What Goes In Must Come Out

Creating and consuming food requires a wide variety of inputs and outputs, including some that are wasteful and harmful to the earth.

About the Activity

In this activity, you will learn that modern food systems require major inputs (such as water, labor, fossil fuels) and produce major negative outputs (such as greenhouse gases, air pollutants, wastewater, and solid waste). You’ll come to see that modern food systems can be wasteful and that making informed food choices can eventually contribute to impactful changes.

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

Food system machines

The only supply you need for this activity is the interactive content on this page!

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Activity Steps

Use the interactive module here to learn about the inputs and outputs of modern food systems – like how an apple becomes a breakfast bar.

Reflection Questions
Bonus questions to inspire wonder.

  1. Why does what we choose to eat have an impact on the environment?
  2. How should consumers help reduce negative outputs in modern food systems?
  3. How would thinking of food as a system with six activities, many inputs, and various outputs help you support a food system to become more sustainable?
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Investigate and Explore
Take what you've learned to the next level to learn more and explore the possibilities.

People talk a lot about ‘processed foods’ and how their creation and evolution in the last 60 years changed how the world eats. Now that you’re familiar with this idea, think about all of the things in your home that you grandparents or great grandparents never would have eaten growing up, like cereal, protein bars, boxed macaroni and cheese, and other things you’re probably familiar with. Then look at what is in your house that they would have eaten, like fruits, vegetables, and milk. Imagine what they would think if they could set foot inside your home today!

A woman shopping in a grocery store

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.


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.


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.


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!


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.




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.




Fantastic Foods: Six Easy Bites

Grades: 3-12


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




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