Consuming Capitalism (11-12)

We live today in a civilization that grows food in abundance, more food than has ever been produced in the history of the world.  Industrial agriculture has turned our farms into factories, while plant and animal breeders have used modern science to transform our crops and our livestock for maximal efficiency.  Nevertheless, hunger and malnourishment persist, even here in Los Angeles.  How is this possible?  To answer this baffling question, this course will introduce you to the many ways in which modern consumer capitalism shapes food today: how it’s produced, how it’s distributed, how it’s marketed, and how it’s prepared and consumed.  We’ll embark on a road trip into the heart of modern industrialized corporate agriculture, California’s San Joaquin Valley, where we’ll visit farms and ranches to better understand the political and economic dimensions of food production.  Across the diverse neighborhoods of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, we’ll experience a wide range of cuisines, visiting restaurants and markets to see how immigrant cultures have re-defined southern Californians’ culinary palates.  We’ll examine the psychology of taste, how we come to believe that one way of eating is preferable to another, and we’ll look at the methods the fast food industry uses to draw in its customers.  Finally, we’ll meet the activists who are tackling these challenges in creative and innovative ways; we’ll volunteer at LA Kitchen, an organization dedicated to using food waste to promote community-building, and we’ll examine unorthodox strategies for fighting hunger from crop gleaning to fallen fruit harvesting to dumpster diving.  Does food have the potential to spark revolutionary social change?  Or will our attempts at reform just enmesh us ever more deeply into the system of consumer capitalism?

Teddy Varno and William Perkins Tift

In the final days of the course, you will use what you’ve learned to prepare, serve, and curate a meal that expresses your views on these issues.