Saturday, March 6, 2010

Notes on Course Development

Over the past few weeks, I've been planning my syllabus for the ENG101 (Composition I) and ENG103 (Research Paper) sections of the Ethics of Food cluster, which I'll be teaching with Dr. Rizzieri of Humanities (Philosophy). In my courses, we're going to focus on three broad areas of the theme:

1. The "political economy" of food: How does the food industry function as an industry? How has the capital from that industry shaped our way of eating, our thinking about food, our public policy, even our *bodies* themselves? If our food is produced by massive production chains, where do we as consumers fit into those chains? My hope with this thread is to push beyond individual ethics or moralizing and examine how the systems involved in food production encourage and sometimes even force individuals to make the choices they do, making alternatives invisible or very difficult to pursue.

2. The health effects of industrially-produced food: How does industrial food impact our bodily health, both through the content of individual foods and the overall content of the typical diet?

3. The environmental effects of industrial food production: How do the current practices of the food industry impact the planet ecologically? Are these models "sustainable," and if not, why not? What would have to change?

Having established the problems with industrial food production, towards the end of the semester we'll discuss individual and collective responses to those problems -- in other words, what we can do about it. At this point, it looks like I'm going to be relying mostly on Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, with some excerpts from Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle, William Cronon's great chapter on the rise of industrial meatpacking in Nature's Metropolis, and a few other items. Because of the ENG103 component, my courses will be heavily research-based, so I'm going to be asking the students to really dig into the issues they encounter in these readings. And of course all the usual lessons of college-level writing will be at the center of how their arguments and their findings.

Dr. Rizzieri will teach an Environmental Ethics course as a part of the cluster, which that seems to be leaning toward an exploration of the origins of the human/animal divide and the question of "business ethics" in food production. I'm very excited to see that he'll be teaching Peter Singer and Jim Mason's The Ethics of What We Eat, as I have usually taught portions of that book in my food-related courses. I think the cluster format is going to work well for this highly complex material, because the students will be able to approach these issues through several different frameworks without any one course feeling "overstuffed" (pun intended) as mine sometimes has.

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