ANTH 311 A: The Cultural Politics of Diet and Nutrition

Meeting Time: 
MW 2:30pm - 4:20pm
CDH 110B
Ann S. Anagnost

Syllabus Description:

You can find the bread recipe here


Winter Quarter, 2018

Instructor: Professor Ann Anagnost 

Contact: 206 543-7693, but you will have better luck contacting me via email:

Instructor Office Hours: M,W 4:30-5:20. 

Class Time and Place: M,W, 2:30-4:20, CDH 110B


This course investigates current debates within the United States about what dietary guidelines are optimal for maintaining human health and how changing conceptions of individual responsibility and political life are framing these debates.

First, we will look at how science is used to investigate the relationship between diet and the incidence of chronic disease in the United States since the 1970s. We rely on science to inform us about the pros and cons of different dietary approaches, but science itself is a messy process, in which differing paradigms compete within the context of contending social, economic, and political forces. Therefore, we will take a "science and society" approach to the study of competing dietary models and develop an understanding of science as a complex social process.

Second, the course will explore the emergence of a new kind of health consumer who seeks to manage their exposure to disease risk factors through diet. The use of new media, such as the web blogs, will be explored as  technologies that disseminate and democratize science through the creation of web communities that examine critically the often conflicting and confusing findings that surface in the news stream on health and diet. These web communities put scientists, physicians, health professionals, and self-educating health consumers into dialogue with each other in ways that may be very new. In the search for wellness, health consumers are engaging in a form of science with themselves as singular experimental subjects. We will be looking at how this form of "anecdotal" evidence is being weighed in relation to the more traditional forms of scientific research by the members of these Internet communities.

Third, we will explore how individuals are changing their relationship to what they eat through farm-to-table sourcing, reclaiming home cooking, self-provisioning, school food reform, and participation in social movements to build local and regional food systems as various strategies to de-link from industrial agriculture. We will explore the difficulties of enacting these changes on a student budget and work collectively to find ways to make them more affordable. One such experiment right here on campus is the UW student farm. The farm, which is entirely run by students, was established in 2005 to help students reconnect with where their food comes from and to develop a vision for farm-to-table provisioning that would be viable even for large institutions like the UW.

Fourth, we will explore contemporary food ideologies that are forming web-based communities in the search for personal wellness, environmental sustainability, and social justice. How do people define their moral and ethical selves through food? What attracts them to a specific food philosophy? How does this reshape their relations with others? How do they use the evidence of their bodies to weigh the pros and cons of different nutritional ideologies? What are the possible dangers of "obsessing about food too much?" What counts as obsession in this context as individuals endeavor to change their own relationship to food in what is being defined in public debates as a "toxic food environment?"


The format of the class is lecture and discussion, there will be opportunities for discussion of lectures and readings. You will be expected to come to class having completed the reading for that day and be prepared to discuss.

Course Materials

The following books have been ordered through the University Bookstore:

  • Janet Poppendieck, Free for All: Fixing School Food in America. (Also available as an online resource through the UW Library.)
  • Novella Carpenter, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.

There are also required shorter readings available on the course website prior to the start of the academic quarter.


There are three major graded assignments:

  • An online research project on the "health blogosphere (5 pages).
  • A school lunch memoir (5 pages).
  • Essay on Ethical Eating (5 pages).

In addition there will be a few additional ungraded (credit/no credit) exercises that I will add in from time to time and these will be included as part of your participation grade. These will not take a lot of time but are intended to support your learning in relation to the readings and lecture material.

Credit Structure

30 %  Online Research Project           
30 %  School Food Memoir                
30 %  Ethical Eater Project                 
10 %  Participation (including ungraded assignments)      
100% Total               

I expect that you will: come to class on time and prepared; stay for the entire class; participate in class discussion and exercises; and hand in your assignments on time. Success in this course will require keeping up with the reading and being responsible for lecture content.  If you miss a class, you should ask a classmate for notes; please let me know if you need to be late or to leave early. 

  • Cell phones are to be turned off and put away before class.
  • Laptops are not to be used in class except for note taking. 
  • Email: I will be happy to respond to substantive questions on email, generally during working hours.  You are responsible for keeping track of paper due dates, reading assignments, material from missed classes, and scheduling changes.
  • Class email list: I will use the email list to communicate with you about changes in assignments, scheduling and visitor changes, and other general classroom issues.  I expect you to have a university email address at which you can be reached by messages addressed to the list.  Note that to reach me privately you must use my email and not the class list.
  • No incompletes will be given except in accord with University policy.

Plagiarism Policy
Students are expected to do their own work. Plagiarism will not be tolerated and will result in zero credit for the assignment and possible further consequences in accordance with university policy and regulations. Information obtained from Internet sources must be acknowledged by citing the url (web address) and date of access, even if individual authors are not indicated. For further information on how plagiarism is defined by the university and university policies regarding plagiarism, see the following website: (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.



Tentative Class Schedule:

Tentative Class Schedule:

1/3:     Introduction


Unit One: The Biopolitics of Obesity

1/8:     Vitruvian Homer


  • Bordo

Short Assignment: Vitruvian Homer

1/10:   Film: Food Inc. (91 minutes)


1/15:   Martin Luther King Day (no class)

1/17:   The High Cost of Cheap Food


  • Patel

 Short Assignment: Film Reflection


1/22:   A Body Made Productive for Capital


  • Guthman and Dupuis

1/24:   Slow Death


  • Berlant
  • Cate

Short Assignment: The Food You Hate to Love


 Unit Two: The New Health Consumer

1/29:   Eat This! Don’t Eat That!


  • Nestle

1/31:     The New Health Consumer


  • Rose

Short Assignment: Your Food Pyramid


2/5:     Film: Frontline Diet Wars (60 minutes)


  • Hite et al.

2/7:     The Health Blogosphere


  • Taubes (link below)  

Online research Project (bring examples to class)


Unit Three: School Food

2/12:   School Food Is Industrial Food


  • Poppendieck (Intro and Chapter 1)

Assignment Due: Online Research Report (course dropbox)

2/14:   The Paradox of Free and Reduced Lunch


  • Poppendieck (Chapters 5 & 7)
  • Black ("Revenge of the Lunch Lady") Link

Short Assignment: School Lunch Memory


2/19:   President’s Day (no class)

2/21:   The Edible Schoolyard


Assignment Due Friday, February 23: School Lunch Memoir (course dropbox)


Unit Four: Ethical Eaters

2/26:   Experiments in Urban Food Sovereignty


  • Carpenter (entire book)

Short Assignment: Map How Food Connects People in Farm City

2/28:     Punk Cuisine


  • Clark


3/5:     Paleo fitness: My Big Fat Diet (45 minutes)


3/7:     Reclaiming the Pre-Industrial Diet



March 13: Final Paper Due: Essay on Ethical Eating

Catalog Description: 
Examines current debates within the United States about what dietary guidelines are optimal for human health; how changing conceptions of individual responsibility and political life are framing these debates; how social movements for food sovereignty are changing food practices: and how eaters define their ethics through food. Offered: AWSpS.
Department Requirements: 
Anthropology of Globalization Option
Medical Anthropology & Global Health Option
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
October 23, 2018 - 9:10pm