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Course Explores Just How Political Our Food Can Be

March 04, 2018
The nutritional label placed on the food you purchase isn’t just a sticker — it’s the result of a very political process.

Now you can explore how politics shapes and controls our food in a Merrimack course titled Politics of Food, taught by Associate Professor of Political Science Anne Flaherty.

The course is broken into segments. Students first learn about food production, obesity, chronic hunger, undernourishment and other national and international issues concerning food.

The class then moves into policy formation and implementation in the United States. This section covers such issues as USDA price supports, food labeling and hunger safety-net programs in the schools. 

Next, the course explores food choice and issues such as vegetarianism and the local food movement, and how those are political charged. 

As a capstone project, students create an engaged, applied project in which they develop or implement action items related to food politics. They must also complete 10 hours of hands-on service learning, which involves volunteering at both a soup kitchen and a food pantry. 

“The class helps students understand and critique the influences on food, both in their daily lives and in the broader food system,” Flaherty said. “And it explains how government history, decisions and interests shape social, cultural and economic dynamics of food.

This, she added, makes the more abstract concepts of how our federal government works more intimate and interesting.

“Students are learning information, concepts and skills specifically related to political science,” Flaherty said.

One student in the course, health science major Marlaina Rohmann ’18, recently volunteered at the Bread and Roses soup kitchen in Lawrence, Massachusetts, to satisfy the service-learning requirement. She is interested in a career in public health, and she enrolled in the course to explore the dynamics between our food supply and politics.

“During this course, I was very surprised to learn that the federal government’s involvement in food goes much further than organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration,” she said, referring to the federal agency charged with ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply.

“The vast power of those organizations has also surprised me,” Rohmann added. “I think one of the biggest challenges public health officials face is relaying information to the public. The figures presented in class really simplify some of the concepts.”

Flaherty said she hopes the course opens students eyes to one of the most pressing issues facing society today.

“Through the course, students are being exposed to information, concepts and skills that I hope will inform their lives and encourage them to consider questions of global and national social justice,” she said.

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  • Anne Flaherty
    Anne Flaherty

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