Urban Food Systems Seminar — Spring 2020
This course investigates urban food systems and their often contradictory objectives of
nourishment, productivity, sustainability, and equity. Using NYC as a springboard, we will
examine the relationship between the city’s historical and contemporary food flows,
infrastructures, and agents—from Kings County intensive market gardens to today’s
agri-tech visions, from centralized public markets to the Hunts Point Terminal Market, and
from animal industry recycling systems to curbside composting. The vast transformations
over the past century accentuate the city’s interconnections within the broader region and
globe, as well as the often overlooked role of urban planning and architecture in the
industrialization of our current food system. We will disentangle and critically analyze these
interrelationships, across scales from our gut microbes to global trade and climate change.
Today, food is increasingly recognized as an integrated system that engages social,
environmental, and economic realms. Counter movements, from local and slow food to food
sovereignty and justice, reflect the diversity of values found within food systems. We will
analyze these alternatives, and as a community investigate the opportunities that designers
and planners might have to construct better policies and practices aimed at building more
vibrant and equitable communities. Drawing from a range of disciplines, we will read
primary sources, as well as secondary literature concentrating on urban, architectural, and
environmental history, political theory, and social science perspectives.
● Build an in-depth understanding of urban food systems, and how they are connected
to broader urban, environmental, and sustainability discourses
● Critically discuss and write about the implications of these theories for design and
● Evaluate multiple perspectives on complex issues
● Develop a personal understanding of ideas and concepts by integrating them into
students’ own experiences and knowledge
● Refine topic-based research skills
Wk 1: What do Urban Food Systems Encompass?
An introduction to urban food networks and global supply chains. Interrogating rural/urban,
local/global, small-scale/agri-business divides as a prompt to examine urban food network’s
interrelationships across space and time.
Wk 2: Challenges of Food System Metrics
From meatless burgers to grass fed beef: Unpacking common misconceptions of
agricultural “sustainability,” and analyzing limitations of metrics and footprinting tools.
Developing a framework for situating multiple perspectives, and recognizing the agency
across various human and non-human actors.
● Freidberg, S. “Wicked Nutrition: The Controversial Greening of Official Dietary
Guidance.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies 16, no. 2 (January
2016): 69–80. https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2016.16.2.69.
● Bennett, Jane. “Edible Matter” in Vibrant Matter: a Political Ecology of Things .
Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
● Rozin, Paul, "Food Is Fundamental, Fun, Frightening, and Far-Reaching." Social
Research 66, no. 1 (1999): 9-30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40971298.
● Foer, Jonathan Safran. We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019.
Wk 3: Foodsheds and Industrialized Agriculture
The sanitary city and urban renewal reforms impacts on food systems. Farms and supply
chains after WWI and II and the rise of industrial agriculture. Patterns of transformation in
retail with the introduction of mass-produced food to cities.
● DuPuis, E. Melanie. Nature's Perfect Food , New York University Press, 2002.
● Linder, Marc, and Lawrence Zacharias. Of Cabbages and Kings County: Agriculture
and the Formation of Modern Brooklyn . IA City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1999.
● Deborah Fitzgerald, Introduction and chapter 4 from Every Farm a Factory: The
Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture : New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
● Berry, Wendell, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture : Counterpoint,
● Patel, Raj. Stuffed and Starved: the Hidden Battle for the World Food System.
Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Pub., 2012.
Wk 4: Animals in the City
How the production and management of meat established urban planning, and the
urban-rural linkages of the meat packing industry. On non-human agency and the inclusion
of animals in urban history and contemporary discourse.
● Cronon, William. Chapter 5, "Annihilating Space: Meat" in Nature's Metropolis:
Chicago and the Great West . New York: Norton, 1991.
● Brantz, "Recollecting the Slaughterhouse" Cabinet Magazine Issue 4 "Animals", Fall
● Brinkley, Catherine, and Domenic Vitiello. “From Farm to Nuisance: Animal
Agriculture and the Rise of Planning Regulation.” Journal of planning history vol.
13,2 (2014): 113-135. doi:10.1177/1538513213507542
● Elton, Sarah. “Posthumanism Invited to Dinner: Exploring the Potential of a
More-Than-Human Perspective in Food Studies.” Gastronomica: The Journal of
Critical Food Studies 19, no. 2 (January 2019): 6–15.
Wk 5: Farm-Utopian Cities
From Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities to Archigram’s utopias, historical precedents and
contemporary challenges faced by designers engaging with food system.
● TenHoor, Meredith, “The Architect’s Farm” in Above the Pavement the Farm:
Agriculture and Architecture at Public Farm 1. New York: Princeton Architectural
● Howard, Ebenezer. Garden Cities of to-Morrow . S. Sonnenschein & Co. 1902.
● Hayden, Dolores. Seven American Utopias: The Architecture of Communitarian
Socialism, 1790-1975. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1976.
● Steel, Carolyn. Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives . London: Vintage Books,
● Waldheim, Charles, “Notes Toward a History of Agrarian Urbanism” excerpted from
Bracket 1: On Farming , edited by Mason White and Maya Przybylski, 2010.
Wk 6: Infrastructures of Logistics and Consumption
Analysis of the material flows and infrastructural clusters that make viable NYC’s highly
complex distribution network, climate change risks, strategies for scaling regional networks
● DeWalter, P. Hedden. How Great Cities Are Fed , English. (Boston, New York [etc.]):
D.C. Heath and Company, 1929.
● New York Market Commission, and Cyrus Chace Miller. Report of the mayor's
Market commission of New York city [New York, J.J. Little & Ives co, 1913]
● Imbruce, Valerie. From Farm to Canal Street: Chinatowns Alternative Food Network
in the Global Marketplace . Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015.
● Donofrio, Gregory Alexander. "Feeding the City." Gastronomica: The Journal of
Critical Food Studies , Vol. 7 No. 4, Fall 2007; (pp. 30-41) DOI:
Wk 7: Food Policy Downstream and Upstream
Analyzing NYC’s evolving food policy aims, and the intersections with wider social,
economic, and environmental goals, from local to regional food system thinking.
● Freudenberg, N., Willingham, C., & Cohen, N. “The Role of Metrics in Food Policy:
Lessons from a Decade of Experience in New York City.” J ournal of Agriculture,
Food Systems, and Community Development , 2018, 8(B), 191-209.
● Vitiello, Domenic, and Catherine Brinkley. “The Hidden History of Food System
Planning.” Journal of Planning History 13, no. 2 (October 2013): 91–112.
● Schwartz, M. “Moving beyond the debate over restricting sugary drinks in the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” American Journal of Preventive
Medicine , 2017, 52(2S2): S199-S205.
● “Growing Food Equity in New York City” A City Council Agenda, August 2019
Wk 8: What Does Equitable Food Access Look Like?
Rethinking and reframing “food deserts” and the obesity epidemic. A review of historical and
contemporary policies aimed at improving food access in low-income communities
● Guthman, Julie. Weighing in: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism .
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2012.
● Raja, S., Ma, C., & Yadav, P. “Beyond food deserts measuring and mapping racial
disparities in neighborhood food environments,” 2018, Journal of Planning Education
and Research , 27 (4), 469-482.
● Lo, Joann, and Biko Koenig. “Food Workers and Consumers Organizing Together for
Food Justice.” New Food Activism , 2017.
Wk 9: Just Food
Exploring the values and visions set forth by a range of alternative food movements. From
consumer based advocacy to organizing across the food chain with a focus on labor.
Analyzing how intersectionalities of race, class, gender, and citizenship inform systemic
structural inequities in the food system and within counter movements.
● A.H. Alkon & J. Agyeman, Cultivating Food Justice: Race, class, and sustainability ,
Introduction, 2011 Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
● Reynolds, Kristin, and Nevin Cohen. Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social
Justice Activism in New York City . Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2016.
● Holt-Giménez, Eric. 2011. Food security, food justice, or food sovereignty? Crises,
food movements, and regime change. In Cultivating food justice: race, class, and
sustainability , edited by A. H. Alkon and J. Agyeman, pp. 309-330. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press.
● Shepard, Cassim, and Rosalie Genevro. Citymakers: the Culture and Craft of
Practical Urbanism. New York, NY: The Monacelli Press, in association with the
Architectural League of New York, 2017.
Wk 10: Potential Field Trip to East New York Farms (ENYF!)
How has urban agriculture interacted with housing policy and rezoning processes over
time? Challenges of non-profit urban agriculture models. How the benefits of urban
agriculture sometimes obscure structural inequities.
● Reynolds, Kristin, “Designing urban agriculture education for social justice: Radical
innovation through Farm School NYC,” International Journal of Food Design , Vol. 2
No. 1, 2017.
● Amy Laura Cahn and Paula Z. Segal , You Can’t Common What You Can’t See , 1
Fordham Urb. L.J. 43 (2016), https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ulj/vol43/iss2/1/ .
Wk 11: Organic Flows and Nutrient Cycling
Evolving organic waste policies and technological development amidst broader waste
management initiatives, expanding the idea of waste along the food chain. Individual
behavior versus institutional reform.
● Barnhill, Anne, Mark Budolfson, Tyler Doggett, Erich Hatala Matthes, and Jacelyn
Hatala Matthes. "The Clean Plate Club? Food Waste and Individual Responsibility."
In The Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics. : Oxford University Press, 2018-03-29.
● Blake, Megan. “The Multiple Ontologies of Surplus Food.” EuropeNow , Special
Feature Confronting Waste, (2019).
● Davies, Anna, and David Evans. “Urban Food Sharing: Emerging Geographies of
Production, Consumption and Exchange.” Geoforum 99 (2019): 154–59.
● MacBride, Samantha. Recycling Reconsidered: the Present Failure and Future
Promise of Environmental Action in the United States. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
Wk 12: Potential Field Trip to NYC Compost Project: Governor’s Island or Freshkills
Tour of windrows facilities and infrastructures, discussion of citizen participation models,
ecologies of compost
Wk 13: Climate Uncertainties
Dominant narratives of the future of food, climate change challenges across the food web,
adaptation versus mitigation
● Sampson, Devon. “Productivism, Agroecology, and the Challenge of Feeding
the World.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies 18, no. 4
(January 2018): 41–53. https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2018.18.4.41.
● Wolfe, David W., Arthur T. Degaetano, Gregory M. Peck, Mary Carey, Lewis
H. Ziska, John Lea-Cox, Armen R. Kemanian, Michael P. Hoffmann, and
David Y. Hollinger. “Unique Challenges and Opportunities for Northeastern
US Crop Production in a Changing Climate.” Climatic Change 146, no. 1-2
(2017): 231–45. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-017-2109-7 .
● Mann, Charles C. The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists
and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrows World. New York: Vintage
Wk 14: Alternative Food Visions and Concepts, from Silicon Valley to Ag Extensions
Potential for agro-ecological/diversified farming and interconnections with urban policy, the
role of emerging technology.
● Patel, Raj and Goodmann, Jim, “A Green New Deal for Agriculture,” Jacobin ,
● Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the
Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press,
Wk 15: What Might a Better Food System Look, Feel, and Taste Like
Final presentations. Development of a planning or design tool that engages multiple scales,
practically or conceptually
Urban Food Systems Seminar — Spring 2020