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An Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Perspectives from Public Health

Explore how food intersects with public health and the environment as it moves from field to plate.


Eligible for

Statement of Accomplishment

Course at a Glance

About the Course

A food system encompasses the activities, people and resources involved in getting food from field to plate. Along the way, it intersects with aspects of public health, equity and the environment.  In this course, we will provide a brief introduction to the U.S. food system and how food production practices and what we choose to eat impacts the world in which we live. Through several case studies, we will discuss some key historical and political factors that have helped shape the current food system and consider alternative approaches from farm to fork. The course will be led by a team of faculty and staff from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.  Guest lecturers will include experts from a variety of disciplines, including public health and agriculture.

Beginning with the January 2015 session, the course will include several new lectures from Bob Lawrence, Jillian Fry and Roni Neff. 

Developed in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Open Education Lab.

Course Syllabus

Module 1: Is Climate Change Vindicating Malthus? Food Security and the Right to Food.
Module 2: An Introduction to Food Systems, Sustainability and Resilience 
Module 3: Food Security, Food Production and Public Health
Module 4: Public Health and Environmental Implications of Industrial Models of Food Production
Module 5: US Agriculture Policy and the Farm Bill: Where is Health? 
Module 6: Building a Healthier Food System: Two Case Studies

Recommended Background

An understanding of public health or nutrition is helpful but not necessary. As farmer and poet Wendell Berry noted, “Eating is an agricultural act.”

Course Format

This course will be taught by a team of faculty and staff from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. It is based on a 4-credit online course offered to graduate students at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Though the course will include lectures from experts in fields such as public health and agriculture, not all speakers recorded for this course will be available for direct student interaction.


  • What is covered in this course?

    This course provides only a brief introduction to the food system of the United States. The topic of food systems is broad and complex and not all topics or issues can be covered in the time allotted for this course.

  • Who should take this course?

    This course is intended for students with a sincere interest in exploring food systems of the United States through a public health lens and is meant to raise questions and generate healthy and civil discussion about what we eat and how that food gets from farm to fork. Students will be expected to represent themselves honestly and respect the diverse ideas presented in the course by faculty, guest lecturers and other students.