The Course

Original syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 232kB Jul15 08)

Revised syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 260kB Aug1 08)

The "Slow Food" syllabus was revised in Fall 2007 to include more science content and a greater attention to ecological questions.

Course Design

This course was offered as one of the First Year Initiative (FYI) courses at Beloit College. Beloit College is a 1250 student, residential, liberal arts college in Southern Wisconsin. Almost all of the students are traditional college age and approximately 10% are international.

All first year students who come to Beloit College select seminars but not instructors. The FYI is graded A, B, C, no credit. Seminars are limited to 17 students with one undergraduate teaching assistant. The non-disciplinary FYI seminars meet intensively during orientation week and then for 2 hours twice a week as a 4 credit hour regular course. The emphasis of the FYI seminars is on adjustment to college and development of college learning skills, including reading, writing, presentation and critical thinking. The instructor also serves as the academic advisor for the students during their first 3 semesters at Beloit College.


The small class size and the clear process goals facilitate the use of discussion, active learning pedagogies and student directed inquiry. From the collaborative construction of the Farmer's Market questionnaire and its analysis, to the final research project on global hunger, students spend at least one of every two class hours working in small groups with the teaching assistant and the instructor. The class also planned two Farmer's Market meals, shopped for ingredients, developed work plans, and cooked meals at the instructor's home.

In 2005, the common reading for the all the FYI seminars was The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. This was a great complement to the Slow Food course. In fall 2007, when this course will be taught again, the common reading is The Devil in the White City byErik Larsen. While this book doesn't fit as well with the themes of slow food, it will complement the discussion of how the food system and the pubic health infrastructure have changed since 1893. In 1900 in the U.S., for example, 165 babies in 1000 died in their first year. In 2005 in the US, this rate was 6 per 1000. Only the countries of Afghanistan and Sierra Leone have rates of 165 per 1000 now.

Pedagogical Methodologies

Farmer's Market survey and poster presentation

Questionnaire for survey (Acrobat (PDF) 120kB Jul15 08)

Farmer at Market

As a group, students develop a questionnaire to understand the use of the Beloit Farmer's Market. Surveys are based upon ideas from the course readings. Each student is responsible for being present at the Farmer's Market on a specific date for 2 hours to conduct interviews.

Students enter data from surveys into the computer database. Class time is utilized to learn how to make graphs from our data and to interpret them. For this assignment, students choose a set of questions from the surveys to analyze, develop a hypothesis and test it with their data. Reports are written as laboratory reports with an introduction, a description of methods and the population surveyed, a presentation of data and interpretation.

Posters are then created to display findings in a clear and concise manner so that others will understand the methods and data presented.

Slow food: Exploring global hunger

The course focuses on problems of food insecurity in the city of Beloit and the larger phenomenon of first world hunger. We examine how cheap food is calorie dense food and how there can be the strange relationship between poverty and obesity. We spend the last part of the semester exploring the nature of hunger both in the US and in other parts of the world, and exploring how individuals and groups respond to hunger.

Michael Banda from UNICEF speaks with students about the impact of hunger in sub-Saharan Africa. To prepare for his visit, students explore the nature of hunger in a different country. The Food and Agriculture Organization publishes nutritional profiles of many countries around the world, and students are referred to this resource in order to write a two page profile of the nature of hunger and food security in their chosen country.

FAO Nutritional Profiles

Farmer with Tent at Market

Supporting good food: The philanthropy challenge

In this exercise, the students use a hypothetical, professional situation to demonstrate competency in course subjects. The scenario for the hypothetical presentation is as follows:

"You have recently been asked by a small foundation that knows about your interests in food, environmental sustainability, and prevention of hunger to prepare a list of organizations that they can support in order to help the environment and to improve access to good food. They have become confused about the role of local foods, affordable foods, and food for the world. They would like your advice on a focus to develop; they will be giving annual donations of $5000 for a 5 year period and would like to make a difference.

Your task is to find 3 organizations that they could support, and to justify your choices. Develop a framework that identifies one area for intervention. You can choose projects that support local farmers, sustainable agriculture, the education of taste, programs like Caritas in Beloit or Second Harvest that fight hunger, or international organizations like Heifer International or Oxfam that aim to reduce hunger and build self-sufficiency. For the projects that you have selected, identify their mission and goals and why you think these are important to support. Use science and social science research, government documents and journalistic reports to develop your arguments."