Seeds of Change: Food, Culture, and Work

Fall 2017
Winter 2018
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Prita Lal square
food justice, social movements, urban agriculture, social inequalities
Spanish language, Latin American studies
agricultural ecology, food systems

We all eat to live, but how often do we stop to ask where our food comes from? How was it grown, who cultivated and harvested it, and how did it arrive at our tables? Do we all have the same access to food?  How has the migration of workers to harvest food, as well as their movements for social justice, created new forms of culture, from protest songs to teatro campesino (farmworkers’ theatre)?  What agriculture and food policies shape the food system?

This program seeks to address these questions, by examining the intersections of food ecology, labor history, food justice, food policy and cultural change.  Fall quarter will focus on three specific commodities, which may include apples, bananas, sugar, coffee, tomatoes or another food crop. In each case, we will explore how the crop has impacted environmental, economic, social, and cultural relationships over time.  For example, apples are a crop that symbolizes Washington State nationally and internationally. We will study the ecological conditions for cultivating this crop, its environmental impact, the ways it is harvested and traded, how workers have attempted to organize themselves, the policy that shapes work and accessibility and the literature and art that have aided their social movements. We will explore how systems of power—involving race, class, and gender, among others—shape work, access to food, governmental policy, environmental sustainability and ultimately our overall food system. 

Fall quarter, a typical week will involve lectures, seminar discussions, films, workshops, along with some  lab and field work.  Students will write frequent essays about readings in environmental science, social science, and humanities. Basic concepts in these fields will emerge from our case studies.  In addition to a 3-day field trip, there will be a few organized opportunities for putting our learning into action through volunteer work with local non-profit groups focusing on food issues.

During winter quarter, we will further develop our understanding of concepts introduced in the fall, moving from specific case studies to a larger view of intersecting social and political systems.  We will focus upon these main themes: Native American food rights and autonomy, farmworker justice and immigration, and finally, how these issues are interconnected in a larger food sovereignty frame, with emphasis on possibilities for social change.   We will begin with local cases dealing with Native rights to salmon fishing as well as specific farmworker organizing struggles.  We will visit local Native garden projects, and will be actively involved in the annual campus-wide José Gómez Farmworker Justice Day, as well as the Farmworker Tribunal held at the Capitol (since the Washington legislature is in session, this will be a good opportunity to learn more about local food policy initiatives and support farmworker justice). Our readings will come from various perspectives in the social sciences and humanities, including artistic expression like teatro campesino .  Throughout winter quarter, we will continue to have seminars, lectures, workshops, films, a local food conference, and field trips as a program.  Students will have the opportunity to participate in repeating community-based learning with a few local partners as preparation for potential future internships.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in: food systems or agriculture, food policy, political economy, and cultural studies

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

$250 per quarter for overnight field trips.

Scheduled for: Day

Located in: Olympia

Advertised schedule:

First winter class meeting: Tuesday, January 9 at 9am (Sem II E1105)

2017-11-17Description updated regarding winter focus and activities.
2017-06-14This program now accepts students of all levels (Fr-Sr).
2017-04-25Fee increased (from $125 per quarter to $250 per quarter).
2017-04-25This program is now offered to sophomores.