PAP-31806 The Politics of Healthy and Sustainable Food


Studiepunten 6.00

Group work20
Excursion (one day)14
Independent study0
Course coordinator(s)dr. JJL Candel
Lecturer(s)prof. dr. ir. P van 't Veer
dr. ir. ID Brouwer
dr. JJL Candel
dr. ir. EF Talsma
Examiner(s)dr. JJL Candel
dr. ir. ID Brouwer

Language of instruction:


Assumed knowledge on:

None. This course is designed for students with a non-social science background. Students with a social science background who are interested in food politics and/or debating are welcome to participate but should expect some conceptual overlap with previous courses.

Continuation courses:

Students who’d like to deepen their knowledge of food systems and/or the political sciences are advised to follow one of the following courses:
- PAP-21806 European Union Institutions and Policies;
- PAP-30806 Governance and Policy Change;
- HNH-36406 Food Systems for Healthier and Sustainable Diets.


Food is inherently political: what we eat, how our food has been produced and prepared, where we choose to buy and consume our food, and with whom, are all choices that are subjected to heated debate, both in private and public spheres. In addition, these everyday decisions have major implications for the distribution of resources within society. It is for good reason that civil society movements call on consumers to ‘vote’ with their forks. At the same time, formal political institutions and decisions largely structure the contexts within which these choices are made. Ensuring food security is probably the oldest policy problem governments have faced and, as well-expressed by the Roman idiom Panem et Circenses (Bread and Games), vital to the survival of governments themselves. The persistence of global malnutrition shows that solving this problem is no sinecure. In fact, high degrees of complexity, uncertainty and controversy have led some commentators to classify food policy as a ‘wicked problem’. As an implication, technological solutions are on themselves insufficient for addressing some of the most pressing food-related challenges of our time; they will need to be embedded in and engage with political realities.

This course aims to introduce students with a background in the life sciences to the politics involved in steering society towards a healthier and more sustainable food system. The course primarily deals with politics at national levels, but also takes multi-level contexts into account. Apart from gaining a better theoretical understanding of the socio-political dimensions of food systems, students will develop debating skills to be able to engage in political arenas themselves. For this purpose, the course combines three work formats: (i) each week starts with two days of self-study and lectures; the first day introduces the food system debate or controversy that serves as that week’s case, the second day focuses on a key political science concept or theory that can be used to obtain a better understanding of the political dynamics in the case. (ii) On the third and fourth day, students work in groups on a weekly assignment, during which they write a concise analysis of the case by applying the theoretical concepts. (iii) Each week ends with a debate, in which students learn to approach specific food-related controversies from different perspectives and to develop persuasive arguments. At the end of the course, an excursion to The Hague will be organized, aimed at giving students a first-hand insight into real-life food politics. The examination consists of two parts: (i) a written exam, and (ii) the average of the group assignments.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:

-    Apply a range of political science concepts and theories to current food system debates (theory);
-    Be able to engage in the public debate about healthy and sustainable food systems by developing and defending a convincing line of argumentation (skills);
-    Show general political sensitivity by being able to critically appraise the politics involved in current food system debates (attitude).


The course consists of four learning activities in each week: (i) independent study, (ii) lectures (days 1-2), (iii) group work (days 3-4), and (iv) debates (day 5). Presence in the debate sessions and guest lectures is mandatory (students are allowed to miss one session). At the end of the course, a 1-day excursion to The Hague will be organized.


The examination consists of two parts: (i) the average of the weekly group assignments, and (ii) an individual reflection report. Both parts count for 50% of the final mark. Students need to obtain a minimum mark of 5.5 for both the (average of the) assignments and the reflection report to pass the course. The reflection and assignments grades are valid until and including the academic year following on the year in which they were obtained.

Keuze voor: MNHNutrition and HealthMScE: Spec. E - Systems Approach for Sustainable and Healthy Diets5MO