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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 1, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 24
JHU Course Catalog: Do You Want Fries With That?

In the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Felicity Northcott offers Do You Want Fries With That?, a new Anthropology Department course cross-listed with Public Health Studies.

Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series of articles dropping in on interesting classes throughout the university's eight academic divisions.

By Amy Cowles

The course: Do You Want Fries With That? A History of Food and Eating in America. An exploration of anthropological perspectives on food consumption in contemporary America. Undergraduate course, limited to 25 students. 3 credits. Department of Anthropology, cross-listed with Public Health Studies, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

Meeting time: Wednesdays from 1 to 3 p.m., spring 2004

The instructor: Felicity S. Northcott, senior lecturer in anthropology; associate director, Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power and History. Recognized in 2002 with an Excellence in Teaching Award from the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association.

Teaching assistant: Holly Martin of Houghton, Mich. Martin is a senior majoring in international studies.

Syllabus: Students are involved in ongoing field projects such as surveying the buying and eating habits of customers at grocery stores in two Baltimore neighborhoods. Pairs of student presenters lead the discussion each week based on the assigned readings. Topics include how public transportation affects eating habits and access to fresh foods, how to address the illusion that fast food is cheaper than home cooking and how powerful nations exploit developing countries for their natural resources.

Not surprisingly, plenty of food made its way into a recent meeting of the class. The first pair of presenters stepped up to the plate by circulating two dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts at the start of class. Yogurt, muffins, cold noodle salad and Snackwell's cookies were also noshed during the session. The final class, on Wednesday, April 28, will be marked with an All-Soy Barbecue in the campus's Decker Garden.

Course work: Requirements include a 10-page research paper on the student's favorite processed comfort food, uncovering the origins of its ingredients as well as how it's made and marketed; a food diary filled with everything the student consumed during a five-day period; and an eating history questionnaire to be given to a friend or relative over 60. During spring break, students will conduct a soy food inventory at a grocery store in their hometown.

Required reading: Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, by Johns Hopkins professor emeritus and renowned food scholar Sidney Mintz, who has visited the class; Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, by Marion Nestle; Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World, by Greg Crister; Food Nations: Selling Taste in Consumer Societies (Hagley Perspectives on Business and Culture), by Warren James Belasco and Philip Scranton; Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser; The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair; The Penguin Atlas of Food: Who Eats What, Where and Why, by Erik Millstone and Tim Lang; and other assorted readings.

Overheard in class: "This course is about the politics of food — it starts somewhere and ends up on your table, but who are the people in between?"

Students say: "The food policies of the United States and abroad have a distinct geopolitical impact and are crucial to the understanding of our world as we know it. Many decisions and policies are constructed on the basis of how certain food industries will be impacted. Dr. Northcott's course analyzes what we consume, why we consume it and how we have been influenced to eat."
— Grapevine, Texas, resident Anand Veeravagu, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering.

"In addition to the subject matter, I was actually drawn to the class because of Dr. Northcott. ... I really enjoy her frankness, willingness to listen to students and her passionate but humble style of teaching. She really encourages people to think for themselves and to discuss the issues at hand. Assuming your mind is not closed to thinking about things in new ways, the way you think about things will be changed after spending a semester in one of her classes."
— David Stout, who says he is reducing his meat consumption based on what he is learning in class about the effort and money that goes into its production.


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