Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Sing to the Power: A Social Justice Program for Children Grades 4-5

Activity 3: Tracking the Journey of Food

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Reusable grocery bag, filled with a variety of grocery items
  • Maps of the U.S. and the world
  • A pad of small sticky notes
  • Optional: Magnifying glass

Preparation for Activity

  • Shop for a grocery bag's worth of food items. Include produce and boxed and/or canned goods. Include at least one item with a "fair trade" designation on its label. Only bring in meat/fish products if they can be handled safely, such as in a can. Chick peas, kidney beans, and cheese are alternate foods which provide protein.
  • Post maps on a wall where they will be easy to view and access.

Description of Activity

This activity raises ethical issues about food by examining how far our food has traveled to get to us.

Tell the group, in these words or your own:

Growing, processing, and transporting food contributes very significantly to climate change, and pollution and misuse of our air, water, and earth. The farther food travels, the more fossil fuels are consumed in transportation, the less control we have over the conditions involved in producing that food, and the less connection we have with the people and land originally connected with the food.

Food that travels around the world is a very profitable business. However, the people who actually produce the food do not always get paid fairly.

Now show the grocery bag of food. Unpack it, handing an item to each child. Ask them to try to identify where their item comes from. A produce item often has a sticker that tells the country of origin; canned or boxed goods will be labeled with fine print information on the producer and distributor. Point out that an item with more than one ingredient may be labeled with the location of the company that sold the food, but may not provide information on where each ingredient originated.

Move to the maps. Invite children to call out the places the food originated. Attach sticky notes to the locations the children name.

Lead a discussion with these questions:

  • How many miles in total do you think the food that was in this bag might have traveled?
  • What connection (if any) do you have to any of the sources of this food?

Invite the group to brainstorm questions they might wonder about how and where the food was produced. Prompt:

  • I wonder what chemicals, such as pesticides, were used in producing the crops?
  • I wonder how many hands have touched this [name one of the items]?
  • What were the conditions for the farm workers who raised the crop? Did they work on land they owned, or on land owned by someone else or a corporation? How hard did they work and how well they were paid?
  • Did the farm workers have any way of seeing that they got a fair price for what they produced?
  • For prepared foods: Did the people who mixed the ingredients taste the results? Is the food they would eat at their homes like the food they prepared for us, or different?

Ask the children, "Who has an item marked 'fair trade'?" Have that participant tell what food they have and where it originated, and show others the fair trade label. Explain that a "fair trade" designation means the growers of the product (say, coffee or chocolate) worked directly with the buyers to negotiate a fair amount of money for their work.

Including All Participants

Provide a magnifying glass to help participants read fine print on labels.