Become a Food Systems Detective

Find out where your food comes from and where it goes when you’re done with it.

About the Activity

Imagine pulling your favorite bag of chips out of the pantry. How did it make its way to your hands and what will happen when you throw away the empty bag? This interactive activity will answer those questions when you explore modern food systems, which include producing, processing, distributing, retailing, consuming, and disposing of food.

Along the way, you’ll start to see the bigger picture of where each activity in modern food systems takes place and how much traveling is involved.

Grades: 7-10
Topic: Food Systems, Civic Engagement
Estimated Time: 30 minutes

Brought to you by New York State 4-H, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

A world map made up of snacks

These simple supplies are all you’ll need for this activity.

  • A processed food item with a label available to the learner
  • An internet-connected device (phone or computer)
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Activity Steps

Use this interactive activity to find out where your food comes from, how far it travels to reach you, and where it goes when you throw it away.

Reflection Questions
Bonus questions to inspire wonder.

  1. How do you think food gets from one food system location to another (for example, airplane, railroad, inland waterways, ocean freighter, truck, personal vehicle, and garbage truck)?
  2. How might the food miles be different for food that is locally grown at a farmers’ market versus a packaged food from a major grocery store chain?
  3. Why does your food item come in packaging?
  4. How do you know if food packaging is recyclable?
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Investigate and Explore
Take what you've learned to the next level to learn more and explore the possibilities.

Now that you know how far food often travels before it gets to your plate, think about ways you can get food that comes more locally. You might already know of some farmers’ markets or community gardens in your neighborhood or town, but now that you are aware you can keep an eye out for places like this where food is grown locally, cutting down on the transportation costs and waste that are often a part of many food systems.

A person carrying a box in a farm

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No endorsement of these supporters' products or services is granted or implied by 4‑H. This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, AFRI - Education and Workforce Development project 2021-67037-33376.9

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