Food, Technology, and Society

Spring 2020 • HIST 412


This syllabus is a living document and changes occasionally, 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. I will always announce important changes in class.

Required Readings

There are three required books for the course.

Besides the books, 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


Jan 21

Today we’ll review the syllabus, course aims, assignments, Zotero, and general plan for the semester.

Background to skim

Jan 23

The point of this coupling of readings is to canvas the broad spectrum of visions of food production—one a global lab-driven research effort, and the other centered on the idyllic agrarian yeoman. Some discussion questions for class: What’s the difference between food grown in the ground and food produced in the lab? Does all food boil down to chemistry? Is the food production system described by Warner antithetical to Jefferson’s vision, or evidence of its success?

  • Melanie Warner, Pandora’s Lunchbox, xiii–xix; 1–20 (Weird Science). This is a super quick read.
  • Jennifer Wallach, How America Eats, 89–100 (Chapter 4: Technology and Taste).

Background to skim

  • Wilbur O. Atwater, “The Chemistry of Food and Nutrition: The Composition of Our Bodies and Our Food,” Century Illustrated Magazine 34 (May 1887): 59–74. Skim but don’t totally skip the science details. What’s the point of all of it? How does metaphor play a role? What larger cultural phenomenon does this article represent?

Natural and Pure Food

Jan 28

  • Nicholas Bauch, A Geography of Digestion, 46–76 (Scientific Eating) and 77–101 (Flaked Cereal) [ONLINE]

Jan 30

  • Ann Vileisis, Kitchen Literacy, 96–125 (chap. 5: “A new longing for nature”).
  • Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, 97–105; 140–46 (chapters 9 and 14).

Canned I

Feb 4

  • Anna Zeide, Canned, 1–40.

Feb 6

  • Anna Zeide, Canned, 74–134.

Canned II

Feb 11

  • Anna Zeide, Canned, 135–162.

Feb 13

  • Anna Zeide, Canned, 163–194.

Fresh and Pure Foods

Feb 18

  • Susanne Frieberg, Fresh, 1–48 (intro and chapter 1).

Feb 20

  • Gabriella M. Petrick, “‘Purity as Life:”, 37–57.

Sugar and Saccharine

Feb 25

  • Carolyn Thomas Peña, Empty Pleasure, Chapter 1: 13–38.

Feb 27

  • Carolyn Thomas Peña, Empty Pleasure, Chapter 5: 141–175; Conclusion: 219–228.

Milk I

Mar 3

  • Kendra Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk, 3–66.

Mar 5

  • Kendra Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk, 67–97.

Milk II

Mar 10

  • Kendra Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk, 98–146.

Mar 12

  • Kendra Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk, 147–166.

Mar 17 and 19: SPRING BREAK


Mar 24

Mar 26

  • Amy Bentley, “Inventing Baby Food: Gerber and the Discourse of Infancy in the United States,” 92–109.
  • First-half (+ this week) review quiz

Hidden Convenience

Mar 31

  • Michael Moss, Salt, Sugar, Fat, 45–67 (Convenience with a Capital C).

Apr 2

Environmental Food

Apr 7

Apr 9

  • Warren Belasco, Appetite for Change, 29–42 (Radical Consumerism); 111–131 (War of the Metaphors).

Big Organic

Apr 14

  • No required reading for today, but start reading ahead for Thursday
  • LECTURE: The Origins of “Organic”

Lecture background (for skimming):

Apr 16

  • Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 134–184 (Big Organic).


Apr 21

  • McKay Jenkins, Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the America, 1–46 (Prologue; Are GMOs Safe?).

Apr 23

  • McKay Jenkins, Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the America, 47–76 (The Long, Paved Road to Industrial Food).

Natural Progress

Apr 28

  • LECTURE: What is natural food?

Background to skim

Apr 30

  • Roger Horowitz, Putting Meat on the Table, 129–154 (Convenient meat).
  • Reading quiz

Global Industrialization

May 5

  • Marion Nestle, Food Politics, 295–314 (Fortification and marketing).
  • Melanie Warner, Pandora’s Lunchbox, 97–123 (Better living through chemistry).
  • Steve Ettlinger, Twinkie, Deconstructed, skim 13–28; 29–44.

May 7

Conclusions and Advice for the Final