Biology Lab

Food, Society and Sustainability

This Forum uses food as a vehicle to explore grand questions such as what it means to be human and how our humanity depends upon and can be freed from our biology. The Forum also examines the role of food as a cultural artifact, as a political and military tool, and as a semi-natural phenomenon that has contributed to the greatest change on the Earth’s surface since the ice ages.Of the necessities that sustain us, food plays a central, and special, role. Food is something we both grow and create, something we consume and reflect upon. Food is central to our cultural and physiological metabolisms, something that both ties us to the natural world and that represents our identities as cultural creatures who, alone among organisms, use accumulated knowledge to create the art and technic of our lives. Food is a tool used by governments to manipulate and control the governed. An offering of food is sign of peace, affection or reverence, while withholding of food is an act of violence or war. Food, more than any other part of human life, bridges together our evolutionary past, our social present, and our cultural future. Because of food’s intimate link to the bio-geophysical world, and the strong relationships among production and consumption practices and long-term human survival, the Forum will also emphasize what is involved with sustainable food production, distribution, and consumption within the norms of different cultures. We will therefore investigate how politics and policies interact with and shape cultural understandings, personal and public health, and biological and ecological systems. We will pay special attention to how food production has both contributed to and is threated by climate change.The Forum will also provide an opportunity for you to connect with area non-profit organizations working on issues related to food, agriculture, public health, and food justice.The Charlottesville-Albemarle region is rich with community-based efforts to shape and improve the local food system, and we (as your faculty) will leverage our existing contacts and connections to create opportunities for you to participate in and learn from these efforts, including internship possibilities.


Manuel Lerdau, Departments of Biology and Environmental Sciences

I am an organismal ecologist with interests in both the ecosystem implications of physiological processes and the evolutionary underpinnings of these processes. My research centers around fundamental questions of resource acquisition and allocation in plants and touches upon such topics as herbivory and tri-trophic interactions, atmospheric chemistry and air pollution, community and ecosystem impacts of biological invasions, and organismal controls over element cycling.

I combine experimental and observational research and collaborate with modelers in the development of process-based ecosystem models. My research currently centers around questions regarding genomics and stress tolerance and trace gas exchange between plants and the atmosphere. My newest projects involve 1) the physiological ecology of metals, and 2) biological mechanisms underlying ecosystem responses to climate change.

Paul Freedman, Department of Politics

Paul Freedman is Associate Professor and Associate Department Chair in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics in UVA's College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He teaches courses in media, campaigns and elections, research methods, and the politics of food. Freedman serves on the University of Virginia’s Sustainability Committee and on the Sustainable Food Task Force. He is a founding member of the UVA Food Collaborative and serves on the steering committee of the statewide Virginia Sustainable Food Coalition. Freedman also is the academic director of the Morven Summer Institute, and serves on the boards of City Schoolyard Garden and the Jefferson Institute. Since 2000, he has been an election analyst for ABC News in New York.

Navigating the Forum

In the first semester (Fall ’17) you will enroll in FORU 1500: Food, Society and Sustainability. Team-taught by Manuel Lerdau and Paul Freedman, the introductory course will examine in detail food from a multi-disciplinary perspective that considers both the diversities in food systems and their unifying features. We will explore the processes, networks, policies, works and animals that together bring food from field to table; from planting, processing, and packaging, to distribution, marketing, and ales, and finally consumption and waste disposal. We will look at how these processes play out at local, national, and global scales, and consider questions of ethics and notions of justice implicated by food systems and food politics.

Outside of the introductory course and capstone, all students will take three required courses as well as choose from courses across three categories:

Required Courses

  1. ECON 2010: Principles of Economics - Microeconomics
  2. EVSC 2220: Conservation Ecology – Biodiversity and Beyond
  3. MATH 1210 (or higher) or Stats 1120 (or higher)


  1. Interpreting Food (choose two courses - 6 credits)
  2. Food Systems (choose two courses – 6 credits)
  3. Food Science (choose one course – 3 credits)

Finally, in your fourth semester (Spring, ’19), we will gather again to consider food as part of the Forum’s 3-credit Capstone.

Please note: all Forum students must also complete the First Writing Requirement, Second Writing Requirement, and World Languages requirement. For more information, click here.


Core Required Courses (17 credits)

  • FORU 1500: Introduction to Food, Society and Sustainability (3 Credits - Fall ’17)
  • FORU 1510: Continuing the Forum (1 Credit – Spring ’18)
  • FORU 1510: Continuing the Forum (1 Credit – Fall ’18)
  • FORU 2500: Capstone Seminar (Spring ’19)
  • ECON 2010    Principles of Economics – Microeconomics
  • EVSC 2220     Conservation Ecology – Biodiversity and Beyond
  • MATH 1210 (or higher) or STATS 1120 (or higher)

Interpreting Food (select two courses – 6 Credits)

  • AAS 3749                  Food and Meaning in Africa and the Diaspora
  • AMST 2753               Arts and Cultures of the Slave South
  • GDS 3820                 Global Ethics & Climate Change
  • ITTR 3680                 Eve’s Sinful Bite: Foodscapes in Women's Writing Culture and Society
  • PHIL 1730                 Introduction to Moral and Political Philosophy
  • PHIL 1740                 Issues of Life and Death
  • PHIL 2720                 Bioethics: A Philosophical Perspective
  • PHIL 2690                 Justice, Law, and Morality
  • PHIL 2450                 Philosophy of Science
  • PHIL 3650                 Justice and Health Care
  • PHIL 3652                 Animals and Ethics
  • RELC 3795               Theology, Spirituality and Ethics of Sustainability
  • RELC 5155               Ecology, Christianity, and Culture
  • RELG 2210               Religion, Ethics, and the Global Environment
  • RELG 3380               Feasting, Fasting and Faith: Food in Judaism and Christianity

Food Systems (select two courses – 6 Credits)

  • PLAP/GSVS 3160      Politics of Food [recommended]
  • ANTH 2190                Desire and World Economics
  • ANTH 2280                Medical Anthropology
  • ANTH 2291                Global Culture and Public Health
  • ANTH 3130                Disease, Epidemics and Society
  • ANTH 3240                The Anthropology of Food
  • ANTH 3325                Capitalism: Cultural Perspectives
  • ANTH 3340                Ecology and Society: An Introduction to the New Ecological Anthropology
  • EVSC/PLAP 2030      Politics, Science, and Values: Intro to Environmental Policy
  • EVSC/PLAP 4030      Environmental Policymaking in the United States
  • GDS 2291                  Global Culture and Public Health
  • GDS 3112                   Ecology and Globalization in the Age of European Expansion
  • GSVS 2150                Global Sustainability
  • PHS 3050                   Introduction to Public Health
  • PHS 3090                               Health Care Economics
  • PHS 3095                               Health Policy in the US - An Economic Perspective
  • PHS 3620                               Built Environment & Public Health: Local to Global
  • PLAP 4800                             Politics of the Environment
  • PLAP 4810                             Class, Race, and the Environment
  • PLIR 4310                              Global Health and Human Rights
  • SOC 3700                               Health and Society
  • WGS 2450                              Gender and Environmental Justice

Food Science (select one course - 3 Credits)

  • BIOL 1060                 Principles of Nutrition
  • BIOL 1210                 Human Biology and Disease
  • EVSC 1010                 Introduction to Environmental Sciences
  • EVSC 1080                 Resources and the Environment
  • EVSC 1200                 Elements of Ecology
  • EVSC 1450                 An Inconvenient Truce: Climate, You and CO2
  • EVSC 2200                 Plants, People and Culture
  • EVSC 3200                 Fundamentals of Ecology
  • EVSC 3201                 Fundamentals of Ecology Laboratory
  • EVSC 4040                 Climate Change: Science, Markets & Policy