Delocalized Diets: Globalization, Food, and Culture

Mary L. Russell, Pierce College

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
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This page first made public: Oct 9, 2012


This assignment asks students to examine diets which have become delocalized as cultural groups have become less reliant upon their own local food production systems, and have instead come to rely upon food items grown and processed far from where a cultural group resides. This assignment addresses cultural sustainability by asking students to go beyond distinguishing between five subsistence strategies to examining the impact of globalization on diet and culture due to changes in traditional subsistence strategies, particularly in relation to what people eat and how they acquire their food.

Learning Goals

Outcome: As a result of completing this project students should be able to identify traditional subsistence strategies and to analyze the impact of globalization upon them, especially in relation to changes in diet and culture.

This assignment addresses cultural sustainability by asking students to go beyond distinguishing between five subsistence strategies (a disciplinary "big idea") to examining the impact of globalization on diet and culture (a sustainability "bid idea") due to changes in traditional subsistence strategies, particularly in relation to what people eat and how they acquire their food.

Context for Use

Introductory cultural anthropology courses conventionally include instruction about five subsistence strategies: hunting and gathering (foraging), pastoralism (herding), horticulture, agriculture, and industrialism. While teaching these strategies year after year, it has become apparent that most societies have been impacted by industrialism because of colonialism and globalization. That is, few societies continue to rely solely upon foraging, herding, horticulture, and agriculture. Colonialism resulted in changes to traditional subsistence strategies through the appropriation of land and the disruption of the pre-existing social order. Many indigenous populations began to produce cash crops for colonial powers. Globalization, even within the post-colonial context, has intensified not only the production of cash crops but also food processing throughout the world, including the United States. Thus, conventional instruction about traditional subsistence strategies tends toward the historical and can mislead students about contemporary world issues and their own situation in relation to global exchange networks.

Possible Use in Other Courses
This assignment could be modified for use beyond the introductory cultural anthropology course, to examine the impact of contemporary food production in courses that address history, health and wellness, and globalization. It could be completed in as little as one week to as long as several weeks, depending upon the overall course objectives. For an introductory anthropology course, it could be introduced early in the quarter and completed about two-thirds of the way into the quarter.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students join one of five teams, each focusing on one of the five subsistence strategies. In the team that focuses on hunting and gathering, each student selects a cultural group that traditionally used hunting and gathering as a subsistence strategy. Students are asked to describe the cultural group's traditional foods and social organization, as well as to identify the challenges that the group faces as a result of colonialism and globalization. The other teams (focusing on pastoralism, horticulture, and agriculture), follow the same research strategy. For the team that focuses on industrialism, each student selects one food item and researches the local culture and economy where the food item is produced outside the United States. Each student should write an individual annotated bibliography to document sources used in research and to present an overview of their findings. After each team member completes conducting the research, each team creates a poster in which the team members summarize their findings and then connect and illustrate the findings.

(For further details, please see the assignment description and evaluation criteria below.)

The Learning Activities

The following sequence of teaching-and-learning activities was used to lead up to the assignment:
  • Classroom lecture: subsistence strategies
  • Classroom activity: students are given seven cultural examples with which they are to practice identifying subsistence strategies, the division of labor, the production of cash crops, and technology required for each subsistence strategy
  • First small group discussion of assigned readings:
  • Articles about subsistence and ecology (Spradley and McCurdy, 2006)
  • Article about colonialism (Lapp King Corn" (Cheney and Ellis, 2008)
  • Second small group discussion of assigned reading:
  • Transcript of Amy Goodman interview of Michael Pollan about nutrition and the U.S. American diet (Goodman, 2008)
  • Review "Delocalized Diets" assignment description and create five teams, one for each subsistence strategy
  • Class members meet with librarian (during one class meeting) to identify possible sources and research strategies
  • Student teams assemble posters during two class meetings
  • Teams present posters to student audience, then post in classroom and each team members submits an annotated bibliography

Assignment Description (Microsoft Word 30kB Oct25 11)
Evaluation Criteria and Standards (Microsoft Word 51kB Oct25 11)
Peer Evaluation for Teamwork (Microsoft Word 38kB Oct25 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This assignment worked fairly well as initially conceived, although I would like to add a reflective component to the project the next time I assign it. The reflective component would probably take the form a brief writing assignment. I did encounter some problems with the assignment. First, as an expert in the field, I could readily identify applicable articles in Cultural Survival Quarterly (hereafter referred to CSQ), but as I watched the students during their library class meeting, most team members had difficulty identifying relevant articles (even when I placed specific issues of CSQ on their team's table). When encountering this challenge, students headed straight for the Internet and some of the sources they used were of questionable quality. For that reason, before I assign this project again next fall, I want to first create a list of applicable articles from CSQ for each subsistence strategy, thus limiting search time and increasing the probability that students will have a successful start to their research. A related problem was finding articles that addressed cultural examples of agriculture as a subsistence strategy. So, before I assign this project again, I also want to identify and list applicable articles from National Geographic so that students can more easily select a cultural group. While I usually encourage students to locate their own sources, for this project I'm more interested in them focusing on the content itself (identifying and comparing past and current subsistence strategies) rather than locating and evaluating sources.

Another issue that emerged is that first and second year college students need to learn skills of scholarship, such as how to create a poster, how to write APA citations, how to write annotated bibliographic entries, and how to work in teams. I did integrate some instruction related to developing these skills into classroom instruction, but I expect that students would benefit from having instruction sheets with examples, particularly in relation to creating academic posters and writing annotated bibliographic entries. I also plan to create a working archive of assignments from previous quarters that will help illustrate the kind (and quality) of coursework expected.

Finally, I realized as the project was underway, that it only partially addressed our own bioregion. In the future I might focus exclusively on delocalized diets as they relate to the Puget Sound region. Or, I could shift the local focus to include things other than food; for example, timber or other products that would illustrate the life cycle of a product (after watching "The Story of Stuff" (Priggen and Leonard, 2008), or after reading Stuff (Ryan and Durning, 1997), and/or after watching "Buyer Be Fair" (Jindrova and De Graff, 2006); this could facilitate a productive discussion about the cradle-to-cradle movement.

The assignment as it is currently conceived could be modified so that students examine not only dietary changes, but also how the dietary changes have impacted the overall health of local consumers. The assignment could be extended to also examine the socioeconomic relationships that exist (or not) between local food producers and consumers, as well as the possible impacts upon the local physical environment.

The assignment could be readily adapted to online instruction: online sources and examples could be posted and small group threaded discussions could be set up for the team work. Rather than creating posters, students could create PowerPoint presentations to post on the course web site for their classmates.


References and Resources

Cheney, I., and Ellis, C. (Producers), & Wolf, A. (Director). (2008) "King corn: You are what you eat". [Videodisc]. New York: Docurama Films, distributed by New Video.

Goodman, A. (2008, February 13). "In defense of food: author, journalist Michael Pollan on nutrition, food science and the American diet." [Interview Transcript]. Retrieved February 14, 2008, from Democracy Now! Web site:

Jindrova, H. (Producer), & De Graff, J. (Director). (2006) "Buyer be fair: The promise of product certification". [Videodisc] Oley, PA: Bullfrog Films.

Lapp. "The Story of Stuff". [Videodisc] Berkeley: Free Range Studios

Ryan, J., and Durning, A. (1997). Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things. Seattle: Northwest Environment Watch.

Spradley, J., and McCurdy, D. (2006) Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, 12/e, pp. 102 - 141. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Evergreen State College