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Unit 1, Activity 1: Defining and Researching Food

Activity Description/Rationale 

The guiding questions of this activity are: how do we define food and study it? How is food connected to other aspects of our lives? This activity introduces students to the basics of food studies and food-related research, and why food studies is useful and important.  Students will begin the process of exploring the connections between food and other aspects of our lives.  They will also generate themes or topics that the teacher will fold into the curriculum where possible.  



Students will…

- identify how they personally define food, how other members of society define food and how researchers define food

- identify some of the major connections between food and other aspects of society: economy, environment, health, culture and politics

Universal Design for Learning/Differentiation



1.    none, or a few categorical foods (e.g. produce, meat and/or dairy, processed foods, canned foods)

Estimated Time of Activity
50 minutes



Activity Instructions

  1.        Warm Up/Do Now (10 min): Ask students to individually answer the following 3 questions: * what is food? * how would you study food? * what are the connections between food and the environment, economy, and human health?.  For visual stimulation as they think about the questions, pass around various kinds of foods.


           Whole Class Discussion (35 min): Ask students to provide some of their answers, and you write them down on board in ways that visually represent relationships between terms (or for more advanced or enthusiastic students, allow them to write and draw on the board), and discuss.  When discussing “how would you study food?”, separate answers into a chart of research questions, methods, and perhaps expected results.  Also ask students about their personal interests regarding food research (i.e. how would you personally like to study food?). (See photo examples of this discussion in a separate document attached to this activity page.)

  3.      Wrap Up (5 min): Explain that the purpose of this module is for students to explore the connections between food and other features/aspects of our lives (focusing specifically on our environment, health, and economy), and that some of the students’ particular interests will be folded into the curriculum where possible. 




- read Reader F1 in Solar One’s Green Design Lab: Food, and “Food Systems 101” (p. 10-14) and “Unit 2: Food System Basics” (Background only, p. 21-23) in Cornell University’s Discovering Our Food System

- keep a food journal for three days (see assignment description in separate document)

Assessment and Reflection

The Warm Up/Do Now activity gauges students’ prior knowledge of food-related topics, and will be revisited and reinforced in the last unit/final assessment.  The Whole Class Discussion creates a knowledge base from which future activities will draw.

Instructor’s Notes

You could assign an additional reading: “Ingredients of the Food System: Background Reading” from Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s Teaching the Food System curriculum, Unit 1 (