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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 27, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 9
JHU Course Catalog: Food Politics

Political scientist Adam Sheingate surveys a variety of policy issues associated with food and agriculture.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Amy Lunday

Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series in which reporters drop in on interesting classes throughout the university's nine academic divisions. Suggestions are welcome at

The course: Food Politics is offered by the Department of Political Science in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. The semester's work for the 15 upperclassmen and graduate students is worth 3 credits.

Meeting time: Tuesdays from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., fall 2008.

The instructor: Adam Sheingate, an associate professor, joined the Department of Political Science in 2000. He earned his doctorate in political science at Yale and his bachelor's degree in political science and philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He also has held fellowships at Oxford University and the University of California, Berkeley. Sheingate's specialties are American politics and comparative public policy, subjects he covers in the undergraduate courses The Politics of Health — Policy and The American Presidency, and graduate courses such as American Political Development and American Political Institutions. His first book, The Rise of the Agricultural Welfare State: Institutions and Interest Group Power in the United States, France, and Japan, was published by Princeton University Press in 2001 and was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title by the American Library Association. He has also published a number of articles and book chapters on a wide range of topics, including biotechnology policy in the United States and Europe. Sheingate is currently writing a book on the development of political consulting and its consequences for American democracy titled Building a Business of Politics.

Syllabus and course work: In Food Politics, Sheingate presents a 21st-century take on the old adage "You are what you eat" by surveying a variety of policy issues associated with food and agriculture.

"Food is central to our lives," Sheingate points out in his syllabus, "yet few of us consider the political implications of what we eat." To that end, Sheingate and his students discuss a range of both global and local concerns such as genetically modified food, international conflicts over agriculture subsidies, the heightened concern about food safety, the national obesity epidemic and the economic impact of buying produce and meat grown or raised by local farmers. The course work relies on numerous articles on electronic reserve in the library, as well as on following the news, including a recent class discussion of The New York Times Magazine's food issue, which the newspaper billed as "an open letter to the next farmer-in-chief." Students also keep a food journal for a five-day period early in the term, write two policy briefs on issues covered in class and complete either a take-home final exam or a term paper.

Adam Sheingate says: "Two years ago, I realized that my research and teaching covered a range of topics related to food, including agricultural policy, biotechnology and health. Putting these topics together in a single syllabus made me appreciate just how much our food system is shaped by a whole host of government policies. One of the main goals of the course, in fact, is to help students see these interconnections: to understand how issues surrounding the environment, food safety and even obesity are shaped by policies that govern the production and consumption of food. The same farm subsidies that improve the food industry's bottom line are responsible for our country's expanding waistline."

Students say:
"My research primarily focuses on the effectiveness of international organizations, so Food Politics was slightly outside of my typical course schedule, but I am so glad that I registered for it. I have genuinely enjoyed the class so far. It has been a great way to see the complex systems that contribute to something as simple as grabbing a breakfast bar on the way out the door to class. My family owns a niche farm in California's San Joaquin Valley producing primarily walnuts and cherries, and I was excited to see this class offered. It is an amazing way to view the way that global policy influences our operations and the transforming nature of the dirt-to-plate process. I would highly recommend the class, especially for people looking at issues of political economy or policy; after all, we all eat, and there is so much to gain from knowing more about our food."
—Lindsay La Forge, senior, international studies major, Colorado Springs, Colo.

"I love Professor Sheingate. He truly is one of Hopkins' best professors, and his classes are very unique and interesting. I took his American Presidency course in the spring and really enjoyed his casual, yet extremely informative teaching style and interesting perspectives he brings to all kinds of issues, so I thought I would look into his Food Politics course this semester. Over the summer, I did research in New Zealand on water values and in the process learned a tremendous amount about worldwide agricultural issues and the impending water scarcity and food crises around the world. Now, I am so happy to be in Professor Sheingate's Food Politics course. I'm answering the questions that plagued me over the summer. What are the relationships between farmers and consumers? Where does our food actually come from? Why do some countries have food subsidies and others do not? Why is there controversy over genetically modified foods when there could be obvious life-saving nutritional benefits involving them? These are very complicated issues, but Professor Sheingate does a wonderful job explaining each of them and helping us to better understand the intricacies of our food and political systems. I would wholeheartedly recommend this course and any other taught by Professor Sheingate to my friends."
—Justine Mink, senior, engineering and international studies major, Durham, N.Y.


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