636.01 Food, Agriculture and the Environment: Law & Policy

“Food,” “agriculture,” and the “environment” are distinct American mythologies tied to our basic physical needs and imbued with significant cultural meanings. They are also deeply entwined. We all eat three or so times a day, and each of those meals arrived on our table at the very end of a dizzying journey through our national—and increasingly global—food and agriculture system. It’s a system that causes startling environmental harms; think water and air pollution, pesticides, greenhouse gases, non-human animal welfare, deforestation, soil depletion, wetlands destruction, fisheries collapse, and on and on. Yet notions of “agricultural exceptionalism” exempt agriculture from many of our nation’s environmental laws.

Undergirding the system are the people who help put food on our tables. The food and agriculture system depends on immigrants who toil in the field and on slaughterhouse lines even as it romanticizes the Jeffersonian ideal of the solitary yeoman. It co-opts the knowledge of Black, Indigenous and people of color under terms like “sustainable” and “regenerative” without reckoning with land theft, enslavement, or the patterns of discrimination and land loss that persist today.

This course will survey how law and policy created and perpetuate the interrelated social, economic and environmental iniquities of our modern food and agriculture system. More optimistically, we will study how law and policy can address systemic issues and move us toward values of equity and environmental justice, conservation, restoration, community health and economic sustainability. We will pay special attention to the federal farm bill, which is due for reauthorization in 2023.

Course format and expectations: Students will be expected to stay up on all readings, participate in weekly discussion boards, prepare several presentations and written assignments throughout the semester, and engage in the seminar each week. As a final assignment, each student will write a 10-15 page law or policy paper on a topic that they will develop in consultation with the rest of the class and the instructor. There will be an additional, optional opportunity to visit a local farm.


Fall 2023

Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor
Course Credits
Reflective Writing
Research and/or analytical paper(s), 10-15 pages
Oral presentation
Class participation
Lee Miller
Sakai site: https://sakai.duke.edu/portal/site/LAW-636-01-F23
Email list: LAW-636-01-F23@sakai.duke.edu
Degree Requirements
Course Requirements - JD
Course Requirements - Public Interest
Course Areas of Practice