Diet and the Environment

9, 10, 11, 12

The learner develops an awareness of alternative, earth-friendly ways to eat. This lesson encourages the learners to evaluate how their food choices affect the environment. Youth identify ways organic and processed foods contribute to their health as well as the health of our world.

PrintOne 50 minute session

The learner will:

  • compare the opportunity costs involved in purchasing locally grown food products as opposed to convenience foods.
  • identify how environmental stewardship, common good, responsibility, and social action are involved in purchasing food products.

What would be the effect if nonorganic foods had to be labeled with warning labels, and local organic food was unlabeled, as the standard?


FoodPrint will help you make food choices that do less harm to the environment, animals and people.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Have participants think about how food choices relate to the environment. They get a sense of their own "food print" by taking this quiz. Discuss their results and observations of the quiz information.

  2. Ask what the words organic and sustainable have to do with our health and the environment.

    Define organic as "without the employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides."

    Define sustainable as "a method of using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged."

    Help the learners make a connection between these two words. (Sustainable methods of farming, such as small-farm and chemical-free practices, produce organic foods.)

  3. Share the FoodPrint website to explore food choices based on buying locally produced foods with fewer chemicals, packaging, and transportation costs. Talk about the importance of a diet with mostly vegetables and less meat, plus whole grains. What are we giving up and what are we gaining when we eat that way? This may be for our own health and the health of our communities and environment.

  4. Explain the "opportunity cost" of buying one or the other: When they purchase the more expensive food, they lose the opportunity to spend that extra money on something else. When they purchase the less expensive item, they lose the benefits of the organically grown food. Buyers have to decide if the benefits of buying organic outweigh the extra cost. Have them respond to the question, “Why might a consumer choose to buy sustainable/organic agriculture products?" Be sensitive and nonjudgmental about choices families make.

  5. Thinking about the information on the foodprint quiz and website, discuss the following concepts: environmental stewardship, common good, responsibility, and social action. Have the learners share what they know of these words and guide them as they define them. Environmental stewardship is the care and responsible management of the environment. Common good involves individual citizens promoting the welfare of the community (even if they must sacrifice their own time, personal preferences, or money) to work together with other members for the greater benefit of all. Responsibility is being answerable for one's actions or the actions of others. Social action is the process of doing or acting for the general welfare of all.

  6. Discuss personal choice and advocacy. We can make personal choices to eat better that affect our own health and wellbeing. It may be helpful to reflect on the MyPlate guide on the USDA website. 

    When we advocate for a practice, we think about how it affects the common good.

    Discuss: What can we do to raise awareness of the relationship between food choices and the environment?

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Explain how <i>opportunity cost</i> relates to philanthropic giving by individuals and corporations.
      2. Benchmark HS.5 Give examples of stewardship decisions throughout history and in current events.
      3. Benchmark HS.9 Analyze a major social issue as a "commons problem" and suggest ways the civil society sector could help to resolve it.
    2. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Utilize the persuasive power of written or oral communication as an instrument of change in the community, nation or the world.
      2. Benchmark HS.3 Participate in acts of democratic citizenship in the community, state or nation, such as petitioning authority, advocating, voting, group problem solving, mock trials or classroom governance and elections.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.5 Compare and contrast opportunities for students to improve the common good to the opportunities available to students in other countries.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Research the need in the school, neighborhood, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Provide a needed service.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Describe the goals of the project and their impact.
      3. Benchmark HS.3 Describe the task and the student role.
    3. Standard VS 04. Raising Private Resources
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Describe a detailed action for service.