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: 30-45 minutes

Brought to you by New York State 4-H and Cornell Cooperative Extension

A world map made up of snacks

Supplies
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)
supply list icon

Activity Steps

Use this interactive activity to learn about where your food comes from, and how far it travels to reach your plate.

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?
lightbulb icon

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

Shop 4-H Curriculum and Products

Shop 4-H offers university-backed curriculum, educational kits, products and supplies to expand your knowledge of cooking, food, and nutrition.

Clover-Cookie-Cutter-382x360

4-H Clover Cookie Cutter

Bring 4-H into your kitchen with this metal 4-H cookie cutter. This cutter makes for an excellent cooking competition or food demonstration prize.

$1.25

4-H Cooking 101 Curriculum from Shop 4-H

4-H Cooking 101

Grades: 6-12

Learn to avoid spreading germs while cooking, measure and mix ingredients, test baked goods for doneness, brown meat, and set the table for a family meal.

$10.50

 
4-H clover aprons from Shop 4-H

4-H Clover Apron

All good cooks need an apron when they are whisking around the kitchen! Cook in style while showing your 4-H pride!

$15.95

 
4-H oven mitt from Shop 4-H

4-H Oven Mitt

Turn up the heat in the kitchen while showing off your 4-H pride! The 4-H Oven Mitt makes a great gift for the chef in your home.

 

$7.95

 
Fresh-Chefs-Cooking-Essentials-Bundle-382x360

Fresh Chefs Cooking Essentials Bundle

The Fresh Chefs Cooking Essentials Bundle helps young chefs learn their way around the kitchen. Set includes a spatula, measuring cups, and 2 Flex-it cutting boards.

 

$15.99

 
Six-Easy-Bites-382x360

Fantastic Foods: Six Easy Bites

Grades: 3-12

 

This food activity guide helps kids learn about different food ingredients, characteristics, and safety issues.

 

$8.95

 

Brought to you by:

No endorsement of these supporters' products or services is granted or implied by 4‑H.

Help 4-H Provide Equal #Opportunity4All Kids

We Want to Hear from You!

Please take a short survey about your 4-H at Home experience!

We Want to Hear from You!

Please take a short survey about your 4-H at Home experience!