What Is Hunger?

6, 7, 8

Students learn facts about hunger and food insecurity and understand the three stages of hunger.

Print2 hours

Students will:

  • demonstrate an understanding of the definitions of hunger and food insecurity.
  • identify the three stages of hunger.
  • Nectar in Sieve quote by Kamala Markandaya (Handout)
  • printout of World Food Programme "What Is Hunger?" webpage: https://www.wfp.org/hunger/what-is 
  • hunger: not having enough to eat to meet energy requirements. Note: absence of hunger does not imply absence of malnutrition.
  • food security: access by all members of a family at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. 
  • food insecurity: limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.

Kempf, Stephanie. Unit I: "What is Hunger?" Finding Solutions to Hunger. World Hunger Year, 1997. Web.

United Nations. "What Is Hunger?" WFP: United Nations World Food Programme, 2015. Web.

USDA. "What Is Food Security?" Economic Research Service, 2016. Web.


  1. Raise student interest with a discussion about what the word "hunger" means. Create a web or cluster graphic organizer with sticky notes to define terms, causes, and effects.

  2. Introduce the key vocabulary: food insecurity, food security, and hunger.

  3. Have students create a KWL chart on hunger and conduct research to fill in what they learned. Have them share their most interesting findings with the class.

  4. Have students begin to determine some misconceptions about hunger. Provide ample discussion time.

  5. Ask students to visualize hunger. What does it look like? Feel like? What do people who are hungry look like?

  6. Have students work in small groups to create a definition of hunger.

  7. Share with students the quote from Nectar in a Sieve, which describes what hunger is. Discuss the definition with the class.

  8. Use the definitions of hunger, food security, and food insecurity to create a framework from which to understand the three stages of hunger: food insecurity without hunger, food insecurity with moderate hunger evident, food insecurity with severe hunger.


Test on understanding of key terms

Cross Curriculum 

Ms. Hopkins is the principal at St. Margaret’s School in New York state. "Teaching about service to others is a key part of the school’s mission statement,” said Hopkins. “We must teach our children how to care for others to make the world a better place.” 

Read about the service-learning project called One Sandwich at a Time by St. Margaret's School students who were taught using this What Is Hunger? lesson to guide student learning and action.