Schedule of Readings and Assignments


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; see the Bookstore list for details.

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

1: Introductions

Jan 21

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

Background to skim

Jan 23

Some discussion questions for class: What do you think of Warner’s definition of processed food? What are the aspirations of food scientists? How are economies of scale intimately tied to our understanding of natural food? What are key transportation developments that influenced what and how we eat? What’s the difference between food grown in the ground and food produced in the lab? Does all food boil down to chemistry?

  • 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; notice the chapter goes to 110, so don’t read the whole PDF).

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? Why?

2: Natural and Pure Food

Jan 28

Some discussion questions for class: Why were Graham Crackers invented? Why were they bland? What’s a sanitarium? What were they for? To what extent were corn flakes invented by accident? T/F: Most of the food items in the health reform cuisine emerged as the result of a particular vision of what food should be. Do clean labels make products healthier? Is hummus a natural food? Can there ever be a satisfactory label?

Background to skim

  • Nicholas Bauch, A Geography of Digestion, 46–76 (Scientific Eating) [ONLINE]

Jan 30

How were conceptions of and relationships to nature changing toward the end of the 19th century? Did people want to get back to nature? How could they? What were consequences for how food was represented and marketed? There might be a quiz covering the first two weeks of class. Refreshing your mind of the readings and discussions could be useful.

  • Ann Vileisis, Kitchen Literacy, 96–125 (chap. 5: “A new longing for nature”).
  • Medical Adviser 17 (1824), “Dyspepsia” (258 - top of 260).
  • Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, 97–105; 140–46 (chapters 9 and 14).

3: Canned I

Feb 4

Note you have a bigger chunk of reading for Thursday than Tuesday, so read ahead over the weekend!

For Tuesday, we’ll try to identify and discuss the key themes and developments in Chapter One. It’s titled “Condensed Milk”, but the chapter covers a lot of significant historical changes. Who are the main actors? What’s going on?

As with all reading assignments, but especially with our book sections, read primarily for the the big picture and skim the details when you’ve got the main idea. The historical details are there to give credence to the broader historical claims, not because you need to memorize them.

As usual, I’ll cycle through some 3x5 cards to randomly sample everyone’s familiarity with the readings. As you have all seen, it’s obvious from this exercise who has read and who hasn’t.

Additionally, we’ll talk about what kinds of topics or ideas ARE NOT addressed by the author that we have discussed in class so far.

  • Anna Zeide, Canned, 1–40.

Feb 6

  • Anna Zeide, Canned, 74–134.

4: Canned II

Feb 11

  • Anna Zeide, Canned, 135–162.

Feb 13

  • Anna Zeide, Canned, 163–194.

5: Fresh and Pure Foods

Feb 18

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

Feb 20

  • Gabriella M. Petrick, “‘Purity as Life:”, 37–57.
  • Discussion of Ad analysis assignment. Please review the Ad Analysis Writing Guide ahead of time.

6: Sugar and Saccharine

Feb 25

  • Carolyn Thomas Peña, Empty Pleasure, Chapter 1: 13–38.
  • Carolyn Thomas Peña, Empty Pleasure, Chapter 5: 141–175; Conclusion: 219–228.

Feb 27

  • No reading for today, but…

7: Milk I

Mar 3

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

Mar 5

  • Kendra Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk, 67–120.

8: Milk II

Mar 10

  • Kendra Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk, 121–166.
  • Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 303–309.

Note that the recent Kimmerer addition is something I just read, a totally food unrelated piece (~7 small pages). My question for y’all that I’d like to discuss today is whether you think the kind of mentality or cultural lens used in this short chapter should be a bigger part of the food history books/chapters we’ve read this semester.

Mar 12

9: Mar 17 and 19: SPRING BREAK

10: Restarting

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

11: Hidden Convenience

Mar 31



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

Apr 2



Updated for coronavirus starting here

For reference, a thorough explanation of course changes is on the syllabus home page. —

12: Environmental Food

Apr 7 (as originally scheduled)

For the original Apr 7/9 week

From now on you have one assignment per week to be submitted (see above instructions) by THURSDAY at 11am.

13: Big Organic

Apr 14,16

14: GMOs

Apr 21,23

  • 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).

15: Natural Progress

Apr 28,30

16: Global Industrialization

May 5,7

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