These indicate something you have to DO OR TURN IN.
These indicate something you should be aware of, but isn’t anything you need to turn in.
These indicate what we’ll be doing or discussing in class, sometimes with additional links for reference. If there is no blue box for one of our meeting days, there’s just a usual class discussion, so no need for a special box.
We’ll review the course aims, assignments, and general plan for the semester. We’ll also discuss the problematic concept of “natural food” as a way of considering some key issues we’ll be discussing throughout the semester.
You don’t need to read this before class, but we’ll be briefly discussing: Feeding the World Today and Tomorrow: The Importance of Food Science and Technology. If the website says you don’t have access, you can find a PDF of the article in our Zotero Library.
Many topics we cover in this course speak to (but do not answer) the complex question: What is a natural food? Does the application of technology to food make it less natural? We often see “natural” as descriptors of food in grocery stores and restaurant menus, but what does that mean? Can anything be natural anymore? Do we really want natural food, anyway?
Melanie Warner, Pandora’s Lunchbox, xiii–xix; 1–20 (Weird Science). What does Warner think of food technology? What would she consider a natural food? Do you agree with her definition of “processed” foods?
Joseph LaPorte, What are natural foods?. This article discusses ways we should and should not define natural food, with a focus on the dangers of equating natural and healthy. This article is a great example of why thinking about definitions of natural food are important, especially in terms of how it affects thinking about ideas of health.
The Family Oracle of Health (1824), 62–64 (On Vegetable Diet); bottom 64–top 68 (What is the Natural Food of Man). Take a few minutes to skim the titles of the articles as you’re scrolling to get to the readings–it’s an eclectic mix! This is our first primary source, two very short letters to the editor from 1824 about what our natural diet should be. Writing style aside, the arguments sound like they could come from a diet book published last year.
We have our first quiz this week! It’s mostly a quiz on the syllabus to make sure we’re clear on a few keys aspects of the class. There are a few questions related to Friday’s reading and discussion as well.
As the U.S. industrialized and urbanized rapidly throughout the 19th century, many people got further away from their food and started buying a lot more of it. This week we look at how developments in urbanization, transportation, and food production touted how much they were improving nature. In the cases of meat extract and cereal, we see how a main goal was make it more digestible than the natural, raw product. Food ads from the turn of the century show how producers began to claim how they were both capturing and improving nature, a theme we still see today in every aisle of the grocery store. SLIDES for this week
Medical Adviser 17 (1824), “Dyspepsia” (258 – top of 260). Another very short primary source for today! What is dyspepsia and why was it of such concern in the early 19th century?
Lisa Haushofer, “Darby’s Fluid Meat, Digestion, and the British Imperial Food Supply”, 203–216. Why was fluid meat, which sounds kind of gross to our modern ears, so interesting in the middle of the 19th century? What was the key scientific debate between von Liebig and Pavy? How does it represent what’s happening in general with food and science at the time?
Stephen Darby, On Fluid Meat (1870). Read the first few pages and skim the rest (it’s really short) just to see Darby’s own explanation for why his “new” preparation of meat is so valuable.
After class, I will make the quiz available in Learn. It is due by midnight, but remember our policy for submitting work. Don’t stress about being a few minutes or even hours late. But you do need to get in touch if you (or family) have medical issues that are keeping you from your work.
As cities grew, so did the amount of food that city-dwellers had to purchase. But it was a major shift for people to buy food that came in an opaque can or box. A technology like canning—that seems obviously useful and safe now—was viewed with a lot of skepticism. As a result, the idea of a name brand that consumers (think Campbell’s, Borden, Kellogg, Heinz, etc) could trust regardless of the product became central to food production and marketing.
NO CLASS and NOTHING TO READ TODAY! Originally, we had Gabriella M. Petrick, “‘Purity as Life: H.J. Heinz, religious sentiment, and the beginning of the industrial diet”, 37–57.
We’re extending UNM’s snow day through Friday for our class. NO CLASS TODAY!
As always, be sure to complete the quiz by midnight or let me know what your plan is. The quiz will be on the readings and discussions from Monday and Wednesday only, and should be available by Thursday afternoon.
As food production and many food products themselves became hidden from consumers, unscrupulous manufacturers would cut almost any corner to lower their costs by using various fillers and misleading consumers as to what was inside the box. In addition, the growth of food chemistry meant that many new chemicals could be added to food to enhance shelf-life and stability. This week we see, as a result of rapid technological change, the debates about the necessity (or not) of government to regulate food manufacturers to ensure purity and honesty.
We won’t spend a lot of time on these, but it’s important to note how concern about food adulteration had a long history even by the 1880s and 90s as we’re focused on this week.
Note you have a bigger than usual chunk of reading for Monday. Sorry that it’s more than usual, but it’s best to just plow through rather than drag it out. Consider getting a head start over the weekend. The reward is no class on Friday.
This week we’re learning to read quickly and extract the main point from a food book. The main topic is how the production and distribution and consumption of milk changed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as cities grew in size (both demographically and physically), pushing dairy farms farther from cities and also needing to scale up. We’ll see how a lot of what we take for granted with milk—as a natural, wholesome, and safe food—has a surprisingly contested history behind it. The story behind milk perfectly illustrates the themes of the last few weeks in terms of how technology was employed to make “pure” food by improving nature.
Follow the Book Review Guide! We’re not reading the whole book, so the review applies to only the chapters for this week.
Continuing with the same theme as milk, this week we look at how farms became more like factories in the early 20th century. For Monday, we look not at a specific industry as we have been, but focus on the changing nature of farming itself, and the development of the modern food system (including not just processes, but also attitudes toward it). The main point of the Johnstone reading is in contrasting urban and rural values as farm life changes dramatically with new technology and increasing urbanization. For Wednesday we look at the drive to industrialize animals to scale up production and lower costs. This week also continues our exploration of our changing relationship to nature driven (in part) by food production.
Two options for today’s discussion. Whichever you choose, I expect that your work will show up both in today’s discussion AND in the essay assignment for the week, due on Friday as usual. Either read ONE of these fairly carefully and come to class ready to share what you learned—particularly the big picture takeaways. OR, skim both and be prepared to comment on key similarities and differences.
For this week, write ~600–800 words on what you learned or thought was most significant about industrializing farms/meat. Post your essay to the discussion board on Learn as the last few assignments. The best essays will draw from ALL the readings for the week together (including the one you didn’t read but learned about on Wednesday). Focus on the commonalities and differences across the readings.
This week brings us two somewhat paradoxical and concurrent trends: the development of refrigeration to have fresher food and frozen foods that were anything but fresh, but very convenient. You might think given the ubiquity of both of these now, that it was an inevitable development of technology. But we’ll look at how contested the growth of these were and how they refigured the American kitchen.
There are three big chunks of reading for this week, but they all go fast. Challenge yourself to read quickly without skipping big chunks. We’ll address the main points in class, so all you need to do is have a broad familiarity with what the readings are trying to outline. There is a lot of historical detail to support the authors’ claims, which is easy to skim once you’ve got the main idea.
Same quiz routine as always, but this time it’s just on this one reading. Be sure to complete the quiz by midnight or let me know what your plan is.
I don’t expect you to read 50+ pages for one day of class, but we’re going to talk about all assigned pages as preparation for your READING QUIZ (formerly book review) on Friday (same thing as Monday). You’ll have time to read more while preparing for the quiz. This book is MUCH less dense than the milk book, so it’s a pretty quick read and we can cover it in a single day. And to practice reading quickly is part of reason for the exercise!
Same deal as Monday—a quiz on the most recent reading. The book as a whole and the material on the quiz will be well-covered in class on Wednesday.
This week is about how technology in food creates new concerns and debates about risk. We’ve already seen in the pure food week how food could be risky from a health standpoint when left purely to capitalist markets. But this week we look at the intersection of scientific understandings of risk versus public perception of them.
NO CLASS! Finish your review and get started on your spring break!
Follow the Book Review Guide! We’re not reading the whole book, so the review applies to only the chapters for this week.
The key question you’ll address in your review (after your brief summary) is: How does the history of saccharine illustrate the issue of technological risk?
FLEX DEADLINE: Book reviews are technically due today, per our usual routine, but as we’re all in survival mode at this point in the semester, you can submit your book review anytime in the next week. REMEMBER you have a midterm due AFTER spring break!
No class this week! But you do have a (post) midterm, due midnight on Friday. This is our way of solidifying the first-half material and getting back into the course after a much-needed break.
How would YOU describe the story of food, technology, and society so far? What to your mind are the most significant overarching themes across the weeks and readings? Can you illustrate this with commonalities between various topics and readings? What’s been most and least interesting so far? AND WHY?!
These should be ~1200 words, but quality is more important than quantity. Just meeting the word count doesn’t mean you’re demonstrating knowledge from the course. You’ll post these to the discussion board as with previous essays.
As always with reflections, there is no right answer!!! I’m looking for you to show off what you’ve learned and a serious effort to describe and link the key themes of the course.
Continuing the theme of risk from before break, this week we look at the modern state of food additives and the intersection of food safety and food technology. What would Harvey Wiley think of all this stuff in our food?
A few fun readings to get back in gear for the second half. There are lots of details in the chapters that you can skim, but read carefully enough to get the big picture. Why and what does it mean that so many things are going in our food? Does it really matter? How does this change the way we should even think about food? We also start to learn about federal regulation of food additives, which we focus on for Wednesday.
Drawing widely from this week’s readings, submit an Executive Summary on the issues surrounding the place of ‘secret’ ingredients in convenience foods and what the role of federal regulation should be. DO NOT simply summarize the readings! Use them as a basis for a more philosophical piece on food additives generally and in explaining the kinds of things that a reader of your summary should be thinking about when it comes to these issues.
It was only about 60 years ago that we really started to think about the environmental implications of the incredibly rapid rise of food technology and production. This week we learn about how the so-called Green Revolution ushered in a new intensity to industrialized agriculture that was entirely reliant on chemical inputs. We also learn about Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring addressed some of the safety and environmental issues raised by new industrial agriculture. Carson of the few people in history that we can point to as almost single-handedly changing the way we think about the environment (and helped crystalize the field of ecology).
Less reading, more watching! Please watch/read in order listed so everything makes sense. Today is all about thinking through competing perspectives on technology applied to food production generally.
VIDEO: The Green Revolution: Waging A War Against Hunger. This 10-minute video presents a solid introduction to the Green Revolution, but you’ll notice it presents a quite rosy view of it—especially the way it mentions some significant downsides, but then abruptly dismisses them as “necessary”.
VIDEO: Green Revolution. A different take on the same topic. Obviously there’s a little overlap with the other video, but you’ll see it’s a really different way of presenting the “facts”. This isn’t the most energetic presentation, but it’s very clear and concise.
SKIM: R. Douglas Hurt, The Green Revolution in the Global South: Science, Politics, and Unintended Consequences (2020), 179–195 (Ch. 7). This chapter is a conclusion of a book that looks at some of the unintended consequences of the Green Revolution in a global context. NEVERMIND THE DETAILS, but skim carefully enough to get a sense of how the Green Revolution played out a bit differently than scientists expected.
You have one additional reading (the Pollan chapter for Friday) to do that we won’t talk about in class. It’s a super easy read that doesn’t require any additional explanation or review. Just want to make sure it’s on your radar before Friday.
NO CLASS! But you still have one last reading you should do before completing the executive summary.
Drawing widely from this week’s readings, submit an Executive Summary on the the Green Revolution, Rachel Carson, and modern industrial farming. DO NOT simply summarize the readings! Use them as a basis for a more philosophical piece on how these readings should help us think about food production in general and it’s affect on the environment.
Isn’t it weird that at least culturally speaking we have two fundamental categories of food—organic and non-organic? What does that say about our food system and our expectations for food? Our discussion about organic food isn’t as directly about technology as some of our other topics, but I contend that we can’t talk productively about organic practices, definitions, labeling, certification, etc, unless we think about the issue in the context of the various ways in which technology and food have a very complicated relationship (that we have been trying to untangle a bit in this course).
Submit an executive summary that addresses the following: What are the key issues surrounding the idea of organic food and industrial organics? What are the barriers to useful standardization? As always, there is NO RIGHT ANSWER, only more or less informed ones based on our readings.
Invariably some students take the readings to mean modern organic food is a scam just to get people to pay more for basically the same product. That is NOT why we’re reading them! To be fair, there is concern and skepticism in these articles. But there are also many legitimate reasons why organics can be considered superior, especially in terms of process if not product. Please be sure you’re providing a BALANCED analysis.
An unusual Monday off! Happy post-Easter break!!
In preparation for class, post (ideally by Tuesday night) a ~400-word op-ed style essay that directly addresses two questions:
NO CLASS! Nothing due, either.
For part of our discussion, I want everyone to come to class with one question about the intersection of food and technology. It doesn’t have to be one we have answered, or even one that has an answer. But surveying these questions and thinking about how to even try to answer them is excellent preparation for your final essays.
NO CLASS ANYMORE: Congrats and THANK YOU! We’re done, apart from the final reflections. As always, please be in touch with questions or concerns!
Final Essays should be submitted on the discussion board as always. You are encouraged to submit these as soon as we’re done meeting, but please have them in by Friday, May 13th, so I can submit grades on time. If you run into problems during the end of the term—sometimes it’s unavoidable—just let me know your plan for submitting work so I make sure everything gets counted before I have to turn final grades in.