Law 165 - Historical Perspective: The Role of Law in the Pursuit of a Moral Food System

Michael T. Roberts

Michael T. Roberts

Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy,
Adjunct Faculty
B.S. University of Utah, 1986
J.D. University of Utah, 1989
LL.M. University of Arkansas, 2000
Course Description:

Although food law and policy is a relatively new discipline, rules governing food have a long history. This class will survey and compare the moral and cultural bases used for historical and modern regulation of food. It will start by tracing the development of Jewish dietary laws that focused in large part on purity. The complicated role of religious food rules will be examined further in the rise and expansion of Christianity and Islam and the modern rules that govern Kosher and Halal food products. We will compare the ancient laws in Rome to those in the United States that enforce against food fraud. Particular attention will be given to the development of sumptuary laws during Medieval and Renaissance Europe aimed to preserve social hierarchies and morals and how these sumptuary laws contrast with the pursuit in modern food law and policies for equality and justice. We will then turn to the post-industrial era and examine the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, the first modern U.S. food law, which was passed during a period of time when trust and changing moral codes dominated the cultural dialogue. We will also look at the development of recent food law that has adapted in part to a food movement setting out to foster new cultural norms for civil society, including a demand for natural and pure food and a return to agrarian values. We will examine how these norms often conflict with science and industrialized food production, giving rise to tension on issues such as proposed mandatory labeling laws for genetically modified food, the treatment of animals, and food justice and equality. Students will be expected to complete short assignments related to each week's readings.

Course Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this course students will be able to:

1. Assess how law adapts to changing social conditions and how in some cases law can change social norms, especially in the food space;

2. comprehend the unique position that food has played historically and now plays today in the development of case law, statutes and regulations, and private standards; and

3. provide thoughtful advice to policymakers on how the interdisciplinary approach involving law, science, and culture contributes to the making of sound policy on the regulation of food.

Course Information:
​Faculty Term Course Section ​Schedule ​Units Requisite Satisfies SAW
Michael Roberts 20S 165 LEC 12 W 5:30 PM - 7:30 PM 1.0 No No