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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Karen T Litfin
ENVIR 385
Seattle Campus

Political Ecology of the World Food System

Investigates the intersection of globalization and food politics, the pivotal role of petroleum in the world food system, and the commodity chains for some foods. Includes an optional service learning component. Offered: jointly with POL S 385.

Class description

This course will address these questions and more: Where does our food come from? What are the social, political and environmental roots and consequences of current agricultural practices? Who wins and who loses? To what extent are non-state actors altering the world political system? How does our planetary food web challenge our sense of personal identity and ethical responsibility? In particular, we will focus on the pivotal role of petroleum in the world food system, the political consequences of disrupting the global carbon and nitrogen cycles, the questions of meat and genetically modified food, and new social movements focusing on food.

Student learning goals

If you participate actively in this course, which includes grasping the content from lectures, videos and readings, engaging yourself dynamically with the material, and writing thoughtful papers, I expect that you will improve your skillfulness in the following arenas: 1) Stronger critical thinking skills about some of the most important issues of our day.

2) Greater capacity for integrative thinking - especially linking science, politics and ethics;

3) Greater ability to articulate complex ideas and feelings about these issues, in writing and conversation;

4) A deeper sense of what it means to be a human being living at this moment in history, including facility with wider spatial and temporal scales;

5) Students who choose the research paper option will learn how to do commodity chain analysis. Students who do service learning will improve a range of skills, from organic gardening to data analysis.

6) Unlike most Americans, you will have some idea of where your food comes from!

General method of instruction

Lectures will include slides, videos, participatory learning activities, and contemplative and reflective practices. Service learners will work 20-40 hours for a local food-related organization. Those who write research papers will do independent research on a specific solution to a specific food-related problem.

Recommended preparation

No prerequisite courses, but ENVIR 100 and POL S/ENVIR 384 are helpful. Students who excel in this course have a genuine curiosity about how the present world food system works and how it might be improved.

Class assignments and grading

Pop quizzes on readings 20% Midquarter research proposal or SL assessment 10% Final research paper or SL paper 25% Final exam 25% Participation 20%


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Karen T Litfin
Date: 02/14/2013