Module 1: Introduction


This module focuses on a discussion of the field of nutritional anthropology and introduces the concepts of: biocultural perspective; food system; adaptation; distinguishing features of the human food system.


1. To review the syllabus and clarify the objectives of the course.
2. To provide an introduction to the field of nutritional anthropology.
3. To discuss the biocultural model.
4. To introduce the concept of food systems and the characteristics of the human food system.


Class Discussion:

  1. In your small groups, discuss the following:
    1. What should the human diet look like?
    2. What constitutes a “healthy diet?”
  2. How can we go about determining what the Human diet should be?
  3. What information do we need to know?
Notes – Introduction to Nutritional Anthropology
    Review syllabus:

  • Course divided into topics:
    • Topic i: human diet in cultural, biological and evolutionary perspective
    • Topic ii: food, nutritional status and human growth.
    • Topic iii: food, diet and health.
    The general objectives of this class are:

  • To practice working productively in a collaborative setting with other students who represent a variety of backgrounds and learning styles.
  • To produce a meaningful argument as a collaborative group which may include a students with varying positions and perspectives.
  • To learn more about how to write, speak, and defend your ideas using articulate language and logical arguments grounded in a nutritional anthropology and human biology perspective.

Topic I: human diet in cultural, biological and evolutionary perspective.

Topic I will help students understand more about the evolution of human nutrition.

The general questions addressed in this topic are:

  1. What is our primate heritage and how has it shaped human dietary patterns and requirements?
  2. The transition to “meat eating” – myth or fact?
  3. What is the natural human diet?
  4. Is the Hunter/Gatherer diet appropriate as a model of evolving humans?

    Course perspective:

  1. Biocultural Model :
    • Examine biological variation in terms of social relationships through which individuals gain access to basic resources
    • Recognize the link between the local and global
    • History and historical contingencies are critical to understanding social change and its biological consequences.
    • Humans are active agents in constructing their environment
    • The ideology and knowledge of researchers and those being researched are key to understanding human action

Core of model:

  • Human need to consume nutrients to sustain and reproduce life.
    • There are social-political forces influencing peoples access to food resources.
  • Explains both change and continuity.
  • Model builds on gender sensitive assumptions about
    • women as gatekeepers
    • women as mediators between food production and food consumption
    • male-female power relations
  • Places attention on
    • food sharing, intimacy, commensality, nurturance, reciprocal exchange as well as domination, exploitation and delocalization.
  • Broadly reflexive:
    • encourages critical reflection of how one’s own food system affects other food systems.
  • Political
    • knowledge produced can be put to use to improve quality of our lives – serves as a potential guide to advocacy action.

Food system

Explains food system as integrated whole within a particular social and historical contex

Five Characteristics of Human Food Systems:

    1. Generalized diet – omnivore.
    2. Humans invest a great deal of time and energy to food transport and storage.
    3. Humans spend a great deal of energy and effort preparing food
    4. Humans regularly share food
    5. Humans have food taboos and prescriptions

Cultural units: Food
Biological units – nutrients:

Assignments (See assignments page)