Imagining the Future of Food

Bringing scholars in the natural and social sciences and the humanities together to explore how food is grown, who grows it, how we talk about this, and why it matters. Curricula includes intensive training in Environmental Life Cycle Assessment and travel throughout North Carolina, southern Appalachia and coastal southeastern United States to study components of the food system.

This Duke Immerse takes the premise that cultural narratives have real-world impacts and that increased extreme weather events associated with climate change must be addressed in part through changes in the food system. Imagining the Future of Food combines coursework, experiential learning at the Duke Campus Farm, and travel throughout North Carolina, southern Appalachia, and the coastal southeastern United States to ask:

        • Where will our food come from in the year 2071?
        • Will we have what we need to nourish a growing global population?
        • How will climate change impact how we feed ourselves?
        • How do food choices and food practices affect our food system and social wellbeing?
        • COVID-19 has deepened the existing cracks in our food system. What are the opportunities to tackle food insecurity, health disparities, and work toward equity?

The challenges of the present agrifood system are complex and inherently interdisciplinary. They require scientific and technological expertise and understanding, as well as complex critical and systems thinking. Food, more than most other commodities, is a marker of personal and cultural identity that connects us to complex natural and social ecologies. Our choice of food represents our social and cultural values and is not easily shifted. As such, a nuanced understanding of the cultural, as well as agricultural, context of food will be needed if we are to change the way we eat.

Imagining the Future of Food takes five interlocking approaches:

      1. Through an introduction to basic plant ecophysiology, students will examine the growth response and yield of plants in changing climatic conditions.
      2. Experiential learning at the Duke Campus Farm will allow students the opportunity to put science into practice and enact alternatives to the current industrial agrifood system.
      3. By critically examining food and farming in literary texts and other in forms of cultural production, students will critically consider the relationship between narrative representations of food and farming and the concrete ways in which we work to produce, share, and consume.
      4. By learning and applying the concepts and methods of Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to the analysis of alternative food choices, students will gain an understanding of the environmental impacts of each stage of the food supply chain and will appreciate the dimension of the challenge of tackling these impacts through technological and policy solutions.
      5. Through participant observation and reflection, students will learn how to think critically about food as a reflection of social, political, and cultural phenomena and analyze the role of food in forging identity.​


Locations: Durham, NC; San Francisco Bay Area, CA; Beaufort, NC

Term: Fall 2023

Dates: TBD

Application Deadline: Applications will open in early 2023, dates forthcoming

Academic Themes: Biology; Cultural Anthropology; Environmental Science; Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies; Italian; Romance Studies;  Sociology

Eligibility: Students must have taken WRITING 101, Non-Duke students matriculated at Duke are eligible for this program10

Program Fee

Participants are required to pay a program fee of $1,500 in addition to regular Duke tuition, fees, and room and board. This fee covers all program costs, including airfare. Financial aid packages may be used to cover these costs; if you have any question or concern as to whether financial aid will be able to cover this for you, please reach out to the Karsh Financial Support Office directly (; they are familiar with Duke Immerse and can answer your questions. 


Students accepted into Imagining the Future of Food will receive the permission numbers needed to enroll in this set of Duke Immerse courses. Enrolled students must take the four courses outlined below. Overloading is acceptable with the permission of all instructors; no underload is permitted. One Duke semester course credit is equivalent to four semester hours.

Course number: ENVIRON 338S-01
Curriculum codes: NS, R, STS
Course Description: Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a tool to identify the magnitude, type, and location of the environmental impacts caused by all the stages of a production process, from the gathering of raw materials to the disposal of the product at the end of its life. LCA is useful to better understand and estimate the environmental impacts associated to the production, transportation, storage, and waste of food for human consumption. This course introduces fundamental concepts and methods to conduct Environmental Life Cycle Assessments and trains students in the use of open-source software to conduct streamlined analyses.  It includes a discussion of the Economic-Input Output LCA (EIO-LCA) method which was theorized and developed by economist Wassily Leontief in the 1970s and applied to the U.S. economy in the 1990s by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University.  The course will pay special attention to the water and energy use associated with food production and processing.
Instructor: Dalia Patino Echeverri, Ph.D.

Course numbers: GSF 290S-03
Curriculum codes: ALP, CCI, CZ, EI, W
Course Description: Explores literary representations of American agriculture from the 19th century to the present in order to better understand how our collective cultural imagination about who farms and why both reflects and shapes America’s farmed landscapes. 
Instructor: Saskia Cornes, Ph.D.

Course numbers: ROMST 388S-01, CULANTH 389S-01, ITALIAN 388S-01, SOCIOL 388S-01
Curriculum codes: CCI, CZ, EI, S
Course Description: The function of food in society is not limited to mere sustenance. Food is an important source of cultural information and social meaning. Drawing from texts in multiple disciplines, in this course we will examine foodstuffs (products) and foodways (practices and rituals revolving around food) to understand their cultural significance and to gain insight into culturally specific ways of thinking semiotically about food.  We will explore how identity, for instance, gender, ethnic, class, religious identities are constructed through food production, preparation and consumption. We will reflect on the role of food in our own lives and that of the contemporary United States, with attention to how foodways embody the experiences of local and immigrant communities in the Triangle area and in the US in general. Experiential learning approaches in and outside the classroom are an integral part of the course. These include field assignments, food logs, visits to food production, consumption and marketing sites (from farm to market, supermarket and convenience stores to “ethnic stores and eateries”, and food trucks and chain restaurants ) and a dinner lab where we will cook and share meals together. By the end of the course students will have a better understanding of the multiple meanings of food and its link to culture, politics, power and identity and will have acquired a broader perspective from which to engage with cultures other than their own. 
Instructor: Luciana Fellin, Ph.D.

Course numbers: TBD
Curriculum codes: TBD
Course Description: TBD
Instructor: TBD

Lead Faculty

Saskia Cornes

Assistant Professor of the Practice, Franklin Humanities Institute; Program Manager, Duke Campus Farm

Luciana Fellin

Professor of the Practice, Romance Studies

Dalia Paino Echeverri

Dalia Patino-Echeverri

Gendell Associate Professor of Energy Systems and Public Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment

Program contact: Email Saskia Cornes ( or Duke Immerse ( for more information.


All students who are interested, regardless of documentation or citizenship status, are encouraged to apply; accommodations and opportunities will be made for students who are unable to travel. We welcome Durham-based DKU students and UNC Robertson Scholars to apply. Please email Duke Immerse director ( if you are interested in participating. Complete the online application using MyExperientialEd.