What Goes In Must Come Out

Creating and consuming food requires a wide variety of inputs, while also producing 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 gasses, 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 minutes

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

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.

As the global population continues to grow, our food systems are facing a great challenge to meet the increasing food demands of billions of people. Even though the earth is large, not every land is suitable for growing food. Plus, traditional agriculture consumes a lot of energy and has many negative impacts on the environment. Fortunately, scientists and researchers are finding new, sustainable ways to increase food production given limited land and resources.

We encourage you to do some exploration to find some examples of food production innovations around the world and learn how these new technologies or approaches contribute to food systems sustainability. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

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.


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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.




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Fantastic Foods: Six Easy Bites

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




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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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