Tread Lightly: Low Carbon Lunch
Reduce your carbon footprint and take a bite out of climate change, starting with your lunch. This lesson will help students to understand the environmental impacts of the food system and the importance of food consumption choices in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Students will learn to identify opportunities to reduce emissions, through investigating how the food system generates carbon emissions. Activities and discussions will focus on the potential environmental impacts of personal food choices.
Time Required: 1-2 Class Periods (45-90 minutes)
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
-Describe the connections between the food system and climate change.
-Identify the ways in which the food system contributes to carbon emissions.
-Find ways to reduce carbon footprints through food consumption choices.
Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by your daily consumption activities, usually measured in units of CO2. The food system is responsible for approximately 1/3 of global greenhouse gas emissions, which means that changing your food consumption patterns is an important way to reduce your carbon footprint. The following activities explore how to reduce carbon footprints through sustainable food choices.
Activity 1: The Cheeseburger Footprint
Watch The Cheeseburger Footprint, an animated short by Margaret Sanchez, a student at the Art Centre of College Design, California. The Cheeseburger Footprint takes a look at the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from one single American fast food cheeseburger.
1. At what stages during the making of the cheeseburger are carbon emissions generated?
2. What are some other typical lunch menu items that you think might have large carbon footprints?
3. At what processes and stages of the cheeseburger's life-cycle are carbon emissions not accounted for in the video?
4. What are some environmental consequences of the food system that are not easily measured in terms of carbon emissions? For example, water pollution due to agricultural run-off is not easily measured as a carbon footprint, whereas the carbon footprint of fertilizers, a major agricultural pollutant of waterways, has been well documented.
In Groups or Individually
1. Pick a food item that you would typically find at school cafeteria or in your lunch box.
2. Create a flow diagram to show the carbon footprint of the food over the entire life-cycle of the food from production, to consumption and disposal. You can use the online tool, exploratree, to create your flow diagram.
3. Try to include all inputs and outputs at all stages. It is not necessary to find exact weights for carbon emissions at each stage. Simply indicate all the points where emissions are created with arrows.
• Create a video or animation to tell the story of the carbon footprint of a particular food item.
Activity 2: Low Carbon Lunch Challenge
Reduce your carbon footprint and take a bite out of climate change, starting with your lunch. Take the Tread Lightly LOW Carbon Lunch Challenge! Eat Local, Organic and Waste-free and challenge your friends and peers to do the same!
Ways to participate:
1. COMMIT to taking the Low Carbon Lunch Challenge. TIG members will receive a profile badge after completing the challenge.
2. CHALLENGE your friends and peers to join you in eating LOW - Local, Organic and Waste-free! Send them an e-card to invite them to pledge their commitment to a low carbon diet.
3. PLAN a LOW Carbon Lunch event a way to encourage others to eat more sustainably. Organize a luncheon, farmers market, or food swap. Or come up with your own ways to eat low carbon.
4. PROMOTE your event using TIG resources. Add your LOW Carbon Lunch event to the TIG events database.
5. DOCUMENT your lunch event on the LOW Carbon Lunch group blog.
And, remember, the best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to eat LOW - Local, Organic, Waste-free!
1. In a report by the Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, researchers estimated that, in the US, locally grown produce traveled an average of 56 miles from the farm to the table, compared to an average of 1,494 miles for conventional produce. How does eating local food reduce the carbon footprint of your lunch? What are some ways to eat local at home and at school?
2. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic agriculture uses 50% less energy than conventional industrial agricultural methods. What are some of the ways that organic agriculture saves on energy and carbon emissions? How can we include more organic food in our diets?
3. According to the website, Waste Free Lunches, the average student’s lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. What are some of the sources of waste in your typical school lunch? How can lunch waste be minimized?
4. In addition to eating local, organic and waste-free, what are some other ways to reduce the carbon footprints of the food we eat?
5. How can students implement the Low Carbon Lunch Challenge at school?
Low Carbon Lunch Food Blog
1. Start a food blog, or journal to document your Low Carbon Lunch progress. *If you are using the Tread Lightly Virtual Classroom, you can post in the Student Blogs.
2. Upload pictures of your lunches and write about how you are making more sustainable choices. You can also include recipes.
3. Reflect on what you have learned about the affect of your food choices on your carbon footprint and the impacts of the food system on climate change.
• Plan a school-wide LOW Carbon Lunch campaign to increase involvement in the initiative.
• Launch the campaign at a school-wide event, such as an assembly, or plan a special event.
• Make one-page public service announcement posters to publicize the LOW Carbon Lunch campaign.
• Start a petition to have reusable cutlery and more LOW Carbon Lunch options at your school cafeteria.
Bon Appétit Management Company Low Carbon Diet Calculator
Cascio, Jamais. "The Cheeseburger Footprint," Open the Future.
Global Warming Diet
Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. Food Miles and Food Pathways
Organic Trade Association
Slow Food International
Sustainable Table, “Fossil fuel and energy use,”
Take a Bite out of Climate Change
TakingITGlobal, Commitments Tool, Take the Low Carbon Lunch Challenge,
TakingITGlobal, Tread Lightly Challenge,
Union of Concerned Scientists, Food and Agriculture
Big Spuds, Little Spuds: The impact of climate change and monoculture on one of the world's staple food crops.
The Cheeseburger Footprint
DIRT! The Movie
Food For Change
Meat The Truth
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- The Cheeseburger Footprint Video
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
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