Food, Health, and Sustainability

Fall 2020
Winter 2021
Spring 2021
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 50
12 16 Credits per quarter
Log in to add this offering to your saved list.
Taught by

What should we eat? What is the link between diet and health and the immune system? How is our food quality shaped by our agricultural practices? How sustainable is our food system?

This program will take a scientific approach to food and cooking and its impact on health. Throughout history, food and cooking have not only been essential for human sustenance, but have played a central role in the economic and cultural life of civilizations. This interdisciplinary exploration of food will take a broad ecological systems approach as it examines the biology and chemistry of food, while also incorporating political, historical, and anthropological perspectives. The topics will span a broad range of scale, from ecological agriculture to molecular structure, including sustainable production, the coevolution of humans and food, the connection between food and medicine, as well as the transformation of food through the processes of cooking and fermentation. Students will directly apply major concepts learned in lectures to experiments, beginning in our own kitchens, with the possibility of laboratory work later in the academic year. Field trips will provide opportunities for observing food production and processing in the local community, although direct contact may be replaced by video experiences. Program themes will be reinforced in problem-solving workshop sessions and seminar discussions focused on topics addressed by such authors as Michael Pollan, Harold McGee, Gary Paul Nabhan, Sidney Mintz, and Sandor Katz.

In fall quarter (16 credits) we will introduce the concept of food systems and the impact of COVID-19, as well as analyze food quality resulting from conventional and sustainable agriculture. In our own homes, we will examine the botany of vegetables, fruits, seed grains, and legumes that constitute most of the global food supply. In parallel, we will study the genetic principles of plant and animal breeding and the role of evolution in the selection of plant and animal species used as food by different human populations. We will consider concepts in molecular biology that will allow us to understand and assess genetically modified crops.

In winter quarter (16 credits) we shift our attention to cooking and nutrition. We will explore the biochemistry of food, beginning with basic chemical concepts, before moving on to the structure of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. We will study meat, milk, eggs, vegetables and cereal doughs, and examine what happens at a biochemical level during the process of cooking and baking. We will explore how our bodies digest and recover nutrients, and consider the physiological roles of vitamins and antioxidants, as well as the complex relationship between diet, disease, and genetics. Finally, we will study the physiology of taste and smell, critical for the appreciation of food.

In spring quarter (12 credits) we will be examining the relationship between food and microbes from several different perspectives. We will produce specific fermented foods, while studying the underlying biochemical reactions. We will also consider topics in microbiology as they relate to food safety and food preservation, and focus on the human microbiome, including specific interactions between particular microbes and the human immune system.

To successfully participate in remote learning, students will need access to Zoom, access to Canvas, use of a kitchen, ability to obtain common vegetables (though a store or food bank), ability to send a receive mail via USPS, ability to check email and Canvas once daily. Students should expect 14 hours of synchronous work each week using Zoom and Canvas. Students will have access to alternatives to synchronous participation if conditions require.


Fall 2020 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 10020
Winter 2021 Registration

Signature Required

One quarter of college-level biology with lab

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 20006
Spring 2021 Registration

Signature Required

Two quarters of college-level biology with lab

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (12): 30005

Academic details

Preparatory for studies and careers in

biological sciences, including ecological agriculture, genetics, biochemistry, nutrition, microbiology, and agriculture and food policy

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$100 in fall and $275 in winter and spring for conference registration and food supplies for cooking experiments and tastings


In Person or Remote
Remote (F)
Remote (W)
Remote (S)
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting



Date Revision
2020-11-04 Spring required fee reduced to $275 (was $350)
2020-11-04 Spring quarter of this program is now 12 credits (was 16)