Cultures: Food

Module titleCultures: Food
Module codeANT3014
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Celia Plender (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module introduces you to the anthropological, sociological and more broadly social scientific study of cultural forces and forms, through the means of studying food. Food is of course crucial to human existence all across the planet. Yet patterns of food production, preparation and consumption vary hugely across the planet, both today and in the past. Which foods people think are delicious and which they feel are disgusting can tell us a lot about those people, from how they organise their everyday lives to the cultural and social forces and institutions that shape them in profound ways, such as their religion and beliefs, their politics, their position in systems of social stratification, and their senses of themselves. Food is therefore an excellent way of understanding broader social and cultural issues, because food is both shaped by society and in turn comes to shape society. The course allows you to develop a broad understanding of the social and cultural dimensions of food. It familiarises you with the different types of understanding of food that have been developed over time by anthropologists, sociologists and others, ranging from more ‘materialist’ to more ‘culturalist’ approaches. The course encourages you both to apply these understandings to your own experiences, and to critically reflect upon the strengths and limitations of different approaches. Examples are given from a wide range of societies and historical periods, allowing you to compare the different ways in which food underpins social existence. Particular emphasis is put on how social factors such as ethnicity, social status, class, religion and globalization are intertwined with matters of food production and consumption.

No prior knowledge of social science perspectives is necessary. This module is suitable for both specialist and non-specialist students, and its wide-ranging outlook will appeal to students in social sciences and humanities.

PLEASE NOTE: You cannot take this module if you have already taken ANT1006

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module is intended to introduce you to the social scientific study of food production, preparation and consumption. It reviews and evaluates the major ways of understanding the relations between food, culture and society. In so doing, it also introduces you to how anthropologists, sociologists and others conceptualise and research cultural and social forces and phenomena more generally.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the subject matter of anthropology (and sociology) of food, together with an analytical understanding of the subject matter, which takes into account diverse anthropological and sociological perspectives
  • 2. describe and apply a variety of means of conceptualising and investigating the socio-cultural aspects of food

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. critically relate a body of knowledge to specific contexts within the field of anthropology;
  • 4. think clearly and argue logically and convincingly about the socio-cultural dimensions of food;
  • 5. express coherent anthropological (and sociological) ideas both in writing and verbally;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. undertake independent study concerning the subject matter of the course
  • 7. select appropriately from a range of suggested material and present key arguments clearly and convincingly;
  • 8. develop the capacity to reflect critically on the various analytic perspectives presented in the course

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • What is food and how do anthropologists study it? 
  • Food and the Making and Unmaking of Bodies 
  • Commensality and Social Bodies 
  • Food in Diaspora 
  • The Birth of Agriculture and its Industrialization 
  • Famine, Food Poverty, Food Security and the State 
  • Trade and the Globalization of Agriculture and Food 
  • Food safety and sustainability 
  • Alternatives Food Systems: 
  • Food as Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Heritage

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity151.5 hour lectures x 10 weeks
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity1.5Revision session
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity11Weekly 1 hour tutorials
Guided Independent Study5511 x 5 hours reading for tutorials (2 readings x 2.5 hours per tutorial)
Guided Independent Study16.5Preparing response papers
Guided Independent Study 51 Exam Preparation


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Weekly reading response papers10 x 250 word papers, prepared before seminar and used to guide participation1-8Oral feedback in seminar as well as during office hours

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Portfolio of 10 response papers of 250 words each402500 words1-8Written feedback, final mark
Take home Examination605 days, 2500 words1-8Written feedback, mark and verbal feedback on request


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Take home examinationTake home examination (5 days, 2500 words)1-8August/September reassessment period
Portfolio of 10 response papers of 250 words each Portfolio of 10 response papers of 250 words each (2500 words)1-8August/September reassessment period


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Abbots, Emma-Jayne (2016) “Approaches to Food and Migration: Rootedness, Being, and Belonging”, ,” in J. Klein and J. Watson, The Handbook of Food and Anthropology, London: Bloomsbury, chapter 5.

Appadurai, Arjun (1981) ‘Gastro-politics in Hindu South Asia’, American Ethnologist 8 (3): 494-511.

Goldschmidt, Walter (1978) As You Sow: Three Studies in the Social Consequences of Agribusiness, Allanheld, Osmun, and Co., chapter 2.

Inglis, David and Gimlin, Debra (2009) The Globalization of Food, Oxford: Berg. Chapter 1, pp. 3-42.

Klein, Jakob A, Johan Pottier, and Harry G. West (2012) “New Directions in the Anthropology of Food”, in The SAGE Handbook of Social Anthropology, eds. R. Fardon, O. Harris, T.H. J. Marchand, M. Nuttall, C. Shore, V. Strang, and R. Wilson, London: Sage Publications Ltd., pp. 293-302.

Leitch, Alison (2009) “Slow Food and the Politics of ‘Virtuous Globalization’”, in D. Inglis and D. Gimlin, eds., The Globalization of Food, Berg. Reprinted in Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterick, eds. (2013), Food and Culture: A Reader (Third Edition), New York and London: Routledge, pp. 409-425.

Madeley, John (2000) Hungry for Trade: How the Poor Pay for Free Trade, Zed, chapter 3.

Nestle, Marion (2003) Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism, University of California Press, chapter 1.

Pottier, Johan (2016) “Observer, Critic, Activist: Anthropological Encounters with Food Insecurity”, in J. Klein and J. Watson, The Handbook of Food and Anthropology, London: Bloomsbury, chapter 7.

Probyn, Elspeth (2009) “Fat, Feelings, Bodies: A Critical Approach to Obesity”, in H Malson and M Burns, eds., Critical Feminist Approaches to Eating Disorders, Routledge, pp. 113-123.

Raynolds, Laura T. 2012. Fair Trade: Social Regulation in Global Food Markets, Journal of Rural Studies 28 (3): 276-287.

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Sociology,  Anthropology, Contemporary Society

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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