SYLLABUS Anthropology 2496 (grad 4696): The History and

Anthropology 2496 (grad 4696): The History and Anthropology of the Food You Eat
3 Credits Jan. 2nd – 17th 2015
B. J. Isbell
Professor Emerita of Anthropology
Office hours by appointment via email and SKYPE
If you have not taken an on-line course before, think of each of the sixteen days as equal to one week of
class during the semester – a short intensive period that uses Blackboard to allow you to complete the
course no matter where you are as long as you have a computer, a Cornell log-in ID, and have
completed registration for the course. There are no exams but rather, the course is activity and
discussion based. A short research paper is required along with several short writing assignments. One
of the major activities is to keep a detailed food diary for 5 days and then to research and post on
Blackboard: a) your detailed food diary; b), an analysis of the contents of your food and drink, especially
packaged foods and c) a short paper for discussion reflecting on the possible impacts of your diet on
your health. There are several on-line tools for keeping a food diary: is
one that is free for seven days and after that the cost is minimal. Another free tool is Both will automatically track your food and provide a
summary. Whichever you choose, make sure it records the salt, sugar, and fat you consume each day.
This seminar has limited enrollment and I will be available through SKYPE for consultations every day
except Sundays. There are no exams: each student will design and complete one short research paper.
For 2496 -- 3 to 5 double-spaced pages (excluding bibliography), and for the graduate number 4496 a
research paper 8 to 10 double-spaced pages (excluding bibliography). I encourage papers on some
aspect of the history and anthropology of the food you eat that is especially significant to each of you.
The two required books listed below can provide ample ideas and resources for your research papers. I
have listed several possible research topics on blackboard. But if there is any particular topic that you
want to research and write about, discuss it with me.
Anthropology 2496 and 4496’s focus on food is especially amenable to students who are traveling as it
will allow you to explore and document the food you eat no matter where you are. If you are interested,
I can give guidance on a short ethnographic project that would involve interviewing those who prepare
your food, or vendors, or farmers and growers. Discuss the possibilities with me. It is possible to produce
a video or power point to post on Blackboard instead of written assignments.
The course will address three major issues in addition to your personal food diary
First - Food, anthropologists have long known, was better to think before it was good to eat. This course
addresses several perplexing contradictions of the global food system. Today, we produce more food
than ever before, but 800 million people are hungry (one in ten). Nevertheless, one billion people are
overweight. Are these facts symptoms of the same problem? Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved,
(Mellville House Publishing 2010:76, asks why are farmer suicides so prevalent in some parts of the
world? If we have increased production, why hasn’t hunger been eradicated? These are the issues we
will explore in selected chapters of Patel’s book. You can be introduced to him at
The second issue we will examine is the ‘current food fight in the US’ through selected chapters of
Wenonah Hauter’s book: Foodopoly: The Battle over the Future of Food and Farming in America, the
New Press 2012. She is the executive director of Food and Water Watch, a watchdog organization in DC.
Hauter argues that only twenty corporations control every aspect of our food system in the United
States and carefully documents the political history of this control. She advocates a complete structural
transformation of U.S. food and farm policies. You can be introduced to her at: an interview is also available by Amy Goodman at
Finally: Patel documents the socio-political and historical conditions that account for increasing
incidences of farmer suicides in India, Mexico and, in the United States. However, in other parts of the
world, farmer suicides are rare or unknown. How do we account for this remarkable difference? In
collaboration with The Mountain Institute Andean Program and the
community of Vicos, Peru, I have developed a case study that covers fifty years of development efforts
initiated by Cornell University at This case study
will help the class understand why there are no significant farmer suicides in Peru and promote
discussion of the pending future of food production, food scarcity, poverty, health and education in
other parts of the world. For example, in 2000, the UN embarked upon a bold fifteen year development
project called the Millennium Project, to reduce poverty and
hunger around the world while improving education, health, gender equity and quality of life. The
project focuses on fifteen villages in Africa and as the time frame draws to a close in 2015, serious
criticisms have emerged (see the Tues. 24 Sept. 2013). Are the same mistakes being made
in the Millennium Project in Africa that were made in Vicos, Peru 50 years ago? Or is the Millennium
Project providing a model for global food security and development for the future? The class will end
with discussions of these issues critical for the global future of food.
Course Goals:
Gain global and local perspectives on the world food system.
Become aware of what’s in your food by keeping and analyzing a food diary for 5 days.
Enhance critical thinking, research, and writing skills.
Be able to articulate informed positions on the issues raised in the course.
Relevant materials are on blackboard and will be available as of Dec. 26th through Jan. 17th. All
exercises and papers should be posted on blackboard as well.
Course Requirements and Deadlines:
Part one: You and What You Eat Jan 2 - 9
Jan. 2nd – Fill out the course survey and post it on blackboard. Decide on a time and day for a required
once a week Skype or email consultation with me.
Begin your 5 day food diary. Be sure to monitor your daily intake of fat, sugar and salt. Save
packaging, bottles, and can labels for content analysis. While shopping, pay close attention to food
produced outside of the United States. Record and look up all additives in your food. What are the
functions of additives and what possible consequences do they have on your health?
1. Post your diary with the content analysis on blackboard by Jan. 9th. What chemicals are you
consuming? Are you eating GMO foods? What does Organic mean? Is there a difference in
labeling depending on the country of origin of food?
2. Write a two page, double-spaced paper reflecting on what you learned from this exercise. In
lieu of this paper, you may submit a video or power point. Post your work on blackboard.
Part Two: The Global Food Fight Jan. 10th – Jan. 13th
Complete reading both Patel and Hauter’s books by Jan 9th. Study guides are posted on blackboard.
Consult the guides as you read. Both authors argue that food systems around the world are controlled
by fewer than twenty global corporations. Both document and advocate social movements that are
reacting to this control. In addition, Hauter advocates a complete transformation of food policies and
laws in the United States. The books have been chosen to provide background and to stimulate ideas
for research topics. Potential topics are listed on blackboard. If you have a particular topic you are
interested in that is not on the list, I will work with you to formulate your research and paper.
3. By Jan. 11th, post a potential research topic and 5 references for the required paper. For 2496,
a double-spaced 3-5 page paper excluding bibliography is required. For 4496, an 8-10 doublespaced page paper, excluding bibliography, is required. I will read drafts if they are submitted
by Jan. 13th.
Part Three: Case Studies and What they Tell Us Jan. 14th – Jan. 17th
Study the material provided on the Vicos Website
with the objective of answering the question: Why are there few farmer suicides in Peru in comparison
to Mexico, India and the United States?
4. Take one of the countries as your example (Patel offers the most information on India) and write
a summary of what you think are the factors that account for farmer suicides. Now examine the
material on Vicos, Peru and explain the absence of farmer suicides there. Submit a two page
double spaced-paper to blackboard for discussion. Post your paper by Jan. 14th.
5. Write a short position paper (2 pages) on the Millennium Project. Has it been a success? Is it a
model for global development? Or are the mistakes made by development agents in Vicos, Peru
fifty years ago being repeated? If so, why? Post your position paper on blackboard by Jan 15th.