Philip H. Howard

Michigan State University

CSUS 855
The Political Ecology of Food
Fall 2016
blended classroom (2 hours) and online (1 hour) format
3.0 credit hours
Mondays, 12:40 to 2:30pm, 306 Natural Resources

Instructor: Phil Howard Office Phone: 355-8431 Office Address: 316 Natural Resources E-mail:   Brief Description Interactions between food, society and the environment. Ecological impacts and sociopolitical power in international and domestic contexts.   Course Description This interdisciplinary course will apply political ecology (critical political economy, with attention to environmental changes) to specific foods and food systems. We will explore food production, consumption, and the links in between in the United States, as well as in global/international contexts. We will also apply theories and methods from political ecology to our own specific research interests. Doing so will require understanding the diversity of approaches encompassed by the broad field of political ecology, as well as directly engaging in the difficult task of bridging the social and natural sciences. Issues that will receive particular attention include technologies, scale, development strategies, labor issues, knowledge, standards and globalization.   Learning Objectives

Course Approach This course is organized as a small seminar with a commitment to developing collaborative learning among all who participate.   
Course Prerequisites Graduate standing or permission from instructor. CSUS 811 (Community, Food and Agriculture: A Survey) is recommended, but not required.
Course Assignments and Evaluation Assignments (100 points each) include:
Weekly readings - you are expected to come to class prepared to answer the following questions about the weekly readings: 
1. what did you agree/disagree with the most? OR what did you find most useful
2. what did the readings potentially leave out?
3a. what question(s) did the readings raise? 3b. what were you able to uncover about this question? (This will require that you seek out and read at least one additional article or chapter in an effort to answer your question. It's OK if you're not able to answer the question, just share what you learned in the process.)
Online Component
Each week (beginning in week 2) you will relate concepts from the previous class (readings and discussion) to your daily life and/or current events in an essay of approximately 500 words. For example, you might a) discuss how your food consumption behaviors have changed as a result of learning about the labor practices on tea plantations, b) compare and contrast policies developed for leafy greens in the United States to other food products, such as processed beef, c) describe how you might incorporate political ecology concepts in your thesis or dissertation research, or d) numerous other possibilities of your choosing. The intention is not require a significant amount of additional research, but to stimulate retrieval of the previous week’s content, encourage memory formation, and reinforce connections to other subjects (see Brown et al. 2014, Make It Stick, for more on the cognitive research supporting these outcomes). You will also be asked to read the reflections of other students, and brief responses are welcome (but not required).
Group Project
Peer groups will also engage in research in Michigan communities to apply concepts of political ecology. Each group will investigate a specific food or food system, the results of which will be made publicly available. There are a number of possibilities, but one example from a previous class involved conducting an inventory of all wine brands and varieties at 20 different retailers (n=3,600), tracing the ownership of all of these varieties (approximately 1,000 firms), creating an information graphic of these relationships using Gephi software, and analyzing ownership diversity available to consumers at different types of retailers (for more detail see Similar methods could be applied to other foods, or different questions could be explored (through subjects such as food trucks, community supported agriculture farms, cottage food laws, heritage pork producers, seed libraries, retail cooperatives, Naturally Grown certification, etc.).
Grading scale for the course (by percentage of the 400 points obtained): 94 to 100% - 4.0 87 to 93% - 3.5 80 to 86% - 3.0 75 to 79% - 2.5 70 to 74% - 2.0
Required Texts
Recommended Text (recommended to read before first class)
Additional readings as assigned (see below).
Week 1 (8/31) – Class introductions, formation of peer groups
Week 2  (9/12) – The Political Ecology of Food
Week 3 (9/19)  – Agroecology Part 1
Week 4 (9/26) – Agroecology Part 2
Week 5 (10/3) - Scale
Week 6 (10/10) – Commodity Chains
Week 7 (10/17) – Technologies
Week 8 (10/24) – Critical Book Reviews due
Week 9 (10/31) – Development
Week 10 (11/7) – Pesticides
Week 11 (11/14) – Standards 
Week 12 (11/28) – Globalization; draft group project due
Final Exam (12/15)
Group Project/Presentations, and final self-evaluation due
Supplemental Readings
Books that may be considered for the critical review assignment may include (but are not limited to):