HIST 412: Food, Technology & Society


  • 3 Credit Hours
  • Spring 2022; M,W,F 11 - 11:50
  • Fred Gibbs (fwgibbs@unm.edu) @ 1077 Mesa Vista Hall
  • Student Hours:

Course Description

It’s easy to take supermarkets for granted. Why shouldn’t they 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. Carefully considering the inevitable tension between our desire for pure, natural food and our desire for cheap, convenient, and consistent food gives us a better understanding of not only our changing relationship to food, but also technology in general.

Schedule of Readings

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.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Articulate the history of the US food system and its relationship with technological developments
  • Think broadly and critically about how food is produced and how technological improvements have altered food systems and our relationship to food
  • Articulate clear arguments about the intersection of agriculture, consumerism, environmental and population health
  • Understand modern technological developments with respect to food in historical context
  • Critically evaluate argument and evidence in any food-related writing

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, technology, and society—not just memorizing and regurgitating supposedly important “facts”. (8 points; roughly .5 points per class)

  • Two readings quizzes (2 points each; 4 points total)

  • Two ~1200-word book reviews. You will be writing reviews of required books that we read and talk about together, so it’s a kind of “test” to see if you’ve been paying attention. (10 points each; 20 points total)

  • One ~800-word Old newspaper ad analysis (10 points)

  • Four 2-page executive summaries of class readings (10 points each; 40 points total)

  • One ~1200-word website analysis on GMO safety (10 points)

  • One ~2400-word final essay

    • See the final essay guide for more details. And send me an email if something isn’t clear!

Submission Policies

  • Late work is not accepted unless due to a medical issue or other extenuating circumstances. You should let me know about these ASAP and let me know when you can get caught up.

  • Work is due in class in hard copy. Emailed assignments will be ignored. If you have an emergency or unavoidable conflict that prevents you from attending class, you can turn it in the next class that you can attend for full credit.

  • REVISED: All work is due electronically (via email or Sharepoint) as a Word Document.

Grade Distribution

Percent of points Grade
94+ A
90-94 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

Please Ask for Help

Please please please come talk me at any time. I’m alway happy to tell you how I think you’re doing in the class and how it can be improved (if at all).

If life gets overwhelming during the course, it can be tempting to drift away from an elective course like this. Rather than disappear, 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.

Extra Credit

There are roughly a zillion books, articles, websites, documentaries, films, etc about food + technology. Most are not very good. As in a total-waste-of-time kind of way. But films/documentaries about food are usually more interesting than most other stuff because of the production costs involved. This does not guarantee quality, of course (surely you’ve seen something about food that just wasn’t worth it), but the genre provides a useful filter against mindless blog posts created simply because someone needs more “content” and places for ads.

So, if you would like (and who wouldn’t) to write a film/documentary review of anything related to the relationship between food and technology, you should do that for extra credit. Reviews should be ~900 words (which is insanely short for a balanced and thoughtful review). They can be worth, depending on the quality, up to 4 extra credit points.

Your review has two main tasks that each should comprise roughly half of your review: (1) to provide an overview of the film; (2) to critically evaluate its strengths and weaknesses in light of the course. Your review MUST use class readings and discussions! Imagine yourself taking on the role of expert reviewer, helping your reader (not just me) decide if the film is worth their time.

You don’t have to ask me if something is appropriate. You need to EXPLAIN to me in your review how it’s appropriate and how we should evaluate it in light of the course. Not to be too cavalier about points, but a serious effort will probably get you at least 2 points.

In addition to a film review, one automatic and easy way to get more points is to write a review of Tomatoland, following the model of our previous book reviews. This review can be worth up to 6 points, and a competent review should earn at least 4 points (note that turning something in does not make it competent).

Extra credit is EXTRA, not substitute.

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

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.