Sociology 691 The Sociology of Nutrition is a “topics course.”  I am starting the paperwork to have it considered as a “regular course” with a unique course number.  The first thing that I must do is to provide a more appropriate course title. The appropriate title for this course is The Sociology of Food and Nutrition.

The sociology of food and nutrition is an online graduate seminar that provides an overview of the US food system. The course examines how social systems affect food production and consumption, how these systems affect the environment and human health, and how groups can affect and change food systems.


An Overview of the Sociology of Food and Nutrition

Sociology is based on the premise that human activities—including food production and consumption—are influenced by social groups and institutions, and therefore can be changed.  Sociology questions how and why social groups and institutions work the way they do.  The sociology of food and nutrition questions how and why social groups—families, institutions, governments—affect and are affected by systems of food production and consumption, how these systems affect the environment and human health, and how individuals working in groups can affect and change food systems.  Thus, the sociology of food and nutrition addresses how and why societies:


  • Organize agricultural production (sustainable v. industrial, organic v. natural, local v. global).
  • Manage the distribution, purchase, preparation, and consumption of food.
  • Balance social and scientific considerations in establishing standards for nutrient requirements and the nutrient content and quality of food, and in determining the effects of nutrients, foods, and diets on health.
  • Decide whether and how to improve the dietary intake of individuals and populations.
  • Work to change aspects of food systems and select particular methods, strategies, and tactics for doing so.


From this perspective, food becomes the lens through which to view the nature and values of increasingly global postmodern institutions.   If, as many believe, the goal of sociology is to describe human society so as to improve human welfare, the goal of food and nutrition sociology is to describe systems of food production and consumption in order to improve dietary intake, the environment, and human health.

Required Reading


Neff, R. (Ed.). (2015). Introduction to the US food system. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

The text that I selected for this seminar was created by the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University. This book is designed for food systems courses in several types of departments, including sociology. The chapters cover the core content of the food system. Each chapter is presented largely “unpacked” – with sufficient explanations to make it useful for those with little background in the food system. Each chapter also shares the complexities stimulating to those with more knowledge and experience

I am in the process of deciding which and how many of the book’s chapters students will be required to read for this course.


Introduction to the US Food System Public Health, Environment, and Equity Roni Neff, Editor Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Chapter 1 Food Systems


Chapter 2 Food System Public Health Effects

Chapter 3 Ecological Threats to and from Food

Chapter 4 The Food System and Health Inequities

Chapter 5 Public Health Implications of Household Food Insecurity

Chapter 6 Community Food Security


Chapter 7 Food System Economics

Chapter 8 Policies That Shape the US Food System

Chapter 9 Food, Culture, and Society

Chapter 10 Promotional Marketing: A Driver of the Modern Food System 237 Corinna Hawkes


Chapter 11 Crop Production and Food Systems

Chapter 12 Food Animal Production

Chapter 13 Food Processing and Packaging

Chapter 14 Food Distribution


Chapter 15 Food Consumption in the United States

Chapter 16 Nutrition

Chapter 17 Healthy Food Environments

Chapter 18 Intervening to Change Eating Patterns: How Can Individuals and Societies Effect Lasting Change through Their Eating Patterns?

Additional Reading

I think it is important for sociology graduate students to have some knowledge of the ecological approaches of the Chicago School and the systems approach of Parsons, therefore they will also have access to online readings on these topics.

Applied Sociology and Transferable Skills

Of course one of the most important aspects of this class is that while  it  will  meet the needs of  sociology graduate students who have selected the thesis option for the MS in Sociology, as well as those in related disciplines, the course has been developed to meet the specific needs of students who have chosen to complete the MS in Sociology through the online applied option (OAO).Therefore every student in the course should take the time to read about the Masters of Science in Sociology, the applied option and the OAO in order to understand the context in which this course was developed.


It is also appropriate to define the term applied sociology. Applied sociology can be broadly defined as the use of sociological methods and theories in work beyond academia. In this video Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos lists some of the many areas in which applied sociologists work. She describes the work as “eclectic and meaningful.”


Dr. Zevallos believes that few sociology graduate students recognize the many career paths that are open to them. This is because the positions open to them are seldom advertised as “sociologist wanted.”  However, job advertisements do list the skills and competencies that are required for positions and sociology graduate students will find that they have developed many of those skills during the course of earning their degree. These are transferable skills.

Examine the three lists of transferable skills associated with this seminar. They were taken from the websites of three different universities. You will see how much the lists overlap. Keep track of these lists and be mindful of these skills as we move through the course.

  1. Transferable Skills and Qualities
  2. An Incomplete List of Graduate Student Skills
  3. Partial List of Transferable Skills

Whatever your discipline, you can apply and make use of these skills in a number of different roles. With these skills in your possession, you are flexible and adaptable.

You will find strong writing and analytical skills on every transferable skills list. This course focuses on increasing your ability to write strongly and to think analytically while learning how sociology approaches the study of food and nutrition with an emphasis on the US food system.  The lists also include the development of technological skills. In this course you will increase the skill with which you use library databases and bibliographic management software. You will have the opportunity to examine and practice the skills that professionals bring to their use of social media. You will also have the opportunity to use screencasting software through which you can develop and demonstrate your oral presentation skills online.


Course Learning Objectives

“All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”

― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Everyone enters a graduate seminar with readymade opinions on many of the important issues. As an applied sociologist you will need the ability to provide clients and employers with opinions that are robust, sophisticated, and supported by evidence as well as by logic and argument.  Students who successfully complete this course will demonstrate that they can approach the issues and debates related to social inequalities with increased levels of skill in

  • Analytical thinking
  • Evaluative thinking
  • Creative thinking.


Students who successfully complete this course will also increase their ability to address the issues and debates with

  • Strong writing skills
  • Strong oral skills
  • 21st century technical proficiencies.



This seminar also requires a sociological imagination.

“…vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society. For that imagination is the capacity to shift from one perspective to another – from the political to the psychological; from examination of a single family to comparative assessment of the national budgets of the world; from the theological school to the military establishment; from considerations of an oil industry to studies of contemporary poetry. It is the capacity to range from the most impersonal and remote transformations to the most intimate features of the human self – and to see the relations between the two.” C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971/1959, p.12).


To have a sociological imagination, a person must be able to pull away from the situation and see it from an alternate perspective: a perspective that is at the intersection of biography and history. In his popular introductory textbook, You May Ask Yourself, Dalton Conley says that a successful sociologist makes the familiar strange.


A Successful Sociologist Makes the Familiar Strange


If you have no experience with making the familiar strange, you will derive great benefit from reading this selection which is from a classic work “Body Ritual among the Nacirema.”




This course is a seminar in the sense of a group of students who meet regularly to engage in discussion and to exchange ideas and findings. You must engage in student directed discussion.  I will function as your guide and if necessary your referee. I will also help you to stay on track.  Participants in this course will not be meeting in a conference room and sitting around a table talking in the traditional fashion of the graduate seminar. This seminar will be conducted entirely online.  Participants will not even be required to be online at the same time. However, this is not a self-paced course. Participants will not study in isolation from one another. On the contrary, those who enroll in this seminar will participate in a community.  The community is not defined by geographic location. The community is defined by its member’s commitment to achieving the shared goals discussed above.




While the online seminar environment offers flexibility in scheduling when and where you complete the required coursework, it also requires a greater time commitment than the traditional face-to-face (f2f) format. The interaction among participants that is required to create a community requires an additional commitment of time. A number of factors must be taken into account to determine the amount of time that a participant must commit to this course. This course is being designed for first and second year graduate students in sociology. The amount of reading required will be appropriate for students at that level and for the online environment. The time required to complete the reading will vary based upon individual reading speeds. Anything that affects reading speed impacts the amount of time required to successfully negotiate this course.

Writing speed must also be taken into account. How rapidly can you compose responses that you are willing to submit? There is no substitute for “time on task.” However, when writing to meet deadlines, there is an inevitable tradeoff between speed and quality. Keyboarding skills and speed are a distinguishable but related issue. If you type slowly, the amount of time that you must commit to this class will also increase. If reading, writing, or keyboarding speed is an issue for you, talk with me about it early in the semester. Please don’t drop hints and expect me to figure out the issue from them. For example, telling me that English is your second language does not tell me how rapidly you read or write in English. There are a number of other variables that play a role in how rapidly a person reads and writes in a second language and these must be taken into account. Be open. Be honest. Be direct.

Research indicates that the number one reason for a lack of success in the virtual learning environment is that students fall behind in the work required and are unable to catch up. There are two important reasons students fall behind in online courses. One reason is that they simply do not have a sufficient amount of time available in schedules that are already overcrowded and the other is that they do not manage their available time effectively.


You must decide if there is enough time in your schedule for this course. You must carefully weigh the factors that influence the amount of time that this course will require of you against the amount of time that you can devote to it. This may be the most important decision that you make about the course. The decision will reflect your ability to take the information that I provide about this course and apply it logically.  If you are looking for a course that requires a minimum amount of time simply to round out your course load, this is not the course for you. Time management only becomes an issue when you have enough time available in your schedule. You cannot manage time that you do not have.




If you have a sufficient amount of available time, then successfully negotiating this course requires that you have excellent time management skills. You must “hit the ground running.” Many VCU students know that professors tend to “take it easy” until the Add-Drop period is over and do not show up in class until the end of the second week of the semester. That is not a good strategy for success in this course. If you do not attend to this class during the first two weeks of the semester, you will find that you have fallen behind and you will struggle to catch up. Online communities are also time intensive for instructors. In order for me to meet my obligations, I must manage my time as efficiently as possible. This means that I am unable to accept late assignments. Life happens and I understand that more than most. In this course you have one “Life Happens” card to play. This card will allow you to turn in one assignment after the due date. You must play your card before an assignment is due. You cannot play your card on a group assignment. You only have one card. Play it wisely.


There are many web pages devoted to time management for online students. I have selected three resources for you to consider. A brief article from US News and World Report (Sheehy, 2012) a brief video from the same source (Haynie, 2014) and a research report (Roper, 2007). Please click on the hyperlinks below to read and to watch these resources and consider how you will manage your time in order to be successful in an online learning environment.

Haynie, D. (2014). Video: Online students share 4 time management tips U.S. News – Online Education, April 27, 2014. Retrieved from

Roper, A. R. (2007). How students develop online learning skills. EDUCASE Quarterly, January (1), April 27, 2014. Retrieved from

Sheehy, K. (2012). 4 time management tips for online students U.S. News – Online Education, April 27, 2014. Retrieved from


Once again, if you need assistance to make a decision, contact me before the semester starts or early in the semester. Communicating with me honestly and directly early in the semester will serve to reduce frustration and inappropriate communication later. 



This course is being developed to meet the needs of students who have chosen to complete the MS in sociology through the online applied option (OAO). These students are completing all of the coursework for an MS in sociology online. In an online course of study there is no “opting out” of using the required technology.  In order to be successful in this course you must have the basic skills required for online learning and you must embrace the opportunity to develop new technological skills and to improve your 21st century literacies.


In this course we start out on Blackboard to take attendance and to complete the first Physical and Technical Exercises (PT). Blackboard is also used to store grades. We will also use Facebook. We won’t become Facebook friends. However, we will have some discussions in a closed Facebook group. We will use library databases, bibliographic management software, WordPress, and screencasting software. The use of these “technologies” is required. You can expect to encounter technical issues. In online courses technical issues that interfere with the completion of course requirements must be resolved. Feel free to contact me when you encounter problems that interfere with getting the job done. At the very least, I can point you to the correct source of technical support.

Course Requirements

You can expect to complete:

  • 10 Physical/Technical Assignments
  • 10 Blogs written in a formal style, including in-text citations and reference lists
  • 10 Blog Discussions, including a reflection on your own blog and
  • 1 final project in the form of a screencast presentation.


The instructions for completing each of these assignments will available on the course website at the start of the semester. However, I will blog about each of these assignment types as I build the course site, so you can follow the development of the course here.


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