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This next semester I will be teaching a class in Food Law & Policy at Seattle University School of Law as an adjunct professor. (I was formerly a full-time professor, teaching Legal Writing and Torts.) Food as a topic in the legal academy has only recently gained the attention that I think that it has long deserved.

The challenge of teaching a course in food law, and in wanting to cover the many policy angles too, is that there are more possible things to cover than there is time to do so. Plus, if the goal is to spark a lot of discussion, which is certainly my goal for the course, the time-limits become that much more challenging. For example, my class will meet one evening per week for an hour and fifty minutes, and that includes a ten-minute break. I admit that building the syllabus has been a challenge. Last week I finally posted a draft-syllabus, one that is still partly incomplete, and to which I will still likely make changes. Here is what the first three weeks looks like so far:

JANUARY 14: The Significance of Food—Is Food Really Unique and, If So, Why?

“Food is (or makes itself) a category all its own, placing food beyond anything but superficial comparison or analogy. The difference of food cannot be suppressed enough to make analogy meaningful. The gap opened by the unfinished phrase “food is like ______” demands that the blank remain empty.

From A Continuing Plague at 429 (footnote omitted).

In the article that is the assigned reading for this class, I argue that food is unique (sui generis), in part, because food not only defines fundamental relationships, person-to-world and person-to-person, but also makes such definition possible. I also argue that it only when food becomes a subject of commerce—faceless transactions—that the problem of adulteration arises. One criticism that might be directed at these arguments is that I seek to romanticize food, depicting food in a kind of “before the fall” and “after the fall” way, like Adam and Eve exiled from the Garden of Eden, with food originally “pure” before becoming “impure” when exiled into economic commerce. Although food is unquestionably a topic worthy of serious study, from multiple perspectives, is it saying too much to argue that food is unique in a fundamental way?

Reading Assignment:

Denis Stearns, A CONTINUING PLAGUE: Faceless Transactions and the Coincident Rise of Food Adulteration and Legal Regulation of Quality, 2014 WISCONSIN L. REV. 101 (2014). http://wisconsinlawreview.org/wp-content/files/8-Stearns-Final.pdf

JANUARY 21: Growth and Transformation of Food Production in Nineteenth Century

In the first half of the nineteenth century, food production in the U.S. was non-industrial, strictly localized, and only intermittently commercial (relying mostly on barter). Food production and commerce underwent significant changes—technological and cultural—in the latter half of this century, with the adulteration of food and drug becoming a serious problem and public concern. The problems arising from these changes were subject to state and local regulation, but with only mixed success as a national market for food developed. We will look at the problems of this time period and question if federal legislation was the best, only, or the merely inevitable solution.

Reading Assignments:

Chapters 2 and 3 in CIVIC AGRICULTURE, by Thomas Lyson.

Linda Danes-Wingett, The Ice-Car Cometh: A History of the Railroad Refrigerator Car, SAN JOAQUIN HISTORIAN (Winter 1996) (available online at http://www.sanjoaquinhistory.org/documents/HistorianNS10-4.pdf

JANUARY 28: 1906 and the Dawn of Federal Regulation of Food and Drugs

Along with the transformation of food production during the nineteenth century came increasing calls for federal regulation—that is, the passage of a federal pure food law. How such a law came finally to be passed provides a kind of template that will be followed again and again when it comes to laws that purport to regulate the quality and safety of food. The theoretical agreement that food should be safe has never sufficed to get food safety laws enacted, even with rising public outrage. As we will see repeatedly, it is only when such a law sufficiently serves a business and bureaucratic interest that it will be passed. The year 1906 provides use with our first example of this phenomenon.

Reading Assignments:

Chapter 14, The Jungle http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/SINCLAIR/ch14.html

C.C. Regier, The Struggle for Federal Food and Drugs Legislation, 1 LAW & CONT. PROBLEMS 3-15 (1933) (available online at the following link: http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1686&context=lcp

Arlene Finger Kantor, Upton Sinclair and the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906: “I Aimed at the Public’s Heart and By Accident I Hit It in the Stomach,” 66 Am. J. Pub. Health 1202-05 (Dec. 1976) (PDF-copy available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1653522/pdf/amjph00499-0066.pdf

I will be posting other parts of the syllabus as the course gets closer to starting. The students will also be writing blog-posts for the course, and those that earn an A will be posted here. I hope that you will let me know what you think.