Food and the Future Environment

Section 1: Introduction


Section 1: Introduction

The first section of the course presents an introduction to the course content as well as some fundamental ideas that help you to understand food systems, their impacts on earth surface processes, their history, and their emergence as one of the dominant interactions between humanity and the environment. Module 1 introduces the food system concept and the nature of coupling between human society and natural systems in food production and consumption. We also emphasize the multiple disciplines of natural and social sciences needed to understand food systems. Then, Module 2 addresses the history and emergence of food systems, in examples such as the domestication of crops, a step in human history which is quintessentially both human and natural. Module 3 introduces the important subject of human nutrition with a food systems background, and in this final module of the section, you will learn the basic requirements for healthy nutrition, as well as current and emerging challenges for human nutrition in food systems.


  • Module 1: Introduction
  • Capstone Project Overview
  • Module 2: History of Food Systems
  • Module 3: Diet and Nutrition
  • Capstone Project Stage 1

Section Goals

Upon completion of Section 1 students will be able to:

  • Identify natural and human subsystem components within a food systems framework.
  • Describe the concept of the Anthropocene and the history of human-natural food systems and explain several examples of the impacts of humans on the earth system as part of food systems.
  • Employ a coupled-human natural systems framework to assemble and diagram basic relationships within examples of coupled natural-human food systems components.
  • Combine the above abilities to initiate an original, group-authored analysis of a food system within a world region to evaluate linkages, critique the sustainability, and propose solutions for this food system and its components (the course capstone project).
  • Describe the basic elements of a healthy diet from a scientific standpoint.
  • Describe current major nutrition challenges and their immediate causes, such as nutrient deficiencies and calorie over-consumption.
  • Relate current major nutrition challenges to social factors such as food access and changing diets in modern food systems.

Section Objectives

In order to reach these goals, we have established the following objectives for student learning. Upon completion of the modules within Section 1, you will be able to:

  • Construct a concept map representing an example food system.
  • Identify human and natural component parts of food systems.
  • Apply systems thinking strategies in analyzing food systems at an elementary level, including assessing relationships between natural and human system factors that display key functions and characteristics of food systems.
  • Identify sustainable and unsustainable characteristics of food systems.
  • Identify component parts of food systems that embody natural vs. human subsystems, and production, transportation, and consumption function of food systems.
  • Describe the major features of hunter-gatherers’ use of food and the environment.
  • Define and describe the domestication of plants and animals in early agriculture.
  • Define and give examples of spatial diffusion, adaptation, niche construction, and carrying capacity in environment-food systems.
  • Define and describe each of the four (4) principal historical-geographic periods of environment-food systems.
  • Give examples of early domesticated plants and animals and their region of domestication.
  • Within a Coupled Human-Natural Systems framework, relate fundamental drivers and feedbacks in natural and human systems over prehistoric and historical time to the development and spread of agriculture and other changes in food systems over time.
  • Relate the origins and current dominance of agriculture to the concept of the Anthropocene period presented in module one.
  • Describe the basic categories of nutrients and how these contribute to human function and health.
  • Describe the major changes taking place in diet/nutrition in rich and poor countries, respectively.
  • Define the concept of food access and the term "food desert" as contrasted to the broader concepts of food security and food insecurity.
  • Understand changes in thinking around healthy nutrition and basic principles that have remained.
  • Use an online nutrition tool to analyze and compare diets and areas in which they are deficient or excessive in nutrients.
  • Analyze why food access is an issue in modern food systems.
  • Use a mapping tool to analyze and compare the situation of food access in cities.