Food Systems Controversies


Julie V Stanton, Department of Business, The Pennsylvania State University

publication date

March 01, 2020


Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (external link).

cite as

Stanton, Julie (2020), “Food Systems Controversies,” Macromarketing Pedagogy Place, (accessed August 21, 2020), [available at].


Controversies; Food Systems; Policy; Culture; Economics


Group Assignment; Multi-Part; Written Reports; Video Preparation


This assignment asks students to dig into somewhat enduring “controversies” in the US national and global food systems. In doing so, the students gain direct understanding of the existence of controversies, as well as the roots of and lasting influences on the “sides” associated with the controversy, and explore the potential for future resolution.

Because many controversies have more than two sides, they also develop a more keen awareness of so-called ‘wicked’ problems and how various stakeholders value specific and different goals.

Rationale for this project

In conducting research on each side of a larger food system controversy, students gain a combination of cultural, economic and political factor awareness that will serve as an analytical foundation for future controversies they encounter.

Further, because the students will effectively “teach” the controversy to other students through brief teaching videos, they learn to articulate the issues and their relative roles and merits.

Classroom example

This exercise is used in an introductory (“general education”) course on US Food Systems. Students drawn to the course are often majoring in nutrition science, agribusiness, pre-veterinary science and other similar majors, although there is no requirement for that.

The overall assignment is broken into parts that allow for instructor feedback and joint conversation, whether in the classroom or via whole-class discussion board in an online class. This helps to multiply the benefits to all students.

Further, after the teaching videos have been posted for all students, there is an individual reflection assignment required of students, furthering their engagement with their classmates’ topics.

Feedback from students

The hardest part of this exercise for students is not related to the topics per se but instead to help them understand their research goals. It is simpler, in their minds, to develop a “researched” justification for their own point of view on the controversy, leaving other views less developed in the reports.

As such, a key step for the instructor is to model the thinking behind multi-view research in their own presentations. Similarly, the instructor can offer or require individual meetings (in person or online) with teams to help them launch their research on their controversy topic.

Apart from that starting point challenge, the reaction to the assignment has been very positive.

Allowing students to self-select into teams based on interest in the topic can help, as can allowing the more motivated students to add topics for consideration. The teaching videos that are generated are often very creative, and the best versions use more than one voice to help illustrate ‘sides’ as well.


Available worksheets for this project.





Team Project Food System "Controversies"