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BA Geography / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Geographies of Food and Farming

Unit code GEOG30162
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes

Overview

Food is engrained throughout the cultural geographies of life. We must all eat to sustain our bodies. Food, however, is not just fuel, it is also deeply pleasurable and essential in many respects to our psychological well-being. It is at the heart of so many family rituals and plays a significant part in most social celebrations throughout our lives. Ethnic, religious and geographically-bounded identities are also entwined with food, evidenced in dietary customs and distinct eating cultures.

 

Food also matters in economic terms – it is one of the most significant elements of weekly household spending. Although the cost of per capita of food in the UK has declined markedly over last fifty years and in relative terms it has never been so cheap; however, this does not equate to fair access to good food or healthy eating. (The trend of ever cheaper food prices may also have come to an end and could go into rapid reverse.) While there is tremendous abundance and wide variety of food types available in stores all year round, evidence shows that many people in Britain do not eat well and some suffer serious health effects related to how they consume food. Current concerns over increasing obesity levels in the UK point to the fact that food is socially problematic and a political issue. The economic force of food has also wrought significant change in the everyday landscape of Britain, perhaps most evident on local high streets with the relentless shift to massive supermarkets and a proliferation of fast food chains; around 70% of grocery spending is conducted in the ‘big four’ supermarkets in the UK. The wholesale industrialization of our food production has also reconfigured supply chains, refashioned agricultural systems, altered farming practices, given rise to a hidden migrant labour force in the fields, modified nature and transmuted animals.

 

Food has a varied and particular spatiality – there are places to eat and places not to eat, spaces where food is grown and sites where it is processed and sold. Places in the domestic realm for example are often tightly demarked for the safe storage, preparation and appropriate consumption of food. (So eating dinner in bed can feel like an illicit act.) Food sites abound throughout affluent consumerist cityscapes with a varied choice of shops, markets, cafes, restaurants, takeaways, kiosks and vending machines, yet other parts of the same city can effectively be rendered ‘food deserts’ with little access and no choice. The cultural practices and people present in these different spaces of food consumption can also be stratified, segmented and self-selecting according to taste, income, social class, age, etc. There are also a wide range number places for production – multiple types and scales of farms, dairies, abattoirs, greenhouses, packing sheds, bakeries, food factories, cold stores and vast automated distribution centres of the supermarket chains. Many of these are banal food service spaces that operate out of sight and out of mind but are nonetheless crucial to feeding the country. 

 

Scholarly engagement with food cultures and practices across a range of spaces of consumption and production opens up intellectual avenues to discuss a diverse range of key social science concepts and consider significant public policy debates: for example, we will consider issues of gender, health, social equity, ethical consumerism, environmental sustainability and animal rights.

Aims

·         To build an empirical understanding of the significance of food consumption and aspects of agricultural production in contemporary society

·         To rigorously examine a range of the social and spatial relations around food and farming that are evident in the practices of everyday living

·         To critically engage with relevant theoretical ideas from human geography, sociology and rural studies relating to culture, meaning, identity and individual practices

·         To investigate the complex and contested ethical dilemmas, social inequalities, uncertainties and technological challenges in feeding over sixty-five million people in the UK

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit, you should be able to:

·         Show an awareness of the changing ways in which food is produced, processed, distributed, marketed, sold, consumed and wasted

·         Mobilise a range of cultural concepts to envision and explain the complex spatialities of food

·         Appreciate that the meanings of food in everyday life are differentiated and vary according to social class, age, income, lifestyle, and local tastes and national traditions

·         Illustrate your arguments with a rich array of case study materials drawn from everyday life, local contexts and personal experience

Syllabus

The course sessions focus primarily on a range of space relating food consumption and then on some aspects of food production. Broadly the course is designed to progress through increasing scales, moving the analytical focus from bodies up to cities, and nations, considering what we eat and why, and what goes to waste and what costs this has for society and environment. The discussion of food space and food stuff will typically be in the form of historical cultural-biography, often using range of media, and aims to build up a portfolio of knowledge by the end of the course.

 

Session Listing [draft TBC]:

 

 

Lectures

Seminars

1.

Introduction. Theorising Food

Food issue discussion

2.

Bodies & Obesity

Food issue discussion

3.

Fridges & ‘Fresh’ Food

Food issue discussion

4.

Kitchens & Gender

Food issue discussion

5.

Restaurants & Class

Coursework briefing

6.

<Study week>

<Study week>

7.

Supermarkets & Power

CW 1-2-1 drop-in surgery

8.

Cities & Access to Food

CW 1-2-1 drop-in surgery

9.

<Study week>

<Study week>

10.

Nations & Gastronomy

Food issue discussion

11.

Livestock & Vegetarianism

Mock exam

12.

Waste & Future Foods

Course wrap-up

 

Teaching and learning methods

The Geographies of Food and Farming course will be delivered primarily via lecture sessions with a variety of weekly short group presentations (such as ‘lightning talks’ on cultures of ethnic cuisine from across Manchester drawing on informal foodie fieldwork) and seminars for discussion of contemporary food issues. Sessions will enrol a range of resources including theoretical writing by geographers and other social scientists, contemporary news stories, television and radio documentaries, personal experiences, policy documents, NGO reports, corporate websites, maps, and government surveys and statistical data. Much of this material will be available online from the course blackboard page. Students will be expected to read every week, actively engage in classes and eat well throughout the course.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

During this course unit, you will be encouraged to develop the following abilities and skills:

·         Critical thinking and openness for self-reflection about your own relations to the food and the local foodscapes around you

·         Sophistication in library research, information handling and the gathering and judging of different kinds of evidence, including material from unconventional sources and the media

·         Enhanced capacities to evaluate the explanatory potential of contrasting theories and social science concepts

·         Confidence to structure and present materials in more creative and engaging ways

·         Motivation, energy and self-directed learning

Assessment methods

Geographies of Food and Farming will be assessed by a two-hour unseen exam paper (worth 66%) taken in May and a piece of coursework (34%) completed mid semester (submission date TBA). The coursework will take the form of an individually written 3,000 word illustrated essay that undertakes an analytical comparison of two different ethnic/geographic food cultures. The coursework will require skills in the evaluation and analysis of different kinds of evidence and drawing on personal experiences along with an ability to deploy appropriate conceptual ideas. A full briefing is provided.

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

·         face-to-face feedback through seminar discussion, lecture Q&A and interactive activities within lectures, after documentary films and lightning presentations;

·         verbal one-to-one feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours and via email to Martin Dodge;

·         extensive constructive written feedback on the coursework assignment and detailed comments on the voluntary mock exam;

Recommended reading

There is no single course text. Key readings for each lecture will be made available on the course blackboard page. A range of books relating to contemporary food cultures that will be useful during the course include:

 

o   Bell D, Valentine G, 1997. Consuming Geographies: We Are Where We Eat (Routledge, London)

o   Blythman J, 2006. Bad Food Britain (Fourth Estate, London)

o   Carolan M, 2012. The Sociology of Food and Agriculture (Routledge, London)

o   Lawrence F, 2008. Eat Your Heart Out (Penguin, London)

o   Sage C, 2012. Environment and Food (Routledge, London)

o   Steel C, 2008. Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives (Vintage, London)

o   Jensen D, Roy M (eds.), 2013. Food: An Atlas (Guerrilla Cartography); available from http://guerrillacartography.net/

 

Useful Online Resources:

o   The Food Programme, BBC Radio 4, www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnx3

o   Farming Today, BBC Radio 4, www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/farming

o   Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, UK Government, www.gov.uk/government/topics/food-and-farming

o   Food and Agricultural Organisation, UN, www.fao.org

 

Relevant Academic Journals:

o   British Food Journal

o   Progress in Human Geography (especially frequent reviews on food, consumption, agriculture, rurality)

o   Social and Cultural Geography

o   Journal of Rural Studies

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 0

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Martin Dodge Unit coordinator

Additional notes

You might like to do this course if you enjoyed the following:

o   Transport Geographies

o   Sustainable Consumption and Production

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