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Some of the oldest questions of culture and society relate to food: How are our food choices shaped by biology and culture? What underlies the food taboos of so many religious faiths? Why do early political systems center on feasting? Why are basic crops such as sugar, rice or maize powerful instruments of ecological and economic change?

Food is at the foundation of all human cultures. From an archaeological perspective we address one of the most significant technological changes in human history: the transition from hunting and foraging to food production (agriculture) and its many cultural, nutritional, and environmental consequences. In our contemporary world, faculty investigate how, despite our highly efficient agricultural systems, food insecurity remains a pervasive and intractable global problem that affects us right here in North Carolina. We also seek to understand the health consequences of modern food systems and their links to obesity, malnutrition, and other diseases.

Our environment is complex, variable, and ever-changing. This is as true today as it has been in the distant past. As anthropologists, we seek to explain how some societies successfully adapted to environmental changes while others failed. We challenge the simplistic notion that past civilizations “collapsed” as environmental conditions exceeded their adaptive capacity. Instead, we seek to understand how people re-organize or disperse in response to climatic and ecological change. Especially in the present, we see that environmental conditions do not simply determine cultural response and we seek to understand how culturally mediated perceptions of the environment affect human responses. Some faculty work in the driest parts of the world where crops can hardly grow. Complex irrigation systems have allowed large civilizations to thrive while mobile pastoralists constantly adjust their herd sizes to cope with rainfall variability.

Our human foodways and the evolutionary paths we have taken over millennia have provided us with the technology and biology to inhabit all regions of the Earth. We can live and thrive nearly everywhere on our planet but . . . for how long? Underlying our archaeological and biological understandings of human adaptation is a deeply cultural realization that much of what we have accomplished as a species has come at a terrible cost to our planet’s ecosystems. Thus, we pose fundamental questions of how sustainable our current food systems and evolutionary trajectory are given climate change, economic inequalities, and our over-consumption of Earth’s resources.

The members of Food, Environment, and Sustainability are anthropologists who focus on our past, find lessons in the present, and look to the future to fully understand what it means to be biocultural human beings who eat, adapt, and evolve in a constantly changing world.


  • 53 First-Year Seminar: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
  • 60 First-Year Seminar: Crisis and Resilience: Past and Future of Human Societies
  • 65 First-Year Seminar: Humans and Animals: Anthropological Perspectives
  • 123 Habitat and Humanity
  • 148 Human Origins
  • 151 Anthropological Perspectives on Food and Culture
  • 143 Human Evolution and Adaptation
  • 238 Human Ecology of Africa
  • 250 Archaeology of North America
  • 252 Archaeology of Food
  • 284 Culture and Consumption
  • 317 Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Adaptation and Behavior
  • 320 Anthropology of Development
  • 413 Archaeobotany Lab Methods
  • 415 Zooarchaeology
  • 416 Bioarchaeology
  • 437 Evolutionary Medicine
  • 440 Beyond the Tragedy of the Commons
  • 459 Ecological Anthropology
  • 538 Disease and Discrimination
  • 539 Environmental Justice
  • 540 Planetary Crises / Ecological & Cultural Transitions
  • 550 Origins of Agriculture in the Ancient World
  • 551 Origins of Agriculture
  • 623 Human Disease Ecology
  • 650 Reconstructing Life: Nutrition and Disease in Past Populations