An Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Perspectives from Public Health

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Overview

A food system encompasses the activities, people and resources involved in getting food from field to plate. Along the way, it intersects with aspects of public health, equity and the environment. In this course, we will provide a brief introduction to the U.S. food system and how food production practices and what we choose to eat impacts the world in which we live. We will discuss some key historical and political factors that have helped shape the current food system and consider alternative approaches from farm to fork. The course will be led by a team of faculty and staff from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Guest lecturers will include experts from a variety of disciplines, including public health, policy and agriculture.

Syllabus

Is Climate Change Vindicating Malthus? Food Security and the Right to Food
-Welcome to our short course on the U.S. food system. In this first series of lectures, we dig into the very important concepts of food systems, food security and intergenerational equity and begin to explore what we eat, how that food is produced, and how our dietary choices impact our health and the health of the planet. This broad overview lecture lays the foundation for the rest of the course.

Food System Sustainability and Resilience
-This lesson expands on the concepts of food system sustainability and resilience, and describes strategies that could dramatically improve the food system and the ability of future generations to feed themselves.

Ecological Perspectives on Food Production
-The 1938 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture stated, “Essentially, all life depends upon the soil ... There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together”. In this module, we will take a very brief look at the importance of methods of food production for sustainability, resilience, food security and health.

Food Animal Production and Public Health
-We will now examine the livestock and seafood industries, which we have touched on in previous modules as a key driver of the global food system. As incomes rise around the world, so too does the global collective appetite for meat. Some of our greatest challenges and debates of the 21st century are rooted in the rising demand for animal protein in an era of dwindling resources and climate change. NOTE: This lecture refers to other lectures offered in this or related full for-credit courses at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Food and Farm Policy Perspectives
-In the next set of lectures, we begin to explore food and farm policy, a huge and complex topic. Roni Neff returns with an overview of the history and content of the current farm bill and why it really should be called a ‘food bill’, considering the magnitude of its impact on public health. Then Mark Winne will share his experiences as an advocate for community food security and regional food systems here in the U.S. For those of you interested in the international perspective of food policy, we have provided in the readings list a link to a terrific talk by Olivier deSchutter, the former UN special rapporteur on the Right to Food.

Improving Food Systems: Stories from the Field
-In this final module of the course you will hear from real people working to build a healthier, more sustainable food system. First, Michael Heller of Clagett Farm in Maryland will share his farming philosophy and how he links his farm to the local community near Washington DC. Then you’ll hear about Meatless Monday as an example of using health communication campaigns to change the food system from the demand-side. The optional Honors lesson includes two short films produced by CLF showcasing projects and people around the U.S. that are improving the food system from field to plate.

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