723 Diet, Society and Environment

Key information

Start date
End date
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

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.


Compulsory module for all students on:

  • MA Anthropology of Food
  • MA Anthropology of Food + Intensive Language

Guided option for students on:

  • MA Anthropology of Global Futures and Sustainability
  • MA Medical Anthropology and Mental Health
  • MRes Social Anthropology
  • MRes Social Anthropology + Intensive Language

This module is also a School-wide Open Option. No prerequisites.

  • Note: Combination of 722 Food, Place and Mobility and 723 Diet, Society and Environment is open only to students on the MA Anthropology of Food and the MRes Social Anthropology. All other MA students may take either 722 or 723 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

Representative readings:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kinchy, Abby (2012) Seeds, Science and Struggle: The Global Politics of Transgenic Crops. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
  • Klein, Jakob A. and James L. Watson (eds) (2016) The Handbook of Food and Anthropology. London: Bloomsbury.
  • 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.
  • Tsing, Anna (2009) ‘Supply Chains and the Human Condition’, Rethinking Marxism 21 (2), 148-176.
  • Wiley, Andrea S. (2011) Re-imagining Milk. New York: Routledge.
  • Yates-Doerr, Emily (2015) The Weight of Obesity: Hunger and Global Health in Postwar Guatemala. Oakland: University of California Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules