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The Impact of Food: A Lesson Worth Teaching

By Green Schools Program |
Robotics Coach and 7th & 8th Grade Math and Science Teacher at Chester A. Arthur Elementary School in Philadelphia, PA, tells us about a green classroom success:

How do you teach students about the environmental impact of food? Maybe you just give them a choice between Toothfish and sheep's stomach!
A Robotics Coach at Chester A. Arthur Elementary School in Philadelphia, PA, tells us about a green classroom success.
WRITTEN BY: Robotics Coach and 7th & 8th Grade Math and Science Teacher Michael Franklin

As a student teacher, you are responsible for two things: creating engaging lessons, assignments, and tests; and keeping your sanity. Fortunately, while working with an AP Environmental Science class in Philadelphia, I was able to do both. Furthermore, I was able to make a “green” impact on the students I was working with. I consider this a green success story because students were introduced to viable, environmentally-friendly food options.

When my cooperating teacher approached me about creating an out-of-the-box assessment for the end of the chapter, I was rather excited. Our class was finishing up a chapter in our book discussing the unforeseen costs of food, and this was the perfect opportunity to take a creative approach to gauge the students’ knowledge about the environmental impact of the foods they eat. I started out by welcoming the students, one at a time, into their “exam”. I handed them a menu for an imaginary restaurant with some rather outlandish dishes available (i.e. Leatherback Turtle Soup flown in from Oregon, and Patagonian Toothfish caught via long-line), which they then had five minutes to look over.

After perusing the menu options, I asked them questions like, “Give me the most environmentally unfriendly meal on the menu, appetizer to desert,” and, “What would be the best meal for the environment, under $50?” The answers that followed were right on mark. For example, the students recognized that the Patagonian Toothfish, known to most as Chilean Sea Bass, is terrible for the environment because it is over-fished, and long-lines trap many other species. The students were also able to explain that options such as the sheep stomach, although being shipped from Australia, was much more environmentally-friendly: Sheep stomach is shipped on a sailboat rather than by plane or cargo ship, and sheep are nonnative species threatening the native wild kangaroo population. I feel confident that, if given the option between the two, the students would choose sheep stomach over the Toothfish.

When teaching students about environmental issues, it is important to do something that will make an impact. Although scientists debate the exact year, it is widely accepted that if the current trends continue, there will not be enough food to feed the population within the next 100 years. The idea behind this activity was to forgo a traditional test, and provide an assessment that the students would not only remember, but could relate to. Most, if not all, high school students have looked over a menu and decided what to order at a restaurant. This activity revealed that even the simplest of decisions, like what to order from a menu, has an impact on the environment, and displayed ways that the students could make positive green choices in their own lives.

What green food lessons have you successfully passed along? Share your stories below!

Recyclebank Green Schools Program awards grants to schools in order to fund environmental projects that empower youth to green their own communities. For every 100 points donated to an accepted school, Recyclebank donates $10 to that school.

Chester A. Arthur students will be creating three green spaces from their cement-riddled courtyards. They will be constructing a vegetable garden, a butterfly and insect garden, and a garden containing some plant species native to the area. Once completed, the students will care for the gardens, from planting through harvest, and use the courtyards as a supplement to their science curriculum.

Learn more about the Green Schools Program!

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  • Kim M. 1 year ago
    I know it's been a few years since this has been written, but I want to try to ask. When you say trends, what do you mean? Is it overconsumption by each individual, or the ever-increasing human population, especially in industrialized nations, or is it a combination of both?

    Thank you for the post, btw! I think it is important to be mindful of the foods we are eating and make choices based on that.
  • Elaine F. 5 years ago
    I try to get my kids to eat fruits and vegetables.
  • 7 years ago
    What a joy to have found the Recyclebank website!!! This idea to reward people by encouraging & empowering them to positively affect the planet is exactly what I've been wanting to get involved in.

    Reading inspirational stories like Michael Franklin's 'Impact of Food, A Lesson Worth Teaching' truly gives us hope for our future generations.


    Bonnie Poux
    Whitefish, Montana
  • 7 years ago
    that pesticide free also means pollution free