First Steps Toward Sustainable Food Solutions:
Weighing Political, Economic, and Ethical Trade-offs

Spring 2014, Stanford University; Co-Instructors: Priya Fielding-Singh and Mark Budolfson


Course Description

Most food courses offer either a purely factual account of the challenges we face in connection with food, or idealistic accounts of what solutions would be best in a perfect world. Our approach is different. Our focus is on effective real-world policymaking and activism. Our aim is to identify the best initial steps toward the ultimate goal of sustainable food solutions given the messy real-world constraints of political feasibility and human irrationality that stand in the way of ideal solutions. For example, even if policymakers and activists agree that factory farms should ideally be eliminated, they still face the more pressing question of what initial steps of policy and activism would be most effective at moving us toward that goal. Similarly, even if policymakers and activists share goals of food justice, they still face the more pressing question of how best to work toward those goals from our starting point here and now. With that in mind, our goal is to use a weekly discussion of highly accessible readings from social science, behavioral economics, public policy, and ethics to illuminate how best to make the political, economic, and ethical trade-offs that are necessary for progress toward realistic solutions. In the process, we aim to distill more general insights about effective policymaking and activism that apply beyond the domain of food issues, and to include diverse perspectives that are often neglected in university food courses.



Readings (Numbered Readings are Required)

Optional Background Reading

Paarlberg, R. Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know, 2nd ed. Oxford UP, 2013

Nestle, M. Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, 3rd ed. California UP, 2013


Optional: Berg, J. All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America? Seven Stories Press, 2008

Optional: Saul, N. and A. Curtis. The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement. Melville House, 2013


April 18: Nutrition and Public Health

1. Nestle, M. Food Politics Blog (Marion suggests searching for some topic that interests you, and doing some historical reading on what Marion has said about that topic.)


April 25: Policy Solutions: An Overview of Approaches to Systems Change

Optional: Case Studies of Cigarette Taxes and Soda Bans in the USA

Optional: Holmes, S. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. California UP, 2013

Optional: McMillan, T. The American Way of Eating. Scribner, 2011

Optional: "Immigrant Worker Health & Safety", via OSHA website, especially pg. 4 (pg. 5 of the PDF)


May 9: Animal Welfare and Factory Farming

Optional: Pachirat, N. Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight. Yale UP, 2011

Optional: Striffler, S. Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food, 2007

Optional: Levitt, A. Guilt-Free Food, 2007

Optional: Richards, J. and E. Richards. Cheap Meat: How Factory Farming is Harming Our Health, the Environment, and the Economy, 2011


May 16: Environmental Impacts

1. Foley, J. "A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World", National Geographic, 2014

3. McMillan, T. "Anthony Bourdain and Top Chef Have it Wrong: the Boys' Club Is No Fun", Daily Beast, 2012

Optional: Alkon, A. and J. Agyeman. Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability. MIT Press, 2011