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Sample Syllabus

Although the assignments may change slightly, this sample syllabus is intended to give you a sense of the types of reading and other work required in the course.

Eating Your Ecology: Food Writing and Environmentalism

Course Description:

This course aims to bring you closer to your food — intellectually, literally, and ecologically. In our era of fast grub, rock-bottom prices, and huge supermarkets (stocked year-round with food that is only ripe thousands of miles away), people have begun to take steps to know more about their food. This movement takes many forms, including Organic, Free-Range, Locavore, and Slow Food. In this course, we will read texts that have helped popularize the need and the techniques for paying more attention to what we put into our bodies. We will consider questions such as: What, exactly, are we eating? Where does it come from? What are the environmental impacts of our food culture at Penn State, the United States, and the world? How do our eating habits map onto other aspects of our life, including urbanism, corporatization, and consumerism? How can we use food, and narratives about food, to look at community development, politics, spiritual enrichment, and ethics? And just what is it that farmers really do, anyway?

You'll read a series of food narratives and food exposés that will be both fun and informative. None of these books are strictly scientific — that is to say, behind each of our readings there is a humanist, thinking in philosophical and cultural terms. Together, we'll discuss those underlying philosophies, their origins, and how they might come to effect change in our society. Then, we'll add our own perspectives to the conversation.

There will be multiple experiential aspects of this class. We will travel to farms and work on them. We will note the kinds of things we choose to eat, and will expand on our personal encounters with local food and the people who grow it in a reflective essay. And, best of all, we'll share food with each other each week in class, and cook an end-of-year feast together — using only food we can get here, produced sustainably. Good nourishment for mind and body: that's the goal of this course.


  • Upton Sinclair, The Jungle
  • Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America
  • Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma
  • Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
  • Mark Winne, Closing the Food Gap

The readings will be supplemented with bits of other works, which we will provide through E-reserve or Angel.

You should also have some warm clothes that are sturdy and that can get a little dirty, a small paper journal, an open mind, and an appetite.


Group Research Project 20%
Critical Response (5–7 p) 40%
Experiential Writing (5–7 p) 30%
Participation/Cookbook 10%

Activities and Trips:

Blue Rooster, Farm Tour— Blue Rooster Farm is a meat-producing farm located in East Waterford. We will spend a day touring their grounds and talking to the Hurst-Brubakers about running a small-scale farm. From genetic diversity to animal care and management, we'll investigate what a small farm can offer that farming on a mega scale cannot.

Mystic Springs Farm, Work Weekend — The family that runs Mystic Springs Organic Farm in Selinsgrove has offered to take us on for two full days of farm work. We will not stay on the farm; we will arrive there early in the morning and leave around dinnertime. This is a vegetable farm, so we'll be putting seeds in the ground! We will learn about the intricate planning that a produce farm must undertake to keep their customers in the greens (and carrots, onions, garlic, potatoes, etc.). Succession planting, organic pest control, long-term land use, and certification are all open for discussion.

Fiedler Farm, Workshop — Fiedler Farm, run by Nell Hanssen and Bob Vernon, is the “home base” for one of the region's more robust community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs. We'll spend the morning touring the grounds, which might include a little horse work (they do much of their small-scale farming with animal power), and in the afternoon we'll learn about Groundworks CSA and a little about container gardening. Plus, by this point in the spring, the farm is likely to have their free-range chickens (and chicken tractors) up and running!