Food: Coevolution, Community and Sustainability


Fall 2014, Winter 2015 and Spring 2015 quarters

Taught by

agricultural ecology, food systems
communication, social studies
Thomas Johnson
ecology, plant biology


High school biology and chemistry.

What should we eat? How do we define "organic" and "local" food? Are current food system practices sustainable? What does food sovereignty mean? Why are approximately 1 billion of the world’s population starving and another 1 billion “stuffed” or overstuffed? Is change possible and where does one begin?

Throughout history, food and cooking have not only been essential for human sustenance, but have played a central role in the economic and cultural life of civilizations. This interdisciplinary exploration of food will take a systems approach as it examines the biology and ecology of food, while also incorporating political, economic, historical and anthropological perspectives around the issue of food security and sovereignty.

More specifically, our interaction with nature through the food system will be viewed through the lens of both science and policy. We will take a biological and ecological approach to the production of plants and animals for food, as well as examine the transformation of the “raw stuff of nature” through the processes of cooking, baking and fermentation. Topics span a range of scales from basic chemistry to agriculture, as we explore the coevolution of humans and their foodstuffs. A study of policy will examine origins of the current global food system and the challenges and opportunities of creating a more equitable food system at the local, national and global scale.

In fall quarter, we will introduce the concept of food systems and analyze conventional and alternative agricultural practices. We will examine the botany of vegetables, fruits, seed grains and legumes that constitute most of the global food supply and their selection through evolution and domestication. Our policy focus will include a study of food system planning at the local level, the role of economics and national policies, the challenges posed by climate change and the role of various food movements.

In winter quarter, we shift our attention to cooking and basic aspects of nutrition. We will examine animal products, as well as the chemistry of cooking, baking and food preservation. Additionally, the structure of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, as well as antioxidants, minerals and vitamins will be discussed.  Seminar will focus on issues of global hunger, obesity, food sovereignty, farm-worker justice, and international food movements.  Finally, we will study the basic physiology of taste and smell, critical for the preparation of food.

In spring quarter, we will examine will examine the relationship between food and microbes from several different perspectives.  Specifically we will examine fermentation, produce specific fermented foods, while studying the underlying microbial ecology.  We will also consider topics in microbiology, as they relate to both food safety and food preservation, and the microbiome of the gut.  Seminar will focus on cultural aspects of food.

Students will directly apply scientific concepts learned in lectures to experiments in the laboratory and kitchen. Field trips will provide opportunities for observing food production, processing and citizen participation in the making of local food policy. Program themes will be reinforced in workshops and seminar discussions focused on topics addressed by such authors as Pollan, Patel and Mintz.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

in the biological fields, including ecological agriculture, biology, nutrition, microbiology, and agriculture and food policy including international development.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning: Access to web-based tools required, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

Required Fees

$280 in fall, $210 in winter and $280 in spring for overnight field trips and supplies.


Date Revision
April 14th, 2014 Karen Hogan has joined this program.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall); 16 (Winter); 16 (Spring)

Class standing: Freshmen–Senior; 25% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 69


Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 10092
So - Sr (16 credits): 10095

Go to to register for this program.


Accepting New Students

Signature Required

New students will be admitted based on completion of course prerequisites plus similar material as that covered in the fall quarter. Please contact Martha Rosemeyer ( for more information.

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 20057
So - Sr (16 credits): 20058

Go to to register for this program.


Accepting New Students

Signature Required

New students will be admitted based on on completion of course prerequisites plus similar material as that covered in the fall and winter quarters. Please contact Martha Rosemeyer ( for more information.

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 30042
So - Sr (16 credits): 30043
(1-16 credits): 30443

Go to to register for this program.

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