SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Anthropology of Food: Diet, Society and Environment

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

Food and eating are fundamental to human life and health and play profound roles in the construction of social bodies, from families and kinship groups to religious groups and states. Further, food mediates our relationships with non-human beings and surroundings. In this module, we emphasise that our reliance on food for nutritional sustenance is inseparable from food's social, cultural and ecological dimensions. As such, the transformation of food habits and food systems are a central part of human experiences and world histories. We explore cultural diversities and historical change in food production and distribution, eating, cooking and sharing, recycling and wasting, and the classifying, celebrating and prohibiting of food and drink. In the first four weeks we explore classic anthropological approaches to food classification, sharing and provisioning and the relationship between diet and adaptation, highlighting the relevance of these classic topics for contemporary debates and contexts. In the following six weeks, we trace the emergence of the global food system and its implications for dietary health, nutritional inequalties, food safety and environment. Through this module, students will acquire a critical understanding of anthropological perspectives on food, diets and the global food system.


This module is both an open option and a core module of MA Anthropology of Food. Only students on the MA Anthropology of Food programme may take it in combination with 15PANH087 Anthropology of Food: Politics, Place and Mobility. All other MA students may take either 15PANH087 or 15PANH090 as an option, but not both.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module, a student will be able to:
  • Have a grasp of key theories and debates in the anthropology of food, as they pertain to social organisation, diet and environment.
  • Appreciate the historical and geographical diversities of food production, distribution and consumption and their relationship to social and environmental relations.
  • Critically analyse anthropological approaches to the contemporary global food system

Suggested reading

Klein, Jakob A. and James L. Watson (eds) (2016) The Handbook of Food and Anthropology. London: Bloomsbury.

Appadurai, Arjun (1981) ‘Gastro-politics in Hindu South Asia’, American Ethnologist, 8 (3): 494-511.

Brody, Hugh (2001) The Other Side of Eden: Hunter-Gatherers, Farmers and the Shaping of the World. London: Faber and Faber.

Wiley, Andrea S. (2011) Re-imagining Milk. New York: Routledge.

Mintz, Sidney (1985) Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin.

Staples, James and Jakob A. Klein (eds) (2017) Consumer and Consumed: Humans and Animals in Globalising Food Systems. Special Issue of Ethnos, 82 (2): 252-276.

Friedmann, Harriet (1990) ‘The origins of third world food dependence, in Henry Bernstein et al. (eds), The Food Question: Profits Versus People. New York: Monthly Review Press, pp. 13-31.

Tsing, Anna (2009) ‘Supply Chains and the Human Condition’, Rethinking Marxism 21 (2), 148-176.

Yates-Doerr, Emily (2015) The Weight of Obesity: Hunger and Global Health in Postwar Guatemala. Oakland: University of California Press.

Kinchy, Abby (2012) Seeds, Science and Struggle: The Global Politics of Transgenic Crops. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules