Assignments

Note at the top of the page the link to the schedule page of the syllabus: http://fredgibbs.net/courses/food-technology-society/schedule.html.

Please note that the schedule is a living document and changes depending on what’s going on in the course. If you print it out, you’ll need to keep your paper version up to date with the online version. If you keep a browser tab open all semester, make sure you refresh it when you go to look up the next assignment and reflection prompt.

To access all other articles and book chapters on the syllabus, we use a tool called Zotero to manage and provide access to articles and chapter scans. All readings that aren’t already online (and some that are) will be available through the class Zotero library.

Connecting to Zotero

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

Once you know you are logged in to zotero.org, 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 an hour or two unless you’re doing this late at night), I’ll approve your request to join the group. There is nothing else you need to do at this point.

Familiarity over mastery

Almost all our readings are meant for a broad (largely non-academic) audience and therefore are relatively quick and engaging 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. 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.

This class has a very average amount of reading for an upper-level humanities course. That said, you cannot possibly read every word, or every page, or master all the ideas, and that’s just fine. I DO expect you to gain a familiarity across all the readings so that they can inform your weekly assignments.

Work Requirements and Grading

The theme for the assignment schedule is slow and steady. Almost every week you have some assignment due by midnight on Friday that asks you to comment on the readings for the week, usually what we read and discuss on Monday and Wednesday. These hold you accountable for keeping up with the course, but these are all pretty short and low stakes so as not to cause unnecessary stress.

Preparedness and participation

This course is focused on cultivating different perspectives about how we can think about food, technology, and society—not just memorizing and regurgitating supposedly important “facts”. Solid (not necessarily perfect) attendance and participation almost always raises your grade 2/3 grade.

  • Attendance in most class meetings (20 pts)
  • Attentive participation in most class meetings (20 pts)

Weekly reflections on course readings/discussions

There are a few different flavors of exercise that we encounter throughout the term, as noted below. Each assignment will use basically the same rubric in Learn.

Midterm and final

  • 1 ~1200-word First half reflection (25 pts)
  • 1 ~1800-word final essay (35 pts)

Grading is mostly about effort

There are no right answers! All assignments are graded primarily on what it looks like your effort to connect to course readings and discussions and to highlight what you found most interesting (which we do in class discussion as well). If you actually do the readings, come to class, and make a serious effort to show me you’ve learned something, it’s almost impossible NOT to get an A.

Grade Distribution

% of points Grade
94+ A
90-93 A-
87-89 B+
83-86 B
80-82 B-
77-79 C+
73-76 C
70-72 C-
67-69 D+
60-66 D
59- F

Submission Policies

To keep us on schedule, late work will be penalized 1 full letter grade for being late UNLESS due to a medical issue or other extenuating circumstances (not uncommon these days!). You should let me know about these ASAP and let me know when you plan get caught up. I’m always happy to be flexible and allow you to submit work late for full credit as long as you’re communicating what’s going on.

Do not stress about submitting work a few or minutes or even hours late. That’s fine. But we have to vaguely respect the deadlines to keep from falling hopelessly behind.

Everyone can skip one assignment no questions asked, NOT including the midterm or final. I recommend that you save that get-out-of-assignment-free card in case you really need it! If you complete all assignments, your “extra” one will count as extra credit toward your point total.


Because your assignments are scored via a rubric on Learn, the rubrics provide some feedback about areas where you could improve. I try to provide some comments as well, but I’m not able to do this thoroughly for everyone for each assignment. That said, if you want more feedback on any assignment, please ask via email and I will be happy to provide it!

More generally, please please please email me at any time to learn how I think you’re doing in the class and how it can be improved (if at all). This can be via email or Zoom (in addition to student hours on Wednesday afternoons).

Please Ask for Help

If life gets overwhelming during the course, it can be tempting to drift away from an elective course like this. Please get in touch before that happens so we can work something out. Even if you do go into hibernation mode, we can almost always figure out a way for you to finish the course with a decent grade. Just shoot me a quick email to ask what we can do!

Extra Credit (5-10 points)

  • You can get more than the “maximum” number of points on almost any written assignment by going above and beyond the requirements. Posts that seem to have significant analytical depth to them (usually this means writing a bit more than the minimum) or unusually insightful analysis will get bonus points (usually up to 4). 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.
  • Most quizzes, too, have a few questions that are extra credit. You can of course skip these without any penalty, but it’s an easy chance for points.
  • 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).

Extra credit is EXTRA, not substitute.

You can only get extra credit points if you have turned in all other assigned work.

Important UNM Announcements and Resources


Perhaps you’ve heard of it. You should be aware of and follow the Bring Back the Pack guidelines and requirements. Most notably, until told otherwise, we all have to wear masks ALL THE TIME in class. Per UNM policy, if you don’t wear your mask or wear it improperly you will be dropped from the course.

I’m adding one additional rule: Drinks are fine PLEASE MINIMIZE EATING IN CLASS. I know we meet at around lunchtime, but our own safety (and comfort about our safety) have to come first.

If you are not feeling well, PLEASE DO NOT COME TO CLASS! There is no grade penalty for missed classes due to illness of any kind. If you need to quarantine, and miss several classes, that’s fine, but please let me know what’s going on. We’ll work it out and I’ll help you stay caught up. You will still be expected to complete assignments within a reasonable amount of time, but I’m trying to err on the side of compassion and be very flexible with deadlines.


Our classroom and our university should always be spaces of mutual respect, kindness, and support, without fear of discrimination, harassment, or violence. Should you ever need assistance or have concerns about incidents that violate this principle, please access the resources available to you on campus, especially the LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center and the support services listed on its website . Please note that, because UNM faculty, TAs, and GAs are considered “responsible employees” by the Department of Education, any disclosure of gender discrimination (including sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual violence) made to a faculty member, TA, or GA must be reported by that faculty member, TA, or GA to the university’s Title IX coordinator at the Office of Compliance, Ethics, and Equal Opportunity.


UNM is committed to providing courses that are inclusive and accessible for all participants. As your instructor, it is my objective to facilitate an accessible classroom setting, in which students have full access and opportunity. If you are experiencing physical or academic barriers, or concerns related to mental health, physical health and/or COVID-19, please consult with me after class, via email/phone or during office hours. You are also encouraged to contact the Accessibility Resource Center at arcsrvs@unm.edu or by phone 277-3506.

In accordance with University Policy 2310 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), academic accommodations may be made for any student who notifies the instructor of the need for an accommodation. It is imperative that you take the initiative to bring such needs to the instructor’s attention, as I am not legally permitted to inquire. Students who may require assistance in emergency evacuations should contact the instructor as to the most appropriate procedures to follow. Contact the Accessibility Resource Center at 277-3506 or arcsrvs@unm.edu for additional information.

Get additional help

Students who ask for help are successful students. I encourage students to be familiar with services and policies that can help them navigate UNM successfully. Many services exist to help you succeed academically, such as peer tutoring at CAPS and various mental health resources. Also see the UNM student guide.

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 academic career.

Land Acknowledgement

Founded in 1889, the University of New Mexico sits on the stolen traditional homelands of the Tiwa people, whose descendants today include the Pueblos of Sandia and Isleta. The original peoples of New Mexico – Pueblo, Diné (Navajo), Apache, Comanche, Ute, Genízaro and others – since time immemorial, have deep connections to the land and have made significant contributions to the broader community statewide. We honor the both land itself and those who survived colonization throughout the generations.