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Course Information

Instructor Info:Helen Scharber
Office Extension x5397
TA Info:Sky Loth
Term: 2013F
Meeting Info: Monday Wednesday
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 102
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 102

How does speculation on Wall Street affect wheat prices halfway across the globe? Why do most tomatoes taste so bad? Can organic farming methods feed the world? In this course, we'll use questions like these to guide our study of the economics, politics and environmental impacts of the modern industrial food system. In addition to studying and critiquing the existing system, we will spend significant time exploring more sustainable alternatives to mainstream methods of food production, distribution and consumption. Students will learn to apply economic theories studied in class to specific aspects of the food system and undertake an independent project on an alternative to mainstream food production.

Course Objectives:

By the end of the course, you will be equipped to

  1. Critically evaluate how the political economic system in the U.S. and around the world influences the production, distribution and consumption of food
  2. Analyze the promises and potential shortcomings of various alternatives to the existing food system
  3. Apply political economic theory and ideas to food system issues
  4. Write in a clear, well-supported and logically consistent manner

Throughout the course, you can expect

  • A supportive classroom community in which to explore ideas
  • To be intellectually challenged—by the questions, material, and class discussions—and to build confidence in working through these challenges
  • To work an average of 6-8 hours outside of class per week

In the classroom, you will be expected to

  • Contribute thoughtfully to discussions with classmates, having read the assigned material outside of class
  • Be mindful that our goal is to investigate questions together and sometimes challenge one another, but not to win arguments or be right
  • Aim to use clear and logical reasoning when speaking and writing
  • Generally help to create a safe, supportive and intellectually stimulating classroom environment
Evaluation Criteria:

Assignments will be designed to help you think critically and deeply about the issues and theories presented in the course.  Please see the course schedule for major assignment due dates.  Details about all assignments will be discussed in class.

  • Two short papers (~750 words each)
  • Two annotated bibliographies of four or five sources
  • One theory application paper (~1500 words)
  • Final project - flexible in format, to include a short proposal, an in-class presentation, a final paper or writeup, and a reflection.
  • At least 10 primary responses to Moodle forum prompts and 10 comments to others' responses

Attendance is required, both for your benefit and that of the classroom community.  If you do miss a class, please submit any assignments before class and consult a classmate to find out what you missed.

In general, late work will not be accepted and incomplete evaluations will not be given.  This policy is for you (the world is full of deadlines) and for me (keeping track of late assignments takes up too much brain space). 

Student evaluations will be based on your

  • Regular and active class participation, in class and online
  • Timely completion of assignments
  • Ability to engage critically with the course material
  • Ability to make clear and well-supported arguments in writing
  • Ability to make connections to your own experiences and other work
  • Progress over the semester

In order to receive an evaluation, you must

  • Have no more than three absences.
  • Be sufficiently involved in the class to give me a basis for writing an evaluation.  This includes thoughtfully completing required assignments and engaging in class discussions and activities. 

If you are at risk of not meeting these conditions for an evaluation, I will give warning well before the end of the semester.

Additional Info:

Required text: Patel, Raj. 2012. Stuffed & Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. 2nd ed. Brooklyn: Melville House.

The Patel book is available at the Hampshire bookstore; be sure to get the second edition.  Most other readings will be made available on Moodle.

Academic honesty is expected. All Hampshire College students and faculty, whether at Hampshire or at other institutions, are bound by the ethics of academic integrity. The entire description and college policy can be found in Non Satis Non Scire at under Academic Policies/Ethics of Scholarship. Plagiarism is the representation of someone else’s work as one’s own. Both deliberate and inadvertent misrepresentations of another’s work as your own are considered plagiarism and are serious breaches of academic honesty and integrity. All sources used or consulted in the process of writing papers, examinations, preparing oral presentations, course assignments, artistic productions, and so on, must be cited. Sources include material from books, journals or any other printed source, the work of other students, faculty, or staff, information from the Internet, software programs and other electronic material, designs and ideas.
     All cases of suspected plagiarism or academic dishonesty will be referred to the Dean of Advising who will review documentation and meet with student and faculty member. Individual faculty, in consultation with the Dean of Advising, will decide the most appropriate consequence in the context of the class. This can range from revising and resubmitting an assignment to failing the course. Beyond the consequence in the course, CASA considers first offenses as opportunities for education and official warning. Multiple or egregious offenses will have more serious consequences. Suspected instances of other breaches of the ethics of academic integrity, such as the falsification of data, will be treated with the same seriousness as plagiarism and will follow the same process.

Feel free to contact me to discuss matters related to class, the universe and everything.  But please keep in mind that, like many of you, I often get more emails than I can reasonably respond to quickly.  Do not assume that I will respond within 24 hours (though I often will), at nights or on weekends.  Also, fair warning: I will be inclined to ignore requests for material that can be easily obtained elsewhere (e.g., what was covered during a missed class, my office hours, assignments, the number for Sibie's, etc.)