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Viewing: URBS 248 O: The Urban Food Chain

Last approved: Fri, 13 Mar 2020 18:43:29 GMT

Last edit: Mon, 17 Feb 2020 14:46:10 GMT

First Name Last Name Userid Title Home School Org Short Name
Domenic Vitiello vitiello Associate Professor Weitzman School of Design City and Regional Planning & Urban Studies
Fall 2020 (Non-Substantive Changes ONLY)
Spring 2019
The Urban Food Chain
This class explores the social, economic, ecological, and cultural dynamics of metropolitan and community food systems in U.S. cities. Field trips and assignments immerse students in various forms of experiential learning – including farming and gardening, cooking, eating, and more. After a broad introduction to global, regional, and urban food systems in our first three weeks, across most of the semester we follow the food chain (or cycle), from production to processing, distribution, cooking, consumption, and waste. Specific topics include urban agriculture, community kitchens, grocery, hunger and food assistance, restaurants, neighborhoods, food cultures, food justice, and community food security. Students will gain broad literacies in: metropolitan and neighborhood food environments; food production, processing, distribution, access, and preparation; and the relationships between food, culture, and society. Students taking this class should be open to trying new things, getting hands dirty, and working with others in various settings and activities.
Every Other Term

Sector Requirements

Your department or program fields a variety of courses to meet distinct educational needs. Please explain how this course fits into your department's plan for participating in the general education curriculum of the College. The sector panel will want to know what is distinctive about this course along with the other courses your department lists in the sector that makes them suitable for the sector requirement.
As the Humanities and Social Sciences sector definition indicates, this course offers a diverse set of approaches to a single issue or topic - the culture, production, impacts on society of food in urban context. It takes in multiple disciplinary perspectives, including history, social science, anthropology, planning/policy. Students engage directly with the field through trips to urban gardens and food production settings, where they have to "get their hands dirty." THis fits the Sector IV definition in that there is engagement with the world outside of the classroom with a goal of making students aware of policy issues and corporate practices that limit food access and exacerbate inequality. Happy to provide further explanation outside of this box.
Course usually offered in Fall term
Humanities & Social Science Sector
Domenic Vitiello
Standing Faculty
Standing Faculty
As the one URBS course introducing students to diverse dimensions of the food system, The Urban Food Chain complements courses related to environment, health, and community development.
As an interdisciplinary course building students' broad literacies and introducing them to various social, economic, cultural, ecological, and other dimensions of cities and the food system, and of urban studies as a field, it may serve as a gateway course for the major and minor.
Many URBS students over the past 20 years have written senior theses on food, agriculture, and hunger. This course will help prepare those students with a more complete and systematic background in urban and community food systems (something most of those students have lacked).
As noted above and in the syllabus, I aim to introduce students to diverse modes of inquiry and analysis, building ecological/environmental, social, cultural, and economic literacies in urban studies, through exploring different parts of the "food chain" or food system. As in other URBS classes, I am dedicated to fostering an environment in which students engage in various types of experiential learning. Teaching about food enables us to engage all of people's senses - in gardens and farms, different sorts of kitchens, neighborhoods, and other settings. While Penn does not have a Food Studies major or minor, I also hope that this class can serve students centrally interested in that field as they craft and pursue their own course of study across programs like URBS, Health & Societies, Anthropology, Nutrition, and other majors and minors with relevant content.

Methods of Assessment

Four papers (first three are individual papers)
1: ~500 words
2: ~2000 words
3: ~2000 words
4: group project paper ~12-15 pages
In the future, I plan to expand the paper assignments a bit, and perhaps do away with the group project (replacing it with a paper on part 4 of the course).
All paper/project assignments involved experiential learning and/or community-based research. The first paper required procuring and preparing a meal (in groups, but with each student responsible for one dish). The second paper required volunteering at a community garden or urban farm. The third paper required volunteering at a soup kitchen or food cupboard, or visiting and analyzing different types of food retail. The group project, which students designed in consultation with the instructor, mostly involved research on restaurants, coffee shops, or food trucks.

Sector I - Society


Sector II - History and Tradition


Sector III - Arts & Letters


Sector IV - Humanities and Social Science

We read about (and sometimes watch films that cover) theories of agroecology, "civic ecology," community and economic development, cultural anthropology, economics (e.g., public goods, global and regional economic geography), food justice and sovereignty, food security and community food security, public health and nutrition (including ecological models of health), among others. The readings themselves relate these theories to social and cultural practices (e.g., growing and cooking culturally significant crops), to public and private interventions (e.g., policies and programs for healthier foods in grocery stores), and to our analysis at the scales of the region, city, neighborhood, community, and individual institutions we visit (e.g., comparing the different roles of community kitchens, business incubator kitchens, and the Free Library's Culinary Literacy Center). Students reflect on theories and relate them to specific practices/examples in their papers.
Most weeks of the semester, we take field trips to actively engage students in experiencing different practices - seed saving, taking care of crops, harvesting/gleaning, processing (crabapple jelly last year), and so on down the food chain. As noted above, students also complete out-of-classroom activities - one for each paper; and the papers and our class discussions allow students the opportunity to reflect on practice across the term.
The readings come from a wide variety of fields - agricultural and environmental science, nutrition and public health, anthropology and cultural studies, sociology and urban social history, urban planning and community economic development, and more. (Please see the list of readings on the syllabus.) Our guests and hosts for field trips range from farmers and gardeners, to economic development and anti-hunger professionals, to chefs, restauranteurs, and librarians, among others. Our class discussions focus mainly on modes of inquiry central to sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, and the interdisciplinary field of food studies. The instructor is trained as a social historian (PhD) and urban planner in community and economic development (MCP).
While certainly some of the course readings reflect "creative practice in writing" (and I could write at length about some food production and preparation as an "art"), the creative practices we explore in this course are a bit different from the scope of this question. We explore and critically analyze diverse creative practices of food production, processing, preparation, consumption, etc. in larger social, cultural, environmental, economic, and spatial contexts. From our first assignment in which students cook dishes meant to reflect as much as possible (alternately) industrial, organic, local, DIY, and fair/just food systems - to our visits to some of the most creative (and beautiful) gardens and farms in the region - and so on across the semester, we explore in critical fashion, and often engage directly in, a wide variety of creative practices.

Sector V - Living World


Sector VI - Physical World


Sector VII - Natural Sciences and Mathematics


Administrative Field

College Humanities and Social Science Panel
Molly Mcglone (mmcglone) (Thu, 13 Feb 2020 16:02:59 GMT): Rollback: Dear Elaine, can you please hit the blue "edit" button and add a few sentences for the endorser justification? Let me know if you have questions. Thanks, Molly
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