The COA faculty – Dr. Doreen Stabinsky, professor of global environmental politics and Ken Cline, David Rockefeller Family Chair in Ecosystem Management and Protection – have deep expertise in food systems and water conservation law.

The class is exploring the history and politics of several contemporary issues of food and water politics within France and the European Union (EU).  The food course looks at the genetically modified organism (GMO) debate; laws protecting seeds, cheese, and wines; agriculture linked with climate change politics leading up to the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Paris; and elements of the EU Common Agricultural Policy, through readings and direct interactions with key figures on those issues.

Vichy, as the water capital of Europe, offers a perfect platform from which to study similar trade, privatization, and human rights issues.  It is also an ideal place to begin understanding the history and meaning of water in society.  The pro-industry halls of the World Water Council in Marseilles and the sewers of Paris will provide additional dimensions to this learning.

“I can touch on these issues back in Maine, but here the students are literally immersed in a water culture where beliefs about the healing power of water, the commercial value of water, and the human right to water directly confront them,” notes Cline, who teaches an international water course on campus.  “Furthermore, Europe right now is a great experiment in governance with questions of cooperation and sovereignty constantly in tension.  Being here feels like we have front row seats in this performance.”

Just as with water, France gives the students an unparalleled opportunity to understand the multiple dimensions of the food policy.  France has long been a hotbed of radical food politics. Long before GMOs made French food politics famous around the world, French producers were protecting their local products with designations of Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée, and using international legal accords to prevent the use of the term “champagne” for any sparkling wine produced outside of the region of Champagne.

“I’m excited that students will get to meet some close colleagues of mine – staff to members of the European Parliament and of key non-governmental organizations – who have been leaders in defining agricultural policies in Europe over the last couple of decades. The course is an opportunity to not merely study the politics of food in France but to interact with individuals central to those politics.”

Through the study of food and water politics in France, students will become familiar with the European political institutions, and will learn the workings of and functional relationships between the European Council of Ministers, the European Parliament, and the European Commission.  All of the students are concurrently learning French at CAVILAM, a highly regarded language school in Vichy, where they have 5 hours of French classes a day.  In addition to a substantial reading list in English, students have readings, projects, and presentations that are  in French. The students will be evaluated based on participation in class discussions, regular writing assignments based on the readings, and a final project and of course, how well they “parler Français.”