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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

The Anthropology of Food

Course Code:
15PANC013
Unit value:
1
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

Food is a fundamental human necessity—an essential component to the sustenance of the human body. As such, food lies at the centre of myriad human activities, and has consequently been the focus of various forms of inquiry throughout human history. In the contemporary era, agronomists have studied food production techniques, economists have analysed food trade, and nutritional scientists have conducted research on various dietary patterns, for example.

From field and farm, to laboratory and factory, to kitchen and kettle, to dining table and serving bowl, however, food is a profoundly social substance—one around which and through which social relations and cultural phenomena are formed and transformed.

This course approaches food as an anthropological object of study, focusing on historically and culturally variable forms of food production, exchange, preparation, and consumption as means through which both individual and social bodies are constructed and reproduced. The course will serve as a vehicle to examine how social identities, relationships, and hierarchies, ranging in dimension from hearth to global economy, have been and are produced through the medium of food. The course is structured as a reading and discussion seminar. It may be taken only by students on the MA Anthropology of Food.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

Upon completion of the course, students should recognize, understand, and/or appreciate the following:

  • The widely disparate functions food plays in the lives of human beings, ranging from the provision of sustenance to the experience of pleasure.
  • The various ways that individuals use food to construct their bodies.
  • The various ways people use food to communicate ideas about themselves and social groups.
  • The ways in which food serves as a means to delineate social groups.
  • The array of means by which humans have met their food needs over time, including gathering, hunting, herding, fishing, and cultivating.
  • The historical processes and stages by which food production has been industrialized.
  • The significance and effects of biotechnology on the production of food.
  • The historically changing relationship between land and food production.
  • The environmental consequences of agricultural intensification.
  • Contemporary labour dynamics in the production of food.
  • The dimensions and significance of processed food in contemporary consumption patterns.
  • The role of the state in the market in foodstuffs.
  • The impact of global trade and related trade regimes on food production and consumption.
  • Factors and issues in relation to food security.
  • Causes of famine and strategies for preventing/responding to famine.
  • Issues in food safety regulation.
  • Alternative modes of food production, including organic farming and fair trade arrangements.
  • The potential role of the consumer in changing the food system.


Students should be aware of the principal actors and agents in the phenomena outlined above.
Students should know where to find information on the above topics, whether books, scholarly journals, popular media, or websites.

Students should be able to identify key debates on the above issues and express informed positions of their own.

Method of assessment

30% of the course mark derives from weekly reading response papers and contributions to seminar discussions; 35% of the mark is based upon an extended essay of 5000 words on a topic of the student’s choosing (approved by course teachers); the remaining 35% of the mark is based upon a 2-hour exam.