Food Commodity Chain and Envi


In this assignment, you will attempt to track a food item through the food commodity chain from production to consumption. You will identify where and how the food is grown (and by whom), how it is processed, packaged, and transported (and by whom), and where/how/by whom it is sold to the consumer. In this assignment, you are expected to draw on issues, concepts, and theories from the course material to help you understand your food’s journey from field to table and the environmental and social issues that arise during that trip. You will also be expected to assemble appropriate and reputable sources of evidence to support what you say, and to communicate effectively in writing.

You can pick any food item you wish. A few notes on this: first, the more complex the food item, the more difficult it becomes to track – for example, a pizza has a lot of different ingredients, and following each of them to their source could be extremely time-consuming. If you really want to do a complex food item, talk to your TA about how you could streamline your assignment (e.g., by picking only a few ingredients, or by starting your investigation partway along the chain). Second, you may wish to be very specific about the food you pick (e.g., “this carrot from Sobeys”), since food purchased in different retail outlets may come from quite different places. At the same time, you may not be able to trace your food item that precisely, and so may need to identify instead where most of that particular food item comes from – just be clear about what parts of your “food chain” are specific versus more general (and of course cite your sources). Third, be careful about picking specific items that are covered in the class readings (e.g., cranberries, French beans, wild rice, etc.) – you are allowed to choose these items, but will be expected to go well beyond what is contained in the readings in your own investigation. Finally, the materials that you use to describe your food’s journey should primarily be written in English, so that your TAs can assess them appropriately.

Following your Food: Sources and References

To find information on your specific food item, you should make use of the library catalogues and journal databases to find good quality academic sources. You may also want to use general search engines such as Google to find popular sources, but remember that these sources will not be sufficient by themselves.

To ensure that your research is at least minimally comprehensive, you should have an absolute minimum of seven (7) sources for your report in order to pass. In summary research like this, citing a large number of sources is a good way to show how familiar you are with the material (and how much work you’ve done), so the more sources the better.

Not all sources of information are created equal. Articles from peer-reviewed academic journals are considered the most credible sources by academics – therefore, you should cite an absolute minimum of two peer-reviewed articles. (Tip: ask your personal librarian to show you how you can tell which articles are peer reviewed – if you don’t know who/what this is, go ask at the library!). Other good sources include “scholarly” books from academic publishers, and government documents. In some cases, it may be hard to find academic articles that are specifically related to your food item, but you should be able to find articles that could be cited in a more general way (e.g., that describe how foods are transported from the source country to Canada, or that talk about labour conditions in a particular country, without specifically mentioning your food item).

‘Popular’ sources (e.g., magazines, newspapers, non-academic books or website content) may be useful for fleshing out the specifics about your food item. Please note that “Wikipedia” and similar sites, while often a good place to start your research, are not generally considered reliable sources and so are not acceptable to use as references in academic research papers.

Your sources should be as up-to-date as possible, since newer information is more likely to be accurate and/or relevant. What counts as “up-to-date” will depend on the issue: in general, things published in the last 5 years can be considered very up-to-date, where sources more than 20 years old are very likely to be out of date.

All source materials should be referenced in the text of your assignments, as well as in a reference list at the end of the assignment. It is usual in the social sciences to use APA citation format.

Adequate referencing is essential to all academic work, since plagiarism (not citing work done by someone else) is a very serious academic offense.


Your assignment will be evaluated in terms of how well it:

  1. Traces your food product from its point of origin to you, including where, how, and by whom it was grown, harvested, processed, packaged, transported and sold.
  2. Highlights issues of importance that link to the course material – for example (but not limited to) the sustainability of growing practices, treatment of workers, nutrition, or consumer culture.
  3. Communicates your ideas clearly.
  4. Provides appropriate sources of evidence for your points, and references them appropriately.

This assignment is worth a large proportion of your mark, and it requires a considerable amount of work and writing: it is not the sort of thing that can be done the night before. Also, this kind of assignment may be unfamiliar to you and its worth asking for help along the way to be sure you are on track.

This assignment should be a maximum of 2500 words (approximately 10 double-spaced pages), not including references, figures, or tables. It should be written clearly and succinctly, in well organized paragraphs. Subheadings should be used to help guide the reader.

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