Food, Technology, and Society
Fall 2019 • HIST 412
This syllabus is a living document and changes frequently, 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.
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.
Today we’ll review the syllabus, course aims, assignments, and general plan for the semester. We’ll also figure out how to customize the course to best suit participants’ interests.
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. Until we have more time to go over Zotero, the PDF is here.
- Lisi Krall, “Thomas Jefferson’s Agrarian Vision and the Changing Nature of Property,” 131–33; 144-48. Available at JSTOR. The read middle section if you’re interested in political economy. This reading also provides an important background to McWilliams for next week.
- Introduction to Zotero.
Land and Capital
- James, E. McWilliams, Revolution in Eating, 240-64; 274-5. (A culinary declaration of independence). The PDF is in the Zotero library, or you can read it online here. Skip the section “Defining American Food,” (265-73). On the whole, no need to labor over the details; focus on the forest, not the trees.
- William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis, 23-54 (Dreaming the Metropolis). Although this reading is not specifically about food production, it introduces how we can understand westward expansion as systematic conversion of land to capital, as introduced by Krall.
- William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis, 55-93 (Rails and Water)
- Discussion of review assignment due in 1 week (see below).
Technology and Taste
- Harvey Levenstein, Revolution at the Table, 30-43 (Giant Food Processors).
- Jennifer Wallach, How America Eats, 89-110 (Technology and Taste).
- Skim this fun piece on canning. Note: some of the embedded media sometimes doesn’t work for me, but don’t worry if you encounter similar issues.
DUE: Executive Summaries
Come to class with your executive summary of Nature’s Metropolis and its significance for the course. Be sure to follow the Executive Summary Writing Guide. Your summaries should provide BOTH a condensed summary of the main ideas from Cronon’s chapters up AND explain why they are significant in the contexts of our other readings and class discussions.
- Harvey Levenstein, Revolution at the Table, 121-136 (Best for Babies, 1880-1930).
- Amy Bentley, “Inventing Baby Food: Gerber and the Discourse of Infancy in the United States,” 92-109.
- Ann Vileisis, Kitchen Literacy, 96-125; 126-159.
For next week, find food ads from around 1900 (1880-1920 at the extremes); What kinds of products are being sold? What kinds of techniques do they use? What sensibilities are the ads appealing to? How are they using science to sell food? Who are they marketing to? Prepare a ~350-word report on your findings. Please consult the Ad Research Guide for more detailed instructions.
- Work on your ad research reports (see above)
- 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.
Our goal is to understand the overall flavor of this article that is representative of Atwater’s work so often referenced in our readings of late. Skim but don’t totally skip the science details. What’s the point of all the science detail? Where does metaphor play a role?
- I highly recommend that you complete a first draft of your report before class. I won’t collect them, but it will help you ask questions and prepare a much better report (due Thursday).
DUE: Ad Reports
Come to class prepared to present your findings to the class; all papers will be collected and evaluated, even if not presented in class.
- Charlotte Bitelkoff, Eating Right in America, 13-44 (Scientific Moralization and the Beginning of Modern Dietary Reform). Here we can go beyond Atwater’s “scientific” analysis of food and consider the links between diet and morality. A few key points to consider: What does “morality” mean in this chapter? Why is it so important (per the reformers) to have the proper diet? How is the proper diet related to the supposedly universal calorie?
- PRIMARY (1906): Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (chapters 9 and 14).
- Melanie Warner, Pandora’s Lunchbox, 21-37.
- Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation 13-28.
- Michael Moss, Salt, Sugar, Fat, 45-67 (Convenience with a Capital C).
- Harvey Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty, 101-118 (The Golden Age of Food Processing: Miracle Whip über Alles).
- Warren Belasco, Appetite for Change, 29-42 (Radical Consumerism); 111-131 (War of the Metaphors).
DUE: Executive Summaries
Come to class with your executive summaries of the rise of convenience foods as discussed across the first half of the course so far. As discussed, excellent summaries will draw widely from relevant readings and class discussions. Same formatting as last time—so you should review the Executive Summary Writing Guide. PLEASE NOTE AS ANNOUNCED IN CLASS: THESE SUMMARIES ARE 2 PAGES, NOT 1 LIKE LAST TIME.
Relax, but not for too long (see below).
Oct 17 and 19
No class: Research Break
The goals, instructions, and guidelines are visible at the Ad Research Guidelines. Remember that you will also be relating what you find the ads to the analysis presented in the Parkin reading (see below).
- Katherine J. Parkin, Food is Love, 30-78. Of course we’ll go over the main ideas covered in these two chapters, but you should also think about how your ad research confirms or complicates Parkin’s claims about advertising.
DUE: Ad research reports
Bring to class your ~800-word visual essays on your ad research. Be prepared to discuss some of the interesting features of your ads and your analysis.
The Tale of Two Fruits
Read one of the following and be prepared to share highlights with the class
- John Soluri, “Accounting for Taste: Export Bananas, Mass Markets, and Panama Disease,” 386–410.
- Jeffrey Charles, “Searching for Gold in Guacamole: California Growers Market the Avocado, 1910-1994,” 131-150.
- Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 32-56 (The Farm).
- PRIMARY (1940): Selections from Paul Johnstone, “Old Ideals versus New Ideas in Farm Life.” The beginning of this article will review some of what we talked about the first few weeks of class, but it’s interesting to see these ideas in print in the 1940s, describing the changing nature of farming in the US. It’s enlightening to skim the entire article, but focus especially on 111-114; bottom of 115-127; 139-167. Start and stop reading at major section headings on the pages specified; rarely will you read all of the first or last page in the given range. Pay particular attention to the changing ideas about farm labor, which is our focus for next week.
Working on the Farm
- Gottlieb and Joshi, Food Justice, 13-30; SKIM 30-38. In Zotero and also online.
- Margaret Gray, Labor and the Locavore, 1-12 (Introduction); 15-26 (Chapter 1); SKiM through 40 (Agrarianism and Hudson Valley Agriculture).
- Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, 149-166; 169-190.
- Christopher Leonard, Meat Racket, 1-13; 47-62; 17-46. (these are quick reads!)
- Preview: Memphis Meats and The Meat of the Future.
- More data for reference: “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” 267-284.
- McKay Jenkins, Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the America, 1-46 (Prologue; Are GMOs Safe?).
- McKay Jenkins, Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the America, 47-76 (The Long, Paved Road to Industrial Food).
- Born and Purcell, “Avoiding the Local Trap,” 195–207.
- C. Clare Hinrichs, “The Practice and Politics of Food System Localization,” 33–45.
- IN CLASS: website analysis instructions.
DUE: Local/Organic website analysis
Bring to class a ~800 word critique of a website or article that discusses local or organic or GMO food production (or basically anything that relates to the discussions we’ve had over the last few weeks). Questions to consider in your essay: What kinds of arguments does it make? What kinds of assumptions? Where have we seen them before? What’s different? How are they convincing? How are they misleading? How could they be more effective? How is history—both real and imagined—invoked? As with all your assignments, the goal is to put the course to use in addressing ‘real-world’ discussions about food production issues. So you will do better by drawing together various themes from the course in your analysis.
- 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.
- Gyorgy Scrinis, Nutritionism, 215-236 (The Food Quality Paradigm).
Final Essay Peer Review
This class is optional. If you come, you should bring a draft of your final that we can critique together. Students have found this very helpful in the past, both to get feedback on their papers and to see how others approach it.