History of American Food


  • HIST 413
  • Summer 2021
  • 1H (June 7 – July 3)
  • 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. Why is that? What constitutes a “national” cuisine? Does this concept even make sense anymore? What have Americans eaten over time and why has it changed? Is there (or was there ever) such a thing? Does it matter?

While the idea of American food is central to the course, the main goal of the course is to see how much fun we can have exploring different perspectives on the meanings of food. There will be some history, but that’s a means to an end. Never shall we care about memorizing and regurgitating supposedly important historical “facts”. The end goal is to use the past to think more critically about uses and meanings of food, both historically and in the present.

How do we construct identities through food? How much have immigration and regionalization shaped dietary preferences and notions of American food? What can the future of American food learn from its past?

Learning Objectives

Where to find stuff

  • Syllabus. You’re already here! Remember there are two pages: this one and the schedule page.
  • UNM Learn. All assignments will be submitted via UNM Learn. The left nav bar has links to everything you need as well. We use Learn only for quizzes, posting reading reflections and an occasional survey. There is nothing else there that you need.
  • YouTube Channel will host lectures and other screencasts. 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.
  • For readings, we use an external tool called Zotero, and you need to create a free account and request to join our group library. It’s a super quick process, and the Readings and Books section below has all the details. It will take less than 5 minutes.

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 amidst a pandemic. AND YET: We can work hard and learn a lot together without taking ourselves too seriously.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Not having actual class meetings (as the course normally does) deprives us of some collegial conversation, but it presents new freedoms as well. There isn’t much to do most days except do the reading, reflect on it, and take a short quiz or write a brief response. There are a few slightly longer assignments that give you the chance to apply the readings more directly and a course final to show off what you’ve learned.

Required assignments and points

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

So you can expect around 320 points, but quizzes are sometimes a bit more or less than 10 points and I may swap out one kind of assignment for another, which may slightly change the point total. Your grade is determined by percent, as indicated below. To keep up with grading for a large class that has a lot of assignments in a short time, all grading is done through assignment rubrics so you get at least some feedback more quickly.

The schedule page indicates all due dates for course work; all assignments should be posted to UNM Learn by the end of the day they are listed (by midnight).

Embrace Ambiguity

The quizzes are mostly straightforward, but not trivial. The goal is to make you THINK CAREFULLY and CRITICALLY about course material. Sometimes I ask deliberately vague questions that don’t really have a right answer because I am using the questions to highlight an important ambiguity. These questions won’t count toward your grade, but you won’t know which questions count or not when you’re taking the quiz (you’ll find out after). Because this class is about interpretation and argument, you are encouraged to debate on the discussion board ANY quiz question marked as incorrect. If you contribute something original to the discussion (not just, "I agree with the last response!"), you can get extra credit to make sure you’re earning the grade you want.

Grading Scale

Whatever the final number of points is, your grade is determined by percent so you can always see in Learn how you are doing regardless of the ultimate possible point total.

Percent Grade
94+ A
90-93 A-
87-89 B+
83-86 B
80-82 B-
77-79 C+
73-76 C
70-72 C-
66-69 D+
60-65 D
59- F

Submitting Work

Everyone is welcome to a little extra time on assignments BUT YOU HAVE TO SEND ME AN EMAIL TO LET ME KNOW. Otherwise your work will be considered late and will be docked 1 point per day. After one week, you get a permanent ZERO for the assignment. I don’t like being draconian about deadlines but the class moves so fast that falling behind even a little can quickly spiral out of control. If you are doing reasonably well in the class, missing one basic assignment at some point doesn’t even matter.

If you need to pause the class for a few days because of some emergency, we can work it out (more on this below). Please get in touch!

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’re getting.

Extra Credit

  • 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). CAVEAT: 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).

Please Don’t Drift Away

If life gets overwhelming during the course (and something will come up over the month), it’s easy to drift away from an intensive elective course like this, especially an online course. PLEASE DON’T! Rather than disappear, let’s talk about how we can accommodate your circumstances, including shifting deadlines, figuring out a target grade that you can meet with reduced assignments, switching to CR/NC grade mode, taking an Incomplete to buy a little extra time, etc. Let’s at least talk about it.

Readings and Books

Most of the reading for the course are book chapters, short articles, and blog posts. Everything not already accessible online (like blog posts) are accessible through a platform called Zotero. You will NEVER have to find anything on your own.

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

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 textbook that we use to keep everything connected: How America Eats is our month-long guide that we read bit by bit (and slightly out of order for reasons that will become clear) throughout the course. This book is freely available through UNM Libraries. Links from here should ask you to log in with UNM credentials. If you don’t want to read the whole thing online, there are many cheap copies available via various online booksellers (but NOT the UNM Bookstore).

  • 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! As an intensive 1H course, there IS a lot of reading. This is unavoidable because I respect the challenges and demands of a compressed four-week course that ostensibly provides a learning experience comparable to a full-semester course. So 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 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, 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.

I’ve tried to embrace a less is more philosophy, but there’s a lot to do, 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 you can write a thoughtful response about them. Because we’re covering so much ground so quickly, broad familiarity is far more important than specific details.

UNM Resources

CAPS Tutoring Services is a free-of-charge educational assistance program available to UNM students enrolled in classes. Online services include the Online Writing Lab, Chatting with or asking a question of a Tutor.

Students with Disabilities

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodations of their disabilities. If you have a disability requiring accommodation, please contact me immediately to make arrangements as well as Accessibility Services Office in 2021 Mesa Vista Hall at 277-3506 or http://as2.unm.edu/index.html. Information about your disability is confidential.

Academic Misconduct

You should be familiar with UNM’s Policy on Academic Dishonesty and the Student Code of Conduct which outline academic misconduct defined as plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, or facilitating any such act.