A food system consists of the resources, people, and processes needed to feed people or a subset of people. This can include food production, processing, packaging, transportation, advertising, consumption, and disposal of food. Depending upon how they are defined, food systems can be massive. For example, the global food system includes more inputs and outputs than the food system for a single school, and even a single school constitutes a complex system. Be sure that your students set reasonable boundaries when defining the local food system. For this lesson, you should limit your students’ analysis to the food system within a neighborhood near the school. If this is not feasible, then you can focus in on the food system within the school itself.
Part 1 of the lesson asks you to provide students with sample diagrams or representations of food systems. An Internet search for food systems will yield many different images to choose from, and you can try finding a diagram for your area in particular. For a simple, printable representation of a food system, see the Food System Map created by the Nourish initiative. For something more complex, visit The Maryland Food System Map, an interactive example that can be used to help your students think about food systems.
The problems your students identify within the food system for Part 2 of this lesson will be dependent upon their experiences. Be sure that you take time to think about how to present this lesson in a way that is sensitive to each student’s individual situation. Similarly, you may preselect the problem you would like your students to focus on in Part 2 to ensure that they will actually be able to collect data related to the problem.
The term food system refers to more than just nutritional aspects of food, although this might be the factor students have heard about most often. Throughout this lesson, prompt students to think about other ways the food system impacts their communities. These impacts can be negative or positive, and students should think about trade-offs at each point in the system. Here are some examples.
Personal interactions: Shopping at large chain stores with extensive automation and prepared foods can mean less time interacting with people. Conversely, food carts or farmer’s markets can mean more interaction with the same people week after week.
Environmental impact: Food production practices, as well as packaging, transportation, food waste, and food disposal can all impact the environment. Some foods travel thousands of miles, which requires large amounts of energy, while other foods, such as those produced by rooftop gardens, can have positive environmental impacts.
Energy levels: Food provides us the energy we need to live our lives, but unhealthy foods can make us feel lethargic or cause unhealthy sleeping habits.
Economics: The price of food affects our ability to purchase certain healthy items. On the other hand, eating cheap but unhealthy foods could result in high health care costs down the road. It is also important to consider the jobs created by the different parts of the food system.
Transportation: Not only does food have to be transported from where it is produced, but people then have to get to a place where food is sold. In some areas, people have easy access to food, but in others, the nearest grocery store could be miles away. Additionally, a person’s transportations options can impact the foods they consume. A few miles might not make a difference if you own a car, but it could be very daunting if you have to carry groceries on public transportation or walk.
If students completed THINK: The Process of Innovation many weeks prior to this lesson, have students re-watch one of the Believing videos during Part 2 of this lesson. The video “Safeguarding the food supply” is particularly relevant to this lesson.
The data collection planning process, as well as data collection itself, can take place during class time or assigned as group homework. A Data Collection Planning Document is provided to help structure the planning process, and you can edit the document to add or modify criteria. If necessary, help students refine their plan so that it is feasible within the time frame you have set aside for this lesson.
Food System: The resources, people, and processes needed to feed people or a subset of people. This includes food production, processing, packaging, transportation, advertising, consumption, and disposal of food.