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Course Information

Instructor Info:Pamela Stone
Office Extension x6203
Term: 2013F
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
10:30 AM - 11:50 AM Cole Science Center 3-OSTE
10:30 AM - 11:50 AM Cole Science Center 3-OSTE

Today in American society we are inundated with questions regarding diet, wellness and longevity. Often used phrases such as low-fat, high fiber, no carbs, gluten-free, sugar-free, calcium-rich, anorexia, obesity, bone density, and supersize me, all offering complex messages to the public about health. At the core of this course is the interface between nutrition and the role of popular culture. Students will work on independent projects that test popular notions about diet and nutrition using a broad range of methodologies (such as, 24-hour dietary recall, diet surveys, food ethnographies, anthropometry and exercise physiology). Students will design and carry out an original project on some aspect of food, nutrition and culture. Topics in human diet and nutrition will be examined from a biocultural perspective and will include an examination of the evolution of human nutrition and gut alongside current information on things such as growth and development, nutrition and disease processes, diet and culture, anthropology, and genetics.

Course Objectives:

Learning Goals for the Class

  1. Provide a focus (in this case, nutrition and diet) for learning how to formulate and answer questions that relate to human health, growth and development, and brain function, in a variety of cultural contexts. 
  2. Introduce students to the debates and controversies in diet and nutrition, with foci on contemporary problems and cross-cultural perspectives.
  3. Help students think critically and open-mindedly about human health issues from several disciplinary modes of inquiry including health sciences, anthropology, human biology, and political economy. 
  4. Guide students into the literature (methods, theory, and data) regarding the theme of nutrition and health.
  5. Aid students in developing interdisciplinary skills in analysis, research, and writing.

Focus Questions

We will incorporate a series of broad questions into our selection of discussion topics, readings and lab work:

  • How do biology and culture interact in the area of diet and nutrition?  What aspects of biology and culture link people to poor health and what aspects keep people healthy? For example, humans were gatherer-hunters for most of their existence (4+ million years) and only recently have become reliant on agriculture as a food source (agriculture developed approximately 10,000 years ago in various places around the world). What was good about agriculture, and what problems did it bring humanity?  
  • A significant proportion of people are living longer than ever before in the history of the planet, yet chronic health issues undermine the quality of life.  What can the long history of human diet and health reveal about these current patterns?  What did the ancients eat, how long did they live, how did they die?  What were the big changes in human diet and health? 
  • How do the pharmaceutical companies, the health care industry, and the media shape popular notions about nutrition and diet?  What are the forces that underlie popular notions about nutrition?  What is the science behind popular diets (Paleo, Southbeach, Weightwatchers, Vegetarian/Vegan) and what are the myths?  How is it that the rise in non-fat, non-sugar foods has given rise to obesity? 
  • As obesity increases in both the developed and underdeveloped nations, malnutrition continues to take the lives of people at an alarming rate. Consider this: Dolores Calloway (1982) stated that “…we know a great deal about protein-energy malnutrition, almost everything in fact, except what causes it, how to prevent it, and what it costs society not to do so.”  Why is this?
  • Osteoporosis is a billion dollar a year industry for food industries, big pharma and the health care community in terms of calcium supplements, estrogen replacement therapy, promotion of dairy products, and surgical replacement of bad joints. What are the myths and what are the truths regarding osteoporosis?
  • How does food and culture come together and in what ways does the phrase “we are what we eat” resonate with both our cultural belief systems and our biology?
Evaluation Criteria:

What to Expect

 Each student must carry out an original research project, individually and in a group.  There are five major areas of research that will provide hands-on experiences in designing and carrying out a project.  These areas (including, but not limited to: ancient diets/current trends, pop nutrition/diets and health profiles, food as medicine, maternal heath/diet and nutrition, culture food and health) will provide a wealth of opportunity to carry out a project. (Projects may be lab based, involve human subjects; but these will be subject to IRB approval. Or research based.)  Students will need to find time outside of the course time to meet later in the semester to work on their research projects individually or in groups. Each research team will be expected to teach the rest of the class, about their research area – the questions they asked – and what they discovered. Each team will have half a class period to share with the larger class. A final poster presentation of the teams work is due at the end of the semester and can be informed by the classroom discussion. In addition each student will be expected to hand in a short final paper on the research they conducted as part of the research team.

Course Requirements

Writing Assignments: There will be a number of reports, essays, and response papers due throughout the semester.  These must be turned in when due.  

Attendance: Students must attend all classes and participate in all activities and exercises.

Reading Assignments: Students must complete all of the required reading prior to class and be prepared to discuss the material. 

Independent Project/Group Project: Independent and group projects are required and a research paper (reflecting the independent work) is due at the end of the semester.  Students are required to follow the deadlines for turning in a topic idea, background literature, an abstract, and drafts of the paper. Students will work on a topic in groups.  The approach developed to collect and analyze information on the topic should be interdisciplinary, and should approach the problem (question) from a number of perspectives. The culmination of the topic area is a group poster, to be presented at the end of the semester.

Project Presentation: A group presentation of the topic area, and a poster presentation of the major findings will be presented at the end of the semester, in the last class. 

Additional Info:


(All reading due dates are noted in the syllabus (in print and on moodle) on the day they are due).

Required Text:

Gremillion, Kristen J. (2011) Ancestral Appetites: Food in Prehistory. Cambridge University Press [DUE 10/1]

Keith, Lierre (2009) The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. Flash Point Press, seventh edition. [DUE 10/24]

 Non-text readings are available in .pdf form on the course moodle site and include:

DUE ~ Reading Citation                                                                                                         


~ Ma, et al. (2009). Number of 24-hour diet recalls needed to estimate energy intake. Annals of epidemiology, 19(8), 553-559.

 ~ Frankenfield, D. C., Rowe, W. A., Cooney, R. N., Smith, J. S., & Becker, D. (2001). Limits of body mass index to detect obesity and predict body composition. Nutrition, 17(1), 26-30.


~ Breslin, P. A. (2013). An Evolutionary Perspective on Food and Human Taste. Current Biology, 23(9), R409-R418.

~ Sobal, J., & Nelson, M. K. (2003). Commensal eating patterns: a community study. Appetite, 41(2), 181-190.

~ Rozin, P. (2005). The meaning of food in our lives: a cross-cultural perspective on eating and well-being. Journal of nutrition education and behavior, 37, S107-S112.


~ Theobald, H. E. (2005). Dietary calcium and health. Nutrition Bulletin, 30(3), 237-277

~ Fishbein, L. (2004) Multiple sources of dietary calcium—some aspects of its essentiality Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, Volume 39, Issue 2, April 2004, pp. 67-80

~ Claeys, W. L., Cardoen, S., Daube, G., De Block, J., Dewettinck, K., Dierick, K., ... & Herman, L. (2012). Raw or heated cow milk consumption: Review of risks and benefits. Food Control.


~ Krebs, J. R. (2009). The gourmet ape: evolution and human food preferences. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 90(3), 707S-711S.

10/17   ~  10/22 ~ 10/24 ~ TBA


~ Alpert, P. T. (2012). Sugar The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Facts. Home Health Care Management & Practice, 24(4), 208-210.

~ Ferzacca, S. (2012). Diabetes and Culture. Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 411- 426


~ Ogden, et al. (2006). Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 1999-2004. JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association, 295(13), 1549-1555.

~ Heindel, J. J., & Schug, T. T. (2012). The perfect storm for obesity. Obesity.


~ Fleischhacker, S. E., et al. (2011). A systematic review of fast food access studies. Obesity Reviews, 12(5), e460-e471.


~ Vitalini, S., Iriti, M., Puricelli, C., Ciuchi, D., Segale, A., & Fico, G. (2013). Traditional knowledge on medicinal and food plants used in Val San Giacomo (Sondrio, Italy)—An  alpine ethnobotanical study. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 145(2), 517-529.

~  Halberstein, R. A. (2005). Medicinal plants: historical and cross-cultural usage patterns. Annals of epidemiology, 15(9), 686-699,

 ~ Chu-Huang, C., & Volding, D. C. (2000). Medicinal foods: Cross-cultural perspectives. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 15(1/2), 49-64

12/3  ~ Wiedman, D. (2012). Native American Embodiment of the Chronicities of Modernity: Reservation Food, Diabetes, and the Metabolic Syndrome among the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache. Medical anthropology quarterly, 26(4), 595-612.



**Additional reading may be assigned or suggested during the semester