Food Minor

This minor is intended for students with a keen interest in expanding their study of sustainable and equitable ways to produce and deliver nutritious food so as to improve people’s health and livelihoods.

Click here to see the Fall 2017 food minor course listings

IMG_9823What To Expect

The Food and the Environment Minor is an interdisciplinary program of study with courses addressing questions of food production, consumption, and policy in relation to the environment, human health, and equity.


To complete this minor, students must take no less than 5 courses for a total of at least 15 credits, at least two courses must be 300-level or above, from the following categories as stated:.

A. Introductory Courses (choose at least 1 course):

ENVIRON/BIO 101: Food, Energy and the Environment
ENVIRON 139: Local Food Systems and Sustainability
ENVIRON 270: Our Common Future
ENVIRON 290: Food – The Ecology, Economics and Ethics of Eating
UC 254 – *Much Depends on Dinner* OR *Obesity: Fatness in America*
Courses with * must contain that topic title only

B. Topical Courses (choose at least 3 courses):

ANTHRBIO 364: Nutrition and Evolution
ANTHARC 296: Local Food Producers
ANTHRCUL 458: *Topic titled: Anthropology of Food and Eating*
ARCH/UP 357: Architecture, Sustainability and the City
ARTDES 250: Art-Design Perspectives III: Tech/Environment
BIO 102: Practical Botany
CLARCH/CLCIV 382: Food in the Ancient World
Earth 154: Ocean Resources
Earth 159: Toward a Sustainable Human Future
Earth 333: Inexhaustible Seas? Marine Resources & Environ Issues
NUTR 540: Maternal and Childhood Nutrition (with perm of instructor)
NUTR 641: Community Nutrition (with perm of instructor)
ENGLISH 225.009 *Understanding and Making Arguments about Food*
ENVIRON 242.001 *2.5 Million Years of Human Food and Foodways *
ENVIRON 302/UC 370: *The Measure of our Meals*
ENVIRON 317: Conservation of Biological Diversity
ENVIRON 390: Environmental Activism
ENVIRON 421: Restoration Ecology
ENVIRON 462.001 *Foundations of Sustainable Food Systems*
ENVIRON 462.002 *Localization: Transitional Thinking*
NRE 501: *Urban Agriculture* (if offered with perm of instructor)
NRE 565: Principles of Transition – Food, Fuel and Finance (if offered with perm of instructor)

C. Synthesis Courses (choose at least 1 course):

ENVIRON 302/UC 370: *The Measure of our Meals*
ENVIRON 462.001 *Foundations of Sustainable Food Systems*
ANTRHCUL 458: *Food, Politics and the Environment*
ARTDES 300: *Sustainable Food System Design*
EEB 498: Ecology of Agroecosystems
RCIDIV/ENV/EEB 316: Introduction to Food Systems RCIDIV/ENV/EEB 316: Food, Land and Society
Courses with * must contain that topic title only

View the printable version of the Food and the Environment Minor Requirements and list of courses that can fulfill these requirements.

*In addition to the minor, there are several sustainable food related courses that may be of interest. See course descriptions below.

How To Declare This Minor

Students must attend an information session to learn more about the requirements and declare with an advisor. Until then, students can refer to the Food and the Environment Minor Worksheet to track courses completed.

Click Here to link to more information about the minor in Food and the Environment on the Program and the Environment website.

Course Descriptions

A. Introductory Courses

BIO 101/ENV 101: Food, Energy and the Environment. 4 credits.  John Vandermeer. In recent years it has become apparent that current energy and food sourcing is damaging the environment from global warming to pesticide runoff. This course treats the issues of energy, food, and the environment from a biological and sociopolitical point of view. It emphasizes the historical trajectories that generated current conditions and the scientific options for revamping our energy and food systems to make them more consistent with environmental sustainability.

ENVIRON 139.002: First Year Seminar in the Environment: Environmental Literature. 3 credits. Virginia Murphy. This is an LSA FYS (does not fulfill the writing req.). This seminar explores the human connection to the environment and the evolution of American attitudes toward the natural world as reflected in environmental literature. Understanding our connection to the world through the use of language enables us to examine our relationship with nature in various works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and film. In addition to exploring environmental literature and film, students attend environmental events on campus and write about their experience. By fostering a greater appreciation for our connection to the environment and attempting to reconcile our ambivalent attitudes toward nature, this seminar helps us define our place in the natural world. Students learn about urban gardening, beekeeping, sustainable design and sustainable communities. Our field trips include Detroit, the Arb, North Campus, and the Botanical Gardens. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to plant and harvest in East Quad’s new garden. Need own gloves.

ENV 270: Our Common Future. 4 credits. Ivette Perfecto. In this course we examine development within the context of globalization and how it affects people and the environment, with a focus on the Global South (what used to be called the Third World). The following questions form the basis of this course: What is neoliberal globalization? What impacts does it have on people and the environment? What is the popular response to globalization? What are the alternatives? What is your role? Through lectures, films, discussions, exercises and assignments, we will explore the concepts of globalization and alter-globalization (alternative views, primarily from the Global South). In this course we emphasize the perspectives and responses of the Global South (as well as the marginalized people within the North) to the corporate globalization schemes that are being imposed on them. The aim of this course is to foster critical thinking about how our societies are organized historically and at present time, how they can be organized in the future, and to evaluate what we can contribute to the pursuit of a sustainable and just biosphere.

UC 254-001: Obesity: The Science, Culture, and Politics of Fatness in America. 3 credits. Margot Finn. In this course, we’ll explore the “obesity epidemic” from three directions: 1) as a biological phenomenon, focusing on debates in the current scientific understanding of the causes and consequences of fatness; 2) as a social and cultural phenomenon, focusing on the changing relationships between fatness, beauty, and status; 3) as a policy issue, focusing on efforts to make make people thinner and to reduce bias against fat people. Some questions this course seeks to answer include: When and why did obesity become a matter of grave public concern in America? What do we know about why some Americans got fatter, but many others have remained thin? What (if anything) can be done to prevent or reverse the spread of obesity? How has the way people think about body size and morality changed over time? What can we learn from the rise of “fat activism” and the “health at any size” movement? Requirements will include four short papers, frequent reading quizzes, and participation in a class blog.

B. Topical Courses

ANTHARC 296: Local Food Producers.  Fall 2016 and 2017 What is the story behind our food? How has the way our food is grown and raised changed? This class explores the origins of the food we eat from the earliest farmers to the local food movement. We use an anthropological perspective to examine the history of food production and contemporary issues facing local food producers. Topics include: heirloom seeds and heritage animals, the relationship between food producers and consumers, and knowledge sharing among local food producers. Students will learn from archaeological and historical case studies, as well as the stories of contemporary farmers. No background in anthropology or archaeology is needed, only an interest in the history of food production and the people who produce our food today. The class will include a variety of learning experiences, such as field trips to the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market and local farms, guest lecturers, service learning, and teamwork. Students will be evaluated on participation,a series of short response papers, and two course projects.

EARTH 159: Toward a Sustainable Human Future. 3 credits. Ben van der Pluijm. Today’s human society is faced with a need for adjustments to our changing environment, reconciling social, economic and cultural demands and expectations, while at the same time deriving technological and social solutions to enable the sustenance of cultures and communities from the regional to the global scale. This FYS will use a systems-based approach to examine the science that is needed for short- and long-term decision making in support of a sustainable human future. Use and critical analysis of online sources will be encouraged. Up to 9 project teams will be created that collectively offer a science-based, integrated analysis of the critical issues of sustainability. Students are also asked to collect news reports from daily papers and blogs. Topics that will be addressed include: human population trends; water access and quality; food security; future energy; climate change; economic resources; natural hazards and risk.

NUTR 641: Community Nutrition. 3 credits. Suzanne Cole. This course is a discussion of the principles and programs developed to improve the dietary intake and the nutritional status of individuals and groups within a community. Primary topics covered include: government and nongovernment nutrition-related programs, groups at nutritional risk, nutritional issues/concerns across the lifecycle, and an introduction to developing community-based nutrition intervention programs (needs assessment, intervention, and evaluation). Didactic lectures and guest presentations accompanied with an in-depth needs assessment and intervention project and a community service-learning component will provide students the opportunity to integrate and apply knowledge through a hands-on approach. Prerequisite: EHS 630, Graduate Student in Public Health

Environ 302/UC 370: The Measure of Our Meals: Food Studies Research Methods. 3 credits. Margot Finn. This seminar is designed to introduce students to some of the research methods used in the interdisciplinary field of food studies. From life cycle analyses designed to measure the environmental impact of local vs. imported foods to ethnographic studies about attitudes towards food and fatness around the world to archival research on the histories of farming, cooking, and dining, we will examine what kinds of questions scholars in different fields ask, what kinds of evidence they use, and how they use that evidence to understand the many facets of food production, distribution, and consumption.

NRE 501.038; UP 408/508; ENV 462; NUTR 555: Foundations of Sustainable Food Systems.  3 credits. Jennifer Blesh; Lesli Hoey; Andy Jones. This course teaches about food systems through interdisciplinary, experiential learning and dialogue-based inquiry. In addition to learning how to bridge worldviews and apply systems thinking, students will study the unique perspectives of agroecologists, nutritionists, public health practitioners, urban planners and policymakers involved in addressing complex food systems problems.

ENV 462.002/NRE 564: Localization.  1.5 credits. Raymond De Young & Thomas Princen. The premise of this course is that there will be a drop in resource use greater than 90% within this century–a shift without precedent. Growth-dependent societies will soon operate on drastically less energy and material, need to make an unprecedented transition, be much less affluent–possibly more agrarian, adopt appropriate/intermediate technologies, and may function at higher levels of psychological well-being.

Students in this course will explore the need for and the process of envisioning adaptations, pre-familiarizing society with alternatives. We will discuss what localization is (presume it is already happening), what it can be (a welcome challenge or a dire struggle),what it should be (peaceful, just, democratic, resilient), and what it might contain (deep satisfaction, meaningfulness). For more info, check out The Localization Reader by Raymond De Young.

C. Synthesis Courses

Environ 302/UC 370: The Measure of Our Meals: Food Studies Research Methods. 3 credits. Margot Finn. This seminar is designed to introduce students to some of the research methods used in the interdisciplinary field of food studies. From life cycle analyses designed to measure the environmental impact of local vs. imported foods to ethnographic studies about attitudes towards food and fatness around the world to archival research on the histories of farming, cooking, and dining, we will examine what kinds of questions scholars in different fields ask, what kinds of evidence they use, and how they use that evidence to understand the many facets of food production, distribution, and consumption.

NRE 501.038; UP 408/508; ENV 462; NUTR 555: Foundations of Sustainable Food Systems. 3 credits. Jennifer Blesh; Lesli Hoey; Andy Jones. This course teaches about food systems through interdisciplinary, experiential learning and dialogue-based inquiry. In addition to learning how to bridge worldviews and apply systems thinking, students will study the unique perspectives of agroecologists, nutritionists, public health practitioners, urban planners and policymakers involved in addressing complex food systems problems.

Sustainable Food Related Courses (not applicable to Sustainable Food Systems minor)

EARTH 171: Introduction to Global Change: The Science Behind Sustainability. 4 credits. George Kling; Catherine Badgley; James Gleason. Every day, human and natural activities are altering the planet on which we live. Through our increasing resource consumption, population growth, disturbance of natural systems, and technological advancement, we have been changing the global climate and environment in a manner that is unique over Earth’s history. Whether these changes to Earth’s life-support systems are sustainable is perhaps the greatest question for society in this century.

This course, Global Change — the Science of Sustainability investigates the causes and potential impacts of these changes using a combination of traditional lecture-based and modern web-based teaching methodologies. The course surveys the evolution and interaction of physical, chemical, and biological processes; how past changes on Earth help us predict the future; and how fundamental principles of science establish the sustainability of human activities on Earth. Students apply learned knowledge by using systems modeling and spreadsheet software to investigate the dynamics of natural systems and examine case studies of relevant environmental problems.

The course curriculum provides excellent opportunities to conduct research on topics of interest to the students, culminating in a course project presented at the end of the academic term. The interactive laboratory exercises provide students the opportunity to use software tools to examine how natural systems function as well as develop projections of the future consequences of changes in the environment. And, perhaps most important of all, students will have ample time for discussion of critical issues in natural resources and sustainability, environmental policy and society as a whole. All topics are developed in a manner that students will find both accessible and interesting. After the course, students should be able to discern sound science from biased claims and will have a foundation for making informed decisions about sustainable practices in their own lives.

RCNSCI 300.001 Alternative Futures in the Michigan Food System. 3 credits. Catherine Badgley.  This course is an inquiry-based analysis of alternative futures in the Michigan food system. Starting with a foundation of ecological principles of food production, we will compare industrial methods with small-scale, ecological practices, and the policies that support them. We will focus on livestock production, which is controversial because of its resource intensity, environmental impacts, low standards of animal welfare, and health impacts. Students will develop research projects on the theme of alternative futures for livestock production in Michigan. Scientific goals of the course include acquiring a foundation of ecological knowledge; developing a research question and framing it in terms of hypotheses, predictions, and required data; gathering and analyzing data; testing predictions and hypotheses; and presenting findings in oral and written reports. Students should have a background in college-level environmental science or ecology; a prior course on food systems is useful but not necessary. The course includes mandatory field trips on three Saturdays.

SOC 206: Animals and Society. 3 credits. Luis Felipe Sfeir-Younis. This course is designed to examine sociologically the relationships that exist between humans and other non-human animals. Since its birth in Europe in the 19th century, sociology has focused almost exclusively on human-to-human interactions largely ignoring the nature and significance of the human-animal relationship. However, in the last decade, this relationship has received much public attention. Scholars from all disciplines are focusing on the nature, the significance, and the implications of the human-animal relationship. Animals are being placed back into the core of the sociological agenda. In an effort to fundamentally rethink the relationship between human beings and non-human animals, this course will explore some of the legal, ethical, cultural, political, ecological, and social issues that underlie the concerns for and against animal rights and protections. We will examine the use of animals for experimentation, food, entertainment, work, and their furs, and the consequences of such practices on the well-being of animals as well as its impact on society, its industries, and institutions.

Different perspective on animal rights and animal welfare will be presented and a comparative analysis of human and animal rights and abuses will be attempted so as to be able to trace whether the abuse and exploitation of animals may be inextricably related to the oppression of human groups. We will examine how the use and abuse of animals in American society may perpetuate unequal and oppressive human-to-human relationships such as racism, sexism, and class privilege. This pilot course is an effort to incorporate animals into the mainframe of sociological analysis. We will use sociological concepts and perspectives to make sense of the history of human-animal relations. Contributions from ethics, religion, philosophy, science, ecology, and the arts will also be included as part of our reflections on these issues.

ENVIRON 207: Sustainability and Society. 3 credits. Joshua Newell. In this course, students will be introduced to the concepts of sustainability, starting with definitions, interpretations, and practices pursued by different groups to achieve sustainability. Particular attention will be paid to the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to develop more effective approaches to the complex issues of sustainability we face now and in the future from the perspective of present and future stewardship of global systems. Students will learn how science can be integrated with policy and the humanities to achieve important sustainability goals, including reduced carbon emissions, diverse and robust ecosystems, reduced consumption and waste production, improved quality of life, and sustainable cities. Through a concentrated study of this emerging sphere we call sustainability, students will learn to articulate the relationships among observed phenomena, the principles and policies those observations can inform, particularly how best to integrate technology, education, and policy to best meet identified goals. By doing so, students will learn how to place individual and collective behavior in a context that better allows for consumption patterns that best promote sustainability.

History 230.004: Farmers and Farming in Pre-Industrial Europe. 3 credits. Paolo Squatriti. This course will investigate the history of “the people without history,” the anonymous majority of Europeans who worked the land before the twentieth century. It will examine how village life functioned, how farmers farmed, how peasant households dealt with the demands of religious and secular authorities, and the culture of rural people in Europe between medieval and early modern times.

CEE 265: Sustainable Engineering Principles. 3 credits. Brian Ellis or Steven Skerlos. Sustainable engineering principles including calculations of environmental emissions and resource consumption. Mass and energy balance calculations in context of pollution generation and prevention, resource recovery, and life-cycle assessment. Economic aspects of sustainable engineering decision-making. Social impacts of technology system design decisions including ethical frameworks, government legislation, and health risks.

ENV 361/PSYCH 385 (3)/NRE 561 (1.5): Psychology of Environmental Stewardship. 3 credits. Raymond De Young. One of the  enduring challenge of durable living on a finite planet is to craft a future in which we will want to live. A materialistically simpler existence may soon be an ecological necessity. However, it is unlikely to be adopted if it is promoted in the wrong way, as a form of hardship requiring compensation, rather than as a choice that is meaningful. The challenge becomes, then, how to promote durable living so that people accept, even seek it. This course explores behavior change models that well may be up to this challenge. It focuses on environmental stewardship behaviors that individuals and small groups can adopt and it explores the effectiveness of commonly used techniques. A wide range of environmental stewardship topics are discussed, including those relating to behavior choices around the production and consumption of food.

ENVIRON 377.001: Lit and the Environment: Southern Natures: Race and Environment in the U.S. South. 3 credits. Susan Scott Parish. Have you wondered why images of oil refineries are so prominent in the opening sequence of True Detective, HBO’s crime drama set in Louisiana? Have you thought about the levee dynamiting scene in Beasts of the Southern Wild? Or why an evergreen and a bromeliad — the Live Oak draped in Spanish Moss — seem to promise a tale of plantation Gothic? Perhaps, then, this is the course for you. Considering in equal measure the environmental and cultural histories of the U.S. South from the colonial period to the present, we will think about how humans (from America, Africa and Europe) shaped, and were shaped by, southern nature. How did the invention of races emerge from the labor that, for example, sugar or cotton seemed to demand? How did deforestation, swamp drainage, and commercial agriculture result in Jim Crow era eco-catastrophes, and how did southern writers like Richard Wright, William Faulkner and Zora Neale Hurston tell that story? How do rising sea levels and a global demand for petroleum shape the contemporary Gulf states? The course will be divided into four sections: Planting Eden, Fighting for King Cotton, Jim Crow Catastrophes and Oil and Water.

RCHUMS 334/ENVIRON 304.006: Children Under Fire: Narratives of Sustainability. Elizabeth Goodenough. Food–its production and its scarcity–shapes wish fulfillment and desperation in folklore, diaries, poetry, novels and film. Children Under Fire examines how eating one’s fill–or not– figures in stories about growing up in war, exile, and natural disaster.  Writers, illustrators, and filmmakers have to overcome the natural reluctance to tell a young audience that hunger can be a nightmare unmitigated by turning on the light. At the same time painful interaction between child and adult in stories of crisis also expose violent ambivalences underlying cultural fantasies of childhood. The course studies how foraging, nourishment and starvation–something that happens as a consequence of war–are represented as objective fact and subjective experience. Visual and verbal texts attest to the ethical, narrative and pedagogical complexities inherent in showing food as the root of all stories. A reading of Evangeline with historically correct Acadian fare (ca. 1755) will be prepared and shared by the class.

NRE 430: Soil Ecology. 3 credits. Donald Zak. Soils as central components of terrestrial ecosystems. Major emphasis is placed on physical, chemical, and biological properties and their relationships to plant growth and ecosystem processes. Understanding is developed using a combination of lectures, field- and laboratory-based exercises, and individual research. The function of soils in forested ecosystems is the primary focus; however, examples are drawn from a wide range of terrestrial ecosystems.

ES 444/ES 644: Microfinance. 3/2.25 credits. Michael Gordon. One (small) topic of the course relates to providing financing to many local businesses, often food businesses / farms, that otherwise would not be able to remain profitable or expand. The bulk of the course is about “alternative” finance more generally — promoting savings, providing loans, offering insurance to those outside the financial mainstream in the US and abroad.

ELI 395/AMCULT 361/LATINOAM 361/RCSSCI 395/LING 391/EDUC 395 Principles and Practices of ESL Teaching in Migrant Communities: WINTER 2018 (TTh 1-2:30); SPRING (2018: MWF 10:00am – 12:00pm)  Students in this course explore agribusiness in the US through the experience of migrant farmworkers in southeast Michigan. What is the economic, cultural, and historical context of migrant farm work in the US? Who are the workers? Where do they come from? How do they live? What is the history of migrant outreach and education efforts? As they investigate these questions, students also learn and practice the methods and techniques for teaching ESL to a mixed-proficiency, primarily Spanish-speaking population. In addition to academic articles, the course invites speakers representing agencies working in the migrant community. Students should also be prepared to experiment with different teaching techniques, such as visualizations, games, interactive presentations, and art/dramatizations. Students participating in this course are eligible to work with migrant families or to intern in community agencies in ELI 396.

ELI 396/AMCULT 362/LATINOAM 362/RCSSCI 396/LING 396/EDUC 396  Migrant Community Outreach and ESL Teaching Practicum: SUMMER 2018 (TBA)
In this summer half-term course, students either teach ESL to migrant farmworkers and their families or intern with an agency or organization servicing the health and legal needs of the migrant community.   All students engage in reflection on the experience in discussions and written assignments. Pre-requisite: ELI 395/ELI 390/ELI 391 OR previous ESL/language teaching experience. (2-3 credits)