Philosophy of Food Course Core Course Proposal

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Philosophy of Food Core Course Proposal

1. Course Description

This course on the Philosophy of Food engages the Year Four Question: "Imagining the possible: What is our role in the world" by challenging students to develop a personal "philosophy of food" that will have normative implications for their role in the world. The contemporary problems motivating the course are the state of the US and world food systems, as well as issues raised by "food politics" today, such as sustainability, health and the promotion of justice. These problems and issues require integration and collaborative problem solving not only because they involve complex problems addressed by many disciplines of knowledge, but also because they raise questions of identity, tradition, and moral integrity. Since questions about the assessment of knowledge, identity, tradition, and values are integral to the Core Learning Outcomes, the problem of developing a Philosophy of Food provides a good opportunity to integrate prior components of the Core using the humanistic principles of Jesuit Education and Mission.
This course on the Philosophy of Food challenges students to develop their own thinking about food by systematically studying food history, politics, and science. Early in the course, we take the long view by looking at the history of agriculture and the history of human efforts to grow food sustainably and to understand it nutritionally. In other sections of the course, we focus on the nature of gastronomy, the US food system, the Western Diet and its pathologies, and a range of ethical and cultural criticisms of the way we eat. Students will have opportunities to learn some nutrition, critically explore their own diet, and even experiment with some new practices. In a final project, students articulate their own philosophy of food.


2. Core Learning Outcomes

  1. Integrate the principles of a Jesuit education, prior components of the Core, and their disciplinary expertise (knowledge).
  2. Clearly and persuasively communicate with an audience of diverse educational backgrounds, personal experiences, and value commitments using ideas and arguments based on evidence, logic, and critical thinking (skill).
  3. Assess the ways in which the Core has transformed the commitments and perspectives that will inform their future endeavors (attitude).

3. A general overview of the course topic and approach

This course is focused on helping students develop a philosophy of food. The research questions chosen for the course include:
  1. What is Food?
  2. What is food culture and what is distinctive about food as a form of culture?
  3. What does the "deep history" of human experience of food tell us about the place of food in culture and the problems humans have had with food?
  4. How do food ways and gastronomy shape food cultures?
  5. What are the challenges of nutrition science as a field of knowledge and what is the state of knowledge about nutrition, broadly?
  6. What is a nutritious diet?
  7. How did the US food system develop? What are some of its characteristic problems from political, enivronmental, and social justice perspectives?
  8. How do our food choices raise ethical, environmental, and social justice concerns?
  9. How do our food choices raise aesthetic questions and questions about subjective satisfaction? How does the history of gastronomy inform this question?
  10. How should I critically assess my own food practices in light of my understanding of the nature of food and food culture?
In the context of a philosophy course, these questions call for both in-depth study and the integration and development of basic constructs of knowledge (especially for food, food culture and identity, and nutrition) and values for addressing the questions with a consistent and well-grounded philosophy. The course is divided into six units:
  1. Background/Intro
  2. Food Culture and History
  3. Nutrition and Nutritionism
  4. US Food System and Politics of Food and Western Diet
  5. Ethics of Food
  6. Gastronomy (Cucina) and Food Ecology
The approach to the research questions for the course involves both study and active engagement of the student with the material in relation to their own beliefs and values from their own diet to their awareness of ethical and social justice problems raised by the sort of food system we endorse as consumers and citizens. Students will have opportunities to develop practical positions on aspects of a food philosophy through both academic and experiential learning. Course activities in my courses normally include collaborative and small group learning, lecture, student presentation, peer review of student scholarship, and writing and assessment of writing. Course activities unique to this course include options to evaluate one's diet from perspectives of multiple disciplines (including history, ethics, ecology, gastronomy, nutrition and health, and environment) and experiment with alternative sourcing, dietary, and gastronomic choices.

4. Any required texts or other materials.

The current reading list for the course includes several films, three books and numerous articles. Here is a partial course bibliography:

Background/Intro

Documentaries: Food, Inc.; Cowspiracy; The Grain Divide
Montanari, Massimo. (1996). The Culture of Food (C. Ipsen, Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Pollan, Michael. (2008). In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. London: Penguin.
Singer, Peter, & Mason, Jim. (2006). The Ethics of What We Eat. Rodale.

Food Culture and History

Montgomery, David. (2012). Chapter 2: Skin of the Earth Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations (pp. 9-25): University of California Press.
Montgomery, David. (2012). Chapter 3: Rivers of Life Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations (pp. 27-47): University of California Press.
Montgomery, David. (2012). Chapter 8: Dirty Business Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations (pp. 179-215): University of California Press.
Montgomery, David. (2012). Chapter 10: Life Span of Civilizations Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations (pp. 233-246): University of California Press.
Tannahill, Reay. (1988). Chapter 3: Changing the Face of the Earth Food in History (pp. 19-41). New York: Three Rivers Press.
Tannahill, Reay. (1988). Chapter 4: The First Civilizations Food in History (pp. 45-59). New York: Three Rivers Press.
Tannahill, Reay. (1988). Chapter 5: Classical Greece Food in History (pp. 60-70). New York: Three Rivers Press.
Tannahill, Reay. (1988). Chapter 6: Imperial Rome Food in History (pp. 71-91). New York: Three Rivers Press.
Wallach, Jennifer Jensen. (2013). Chapter 1. The Cuisine of Contact How America Eats: A social history of U.S. food and culture (pp. 1-31). New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
Wallach, Jennifer Jensen. (2013). Chapter 6: The Pious or Patriot Stomach How America Eats: A social history of U.S. food and culture (pp. 143-167). New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Nutrition and Nutritionism

Nix, Stacy. (2013). Chapter 2: Carbohydrates Williams' Basic Nutrition and Diet Therapy (pp. 47-63): Elsevier.
Nix, Stacy. (2013). Chapter 3: Fats Williams' Basic Nutrition and Diet Therapy (pp. 31-46): Elsevier.
Nix, Stacy. (2013). Chapter 4: Proteins Williams' Basic Nutrition and Diet Therapy (pp. 47-63): Elsevier.
Nix, Stacy. (2013). Chapter 7: Vitamins Williams' Basic Nutrition and Diet Therapy (pp. 94-127): Elsevier.
Gratzer, Walter. (2005). Chapter 1: The Ravages of War Terrors of the Table: The Curious History of Nutrition (pp. 1-15). Oxford: Oxford UP.
Gratzer, Walter. (2005). Chapter 2: The Scurvy Wars Terrors of the Table: The Curious History of Nutrition (pp. 16-35). Oxford: Oxford UP.
Gratzer, Walter. (2005). Chapter 8: Paradigm Postponed: the Tardy Arrival of Vitamins Terrors of the Table: The Curious History of Nutrition (pp. 135-161). Oxford: Oxford UP.
Gratzer, Walter. (2005). Chapter 10: Fads and Quacks Terrors of the Table: The Curious History of Nutrition (pp. 188-210). Oxford: Oxford UP.

US Food System and Politics of Food and Western Diet

Pollan, Michael. (2008). Part 1: The Age of Nutritionism In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (pp. 1-78). London: Penguin.
Pollan, Michael. (2008). Part 2: The Western Diet In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (pp. 83-132). London: Penguin.
Nestle, Marion. (2002). Chapter 1: From "Eat More" to "Eat Less" 1900-1990 Food Politics: How the food industry influences nutrition and health (pp. 31-50).
Nestle, Marion. (2002). Chapter 2: Politics Versus Science -- opposing the food pyramind, 1991-1992 Food Politics: How the food industry influences nutrition and health (pp. 51-66).
Zepeda, Lydia. (2007). Carving Values with a Spoon Food and Philosophy (pp. 31-43). Oxford: Blackwell.
Moss, Michael. (2013). Salt Sugar Fat. New York: Random House.

Ethics of Food

Estabrook, Barry. (2013). Hogonomics. In H. Hughes (Ed.), Best Food Writing 2014. Philadelphia: Perseus Books.
Francione, Gary L. (2012). Animal Welfare, Happy Meat, and Veganism as the Moral Baseline. In D. M. Kaplan (Ed.), The Philosophy of Food (pp. 169-189). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Haynes, Richard P. (2012). The Myth of Happy Meat. In D. M. Kaplan (Ed.), The Philosophy of Food (pp. 161-168). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Singer, Peter, & Mason, Jim. (2006). Chapter 2: The Hidden Costs of Cheap Chicken The Ethics of What We Eat (pp. 21-37): Rodale.
Singer, Peter, & Mason, Jim. (2006). Chapter 4: Meat and Milk Factories The Ethics of What We Eat (pp. 42-69): Rodale.
Singer, Peter, & Mason, Jim. (2006). Chapter 9: Seafood The Ethics of What We Eat (pp. 111-135): Rodale.
Singer, Peter, & Mason, Jim. (2006). Chapter 17: The Ethics of Eating Meat The Ethics of What We Eat (pp. 241-270): Rodale.

Gastronomy (Cucina), Food Ecology, and Slow Culture

The Grain Divide
Barber, Dan. (2014). The 16.9 Carrot. In H. Hughes (Ed.), Best Food Writing 2014. Philadelphia: Perseus Books.
Barber, Dan. (2014). Introduction and Chapter 12 The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food: Penguin.
Barber, Dan. (2014). Chapter 30: Bread The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food (pp. 382-409): Penguin.
Andrews, Geoff. (2008). Chapter 2: The Critique of 'Fast Life' The Slow Food Story (pp. 29-47). Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Jabr, Ferris, “Bread is Broken”

5. The Grading Scheme

As in most of my courses, I offer students a mix of required and optional elements for them to customize in their grading schemes. I believe this approach allows me to optimize accountability and rigor along with motivating student interests.
Required elements for the course include:
  • reading quizes (10-15%)
  • short assignments (1-2 page practice analyses) - some of these involve peer assessment using peerceptiv. (15-30%)
  • an integrative term paper (which, in this case, is the students' Philosophy of Food), (25-35%) and
  • a final exam -- currently 3 short essays using notes and readings (20-30%).
Optional assignments include:
  • student presentations (formal or informal),
  • book groups (informal),
  • short term research (formal), and
  • practica unique to the course (informal). Practica are experiential learning opportunities allowing students to "practice" a practical implication of a philosophical position. They are typically "informal" work and involve journal reports on the experience. In this course practica including:
  1. Investigation of food sources;
  2. Evaluation, from multiple value perspectives, of one's diet;
  3. Exploration of alternative alimentation and gastronomy in light of coursework.
Percentage ranges for optional assignments constrain journal-based or informal work to 25% of the student's grade.

6. Response to questions

Question 1: A great deal of the normal work of a college philosophy course involves acquiring a base of knowledge and argument relevant to addressing the research questions of the course. Since acquiring this base of knowledge and argument, and exploring the arguments in relationship to one's committments is necessary to accomplishing the learning outcomes of the course as well as the fourth year question, the methods which support this core course activity also support the learning outcomes of the course. These activities and assignments include small and large group discussion, lecture, reading quizes, small analytic writing assignments, peer evaluated assignments, student projects, reading groups, practica, and extended philosophical writing in the final project.
Learning Outcome One: The approach to philosophy in this course, as reflected in research questions, readings and assignments, embody the humanistic principles of education and reflected in the principles of Ignatian pedagogy (Context, Experience, Reflection, Action and Evaluation). The course pedagogy and reading attend to historical contextualization, move beyond rote learning, and focus on cultivating disposition and principles of action for contributing to the good, in this case a more just, healthy and sustainable food system and food ecology. Prior components of the Core will be integrated in course work by directing specific small group discussions to include discussion of each students' core experience and disciplinary expertise and to consider the extent to which this experience prepares them to solve the problems posed by the course research. The students' disciplinary expertise will also be highlighted in possible student presentations, giving greater depth to course content from the student's discipline. For example, a biology student might explore a controversial area of nutrition, while a political science student might update allegations against the food industry.
Learning Outcome Two: The course content and methods of philosophy involve activities which routinely draw on critical thinking and logic, explorations of value commitments using evidence based ideas as well as personal experience. Clear and persuasive communication are certainly important to the practice of philosophy and will be valued highly in the course. Almost every detail of the class meeting time and assignments incorporate these aims, from the "focus" paragraphs which students read prior to reading their assignments, to study questions from class, which they are encourage to track to build the complexity of course themes, and writing assignments, in which students practice many of the component skills of this learning outcome. Special attention will be given to the requirement to "communicate with an audience of diverse educational backgrounds," which has not always been a traditional aim of philosophers. In the context of philosophy of food, this involves calling attention to the way food issues are differently framed and experienced by diverse socio-economic groups and ethnicities. Many of the readings in the course highlight these differences and classroom discussion will be used to help students appropriate a sensitivity to this diversity in their thought and writing.
Learning Outcome Three: Throughout the course students will be invited to consider the ways and extent to which the core has provided them resources for evaluating and potentially transforming their perspectives and commitments on the nature of food, food culture, systems, and ethics. The focus of these questions is typically on future individual, civic, and political choices.
Question 2: I will assess these outcomes in the following ways:
Learning Outcome One: This outcome will be assessed in two ways: first, by incorporating some of the values of Ignatian pedagogy in the rubric for peer and instructor responses to student work, and second, by a late term survey in which students will contribute to a measure of the strength and efficacy of these principles in the course. In addition, one section (2-4 paragraphs) of the final philosophy of food paper will ask students to reflect on the extent to which their Core and major studies are part of the integration they are making in their research for the course.
Learning Outcome Two: This outcome will be assessed in most small assignments which involve writing and in the final paper, which is a culmination of the skills and analyses practiced in small assignments.
Learning Outcome Three: We will routinely call attention to the values of the Core in the way we approach our topic. One section (2-4 paragraphs) of the final philosophy of food paper will ask students to reflect on the extent to which their Core and major studies are part of the integration they are making in their research for the course.