GEOG 430
Human Use of the Environment


"Why don't we pay more attention to who our farmers are? We would never be as careless choosing an auto mechanic or babysitter as we are about who grows our food." - Michael Pollan

How is our food produced, and how should it be produced for the well-being of humans and the environment? We've been circulating around the topics of food and agriculture during many of our discussions, and this week is our chance to dig in a little deeper. This week, we will consider the history of agricultural change, and take a close, critical look at corn, arguably the most dominant food crop in the United States. We will consider where it is grown and how, who grows it, for what purposes, and the impacts that corn production has on human and environmental health. We will also examine the "afterlife" of our food: as food waste.

As Wendell Berry famously wrote, "Eating is an agricultural act." (Click here if you'd like to know more). It is also a political, spiritual, ecological, cultural, economic, and moral act. As we go through the week, let's think carefully about the geography of the food we eat, from when it is first planted, and processed, and sold, and eaten... or thrown away.


You are still expected to include the full citations for these materials in your assignments, as detailed in our Quick Guide. You should look up the missing information not provided with the materials, which, if it is not to be found in the document or opening film credits, can easily be located through a quick online search.

Assignments due During Week 5:

  • Take the Week 5 Quiz.
  • Post your Q&R.
  • Respond to two classmate's Q&R.
  • Start writing your Current Event Essay #2 (it is due on Thursday of Week 6).

Material for Week 5:

  • Read the John McNeill reading on Land Use and Agriculture
  • Watch film: King Corn
  • Watch the Peter Lehner TEDxTalk on Cutting Food Waste

Week 5 Objectives:

  • Analyze the social, economic, and environmental impacts of agricultural change in the twentieth century and the visions of nature upon which modern agriculture relies.
  • Interpret the social and economic conditions that encourage or hinder transitions in farming systems.
  • Name the stages of industrial corn production and explain the impacts of this process on food systems, the environment, and human health.
  • Explain the causes and consequences of food waste and discuss some possible solutions for reducing waste in the commodity chain.

Let's dive in!