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Geog 340: Geography of Food

Food is ubiquitous; everybody needs to eat to stay alive. Yet the ways we grow, sell, purchase, prepare, eat, share, desire, enjoy, and remember our food varies through time and across space. Thus food is much more than physiological sustenance; it is about our relationships to our environment, including natural resources, other human beings, and animals – which is what geography is all about! This course will explore the central place of food in organizing these economic, social, political, and cultural relations. Throughout the course, we will further our appreciation of the breadth of geography and the usefulness of geographic perspectives by calling upon different theories and methods in both physical and human branches of the discipline.


In the first part of the course, we will investigate the production of food in a global economy. We will consider the role of physical resources as well as political and economic forces in influencing geographic patterns of food production both across countries and within regions. We will study the environmental impact of large scale corporate farming and the consequences for farm workers, food safety and quality. We will investigate alternative production arrangements including organic farming and community gardens.


In the second part of the course, we will turn our attention to the distribution of food. Using a global supply chain framework, we will assess the multiple connections between suppliers and consumers. We will also learn about food retailing, marketing efforts, and variations in the way people purchase food. We will investigate issues of accessibility to fast food restaurants and fresh produce, and investigate alternative spaces of food exchange such as farmer’s markets, street vending, fair trade agreements, and community supported agriculture programs.   


The third part will focus on the consumption of food and the physical, emotional, and symbolic role that food plays in defining places and cultures. In particular, we will study how certain dishes are associated with specific national identities and how globalization transforms these meanings. We will investigate how food plays a central role in the construction of memories of times past and childhood. We will study how attitude towards food and eating behaviors are shaped by spatially defined categories such as gender, class, race and ethnicity, and how these relate the the paradoxical co-existence of obesity and hunger.  We will compare and criticize current policies to address issues of malnurishment in the US.


The last section of the course will investigate the preparation of food. We will pay particular attention to the role of gender and the relationship between the private sphere of the kitchen and women’s role in feeding the family. We will contrast these roles with contemporary media representations of chefs as celebrities and study spatial and occupational segregation within the restaurant industry.