Bite Me: Consumption in U.S. Society: A Learning Community on the Ethics of Food, Clothing and Shelter Choices

Michael Hanson (Botany/Science) & Michael Meyer (English/Arts and Humanities)
Bellevue College


This is a 10-11 credit interdisciplinary, learning community composed of life science courses and English composition courses. The focus of the course is the ethics of food, clothing and shelter choices. We examine our behaviors, choices, responsibilities and the consequences of our actions to our communities, nation and the entire globe by examining ecosystem interconnections and how we, as humans, fit into these interconnections. We teach another learning community that follows this one: Bite Me 2.0: A Learning Community on Food Secuity and Sustainability, which is also in this course collection:

Course Size:

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory, interdisciplinary, learning community course with no prerequisites and does not serve as a prerequisite for other courses. All course options satisfy general education requirements and are transferable. Students can enroll in a lab science course and an English composition course (11 credits) or a non-lab science course and an English composition course or as a non-lab science course (10 credits). Students have the option of enrolling in one of four Science courses and one of six English courses.

Course Content:

The overarching goal of the course is to provide skills and space for the cultivation of self-learning and peer to peer dialogue and debate within a learning community. The course is rooted in seminar discussions around the primary texts, which are chosen for their relevance to the broad areas of sustainability: environmental justice, social justice and economic justice. Lecture consists primarily of implementing the biogeochemical cycles and symbiotic interactions as models of sustainability that we can use in developing sustainable, stable and equitable economic and social systems. Students are encouraged to contribute current news that is relevant to the course; this discussion is used as lecture material related to logic, beliefs and evidence-based analyses.

Course Goals:

In addition to the individual course outcomes we have the following learning community outcomes: The student will be able to:
  • Demonstrate, both verbally and in writing, how each human has an impact on sustainability.
  • Demonstrate the importance of using critical thinking and the scientific method to understand how human activities affect the limited resources of our planet.
  • Demonstrate the ability to differentiate their personal opinions and assumptions from the author's.
  • Practice teamwork and collaboration skills to explore ideas cooperatively, respect others' insights and opinions and develop areas of consensus and agreement.
  • Develop attitudes of responsibility for one's own learning.
  • Demonstrate skills for carrying on productive dialogue on controversial topics.
  • Demonstrate critical reading skills to be able to understand, compare and contrast, and evaluate the strength of an author's argument.

Course Features:

The course and instructors employ multiple teaching modes: lectures, discussions, seminars, experiential learning and movies/videos. Specific experiential and/or field learning assignments include:
  • Greenhouse journal: students plant, maintain and observe plants in the greenhouse. Activities are recorded throughout the quarter in a journal. The journal also includes an end-of-quarter reflection.
  • Agency site report: students visit a local nonprofit agency that provides services in an area relevant to the course work and write a formal report meeting provided objectives.
  • Nutrition analysis: students record all food intake for five consecutive days and input this data into a nutritional analysis program.
  • Consumption log: students record all purchases for 48 hours and produce a written reflection of the experience.
  • Ecological footprint: students use provided program to measure their impact on the global ecosystem. They also must trace the path of their garbage and sewage and the source of their water.
  • Buy-nothing day: students buy nothing for 24 hours and produce a written reflection of the experience.
  • Group project (for science-lab students): Each student group designs a campus-based program focused on sustainability. The culmination of the project is a group-written document and presentation to the whole class.
The course includes English composition. All composition students compile a portfolio over the quarter and submit it for grading at the end of the quarter. English 101 and 271 students compose four formal essays (3-5 pages) and English 201 students compose three (two 3-5 page papers and one 8-12 page research paper). All formal essays go through a peer-workshop and receive instructor feedback before the final portfolio is submitted. The types of papers typically range from personal narrative to synthesis and analysis. All students also write two seminar papers (500 words/paper) per week, and the mid-term and final exams are essay exams.

Course Philosophy:

The focus of this course is the impacts of lifestyle choices in regard to food, clothing and shelter. We will examine our behaviors, choices, responsibilities and the consequences of our actions to our communities, nation and the entire globe by investigating ecosystem interconnections. Through our readings and discussions, we will evaluate diverse opinions and values in order to scrutinize our own personal beliefs.


Writing skills: writing portfolios, seminar papers
Analytic reading skills: seminar papers, discussions, exams
Critical thinking skills: essays, seminar papers, exams, greenhouse journal
Collaboration skills: labs, greenhouse journals, group projects, meal planning, study & writing groups


Bite Me: Consumption in U.S. Society Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 696kB Dec29 11)

References and Notes:

Jones E. The Better World Shopping Guide: Every Dollar Makes a Difference. 2nd ed. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society; 2008.

McKibben B. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. New York: Henry Holt; 2010.

Hogan L. Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World. New York: W.W. Norton; 1995.

Pollan M. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin Press; 2006.

Patel R. Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy. New York: Picador; 2010.

Yes! Magazine: 4 issues/quarter

HOME. 2009. Yann Arthus-Bertrand (dir.).
The Future of Food. 2004. Deborah Koons Garcia (dir.).
Blue Vinyl. 2002. Daniel B. Gold and Judith Helfand (dir.).
The Persuaders. 9 November 2003. Frontline - Barak Goodman and Rachel Dretzin (dir.).
Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai. 2008. Lisa Merton and Alan Dater (dir.).