This lesson plan features the film and book from the project, No Impact Man, which follows a family in New York City as they examine how they live, exchange old habits for more environmentally-friendly ones, and discover in the process that such changes actually make them happier and healthier. The lesson also incorporates Web site resources that build on themes that emerge from the family’s experiences. Educators can use this lesson to help students explore how their food choices affect the environment and our quality of life. This lesson was produced with assistance from our partner Eat Well Guide.
By the end of this lesson, students will:
Geography, Economics, Humanities, Current Events, Language Arts, Health
One 50-minute class period
“Eliminating Trash” (length: 2:06): The clip begins at 20:07 with the Beavan family walking out of a building and ends at 22:13 when Colin says, “This is our combined trash for a week.”
To access this video clip, please find the link to it in the e-mail you received when you registered.
1. Display the following instructions and have students complete the exercise as a warm-up activity:
Write down everything you ate and drank at your last meal. Circle the foods that have been processed in some way. Next to each item, list details about the packaging it came in. What value did the packaging add? Is that packaging recyclable? What do you think will happen to the packaging that was thrown away?
2. Invite some of the students to share what they’ve written. Discuss:
3. Explain that in 2006, food packaging in the U.S. was responsible for about 50 million tons of garbage. That’s 20 percent of all our trash! (Source: Environmental Protection Agency) Often, our food-related trash comes from take out containers that are only used for a few minutes before being thrown away. How can our choices about what we eat both increase our health and reduce the amount of trash we generate at each meal? Brainstorm a class list of possible strategies.
4. Tell students that a man named Colin Beavan and his family in New York City decided that they were going to figure out as many ways as they could to reduce the trash that they generate – including minimizing the amount of packaging in their food. Colin blogged about what his family learned. Show the video clip for this lesson and ask students to listen carefully for food-related trash-reduction strategies that are not on their class list. Then, update the class list with any new ideas that were identified.
5. Explain that the Beavans also learned that the average distance that food travels to an American’s plate is 1,500 miles (Source: John Hendrickson, “Energy use in the U.S. Food System: A Summary of existing research and analysis”). That means food has to be picked long before its peak ripeness, so it isn’t as fresh and flavorful. Also, all that transporting of food uses fossil fuels and creates pollution. They also learned that buying foods grown locally helps the local economy. So they eat only seasonal foods that were grown within 250 miles of their home. For them, this meant shopping at the local Farmer’s Market, changing their eating habits, and learning new ways to prepare food. Then, read the brief book excerpt for this lesson.
7. Challenge students to create a plan for one meal that includes only food that is seasonal, local, and unpackaged. The provided Meal Plan Organizer walks students through this process and lists helpful Web sites, such as the Eat Well Guide – a free online directory of where to find fresh, locally-grown, and sustainable food. Students can complete this assignment for homework.
Students can be assessed on:
This Mayo Clinic article compares the nutrition and price of a fast food burger and a homemade one, and explores various factors that influence our food choices.
This succinct list outlines the benefits of eating locally-grown food.
Read examples of what schools are doing around the country to teach children how food choices can affect the health of a community, environment, and economy. This site also explains how to apply for funding to begin a similar program at your school.
Sustainable Table is a program that works to educate consumers and increase demand for sustainable, local food through awareness campaigns, promotional events and by offering viable solutions to the factory farm problem. This comprehensive section provides handouts and free presentation kits on many of the issues associated with our food system, including hormones, additives, organic farming, reasons to buy sustainable, animal welfare, food safety, pesticides and more.
This article provides helpful information and resources that make it easier to eat seasonally and locally.
This Michael Pollan essay spells out healthy eating in these words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Pollan also describes what’s wrong with America’s eating culture, and how we can eat foods with greater nutrition.
These standards are drawn from “Content Knowledge,” a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning).
Agricultural Education, Standard 1: Understands the connections between agriculture and society.
Behavioral Studies, Standard 1: Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity and behavior.
Family/Consumer Sciences, Standard 12: Understand how knowledge and skills related to nutrition and food affect the well-being of individuals, families, and society.
Health, Standard 2: Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health.
Health, Standard 6: Understands essential concepts about nutrition and diet.
Historical Understanding, Standard 2: Understands the historical perspective.
Language Arts, Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
Language Arts, Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
Language Arts, Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.
Language Arts, Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.
Language Arts, Standard 10: Understands the characteristics and components of the media.
Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive’s Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource Web site (now PBS Teachers), and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.
This lesson is inspired by the work of Colin Beavan (aka “No Impact Man”), who got tired of listening to himself complain about the world without ever actually doing anything about it. So in November 2006, he launched his year-long “No Impact Man” experiment in which he, his wife, his two-year-old daughter and their dog attempted to live in the middle of New York City with as little environmental impact as possible. They tried to adopt new everyday habits that would be less harmful to the planet, and discovered in the process that such changes also make them happier and healthier. Along the way, Beavan blogged about his adventures and attracted broad public attention to environmental issues, including those related food, consumption, water, energy, and transportation. Beavan’s experiment in lifestyle redesign is the subject of his No Impact Man book and a Sundance-selected documentary by independent film producers Laura Gabbert and Eden Wurmfeld.
The Eat Well Guide® is a free online directory for anyone in search of fresh, locally grown and sustainably produced food in the United States and Canada. Eat Well’s thousands of listings include family farms, restaurants, farmers’ markets, grocery stores, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, U-pick orchards and more. Users can search by location, keyword, category or product to find good food, download customized guides, or plan a trip with the innovative mapping tool, Eat Well Everywhere. Eat Well is also home to The Green Fork blog and the free educational booklet Cultivating the Web: High Tech Tools for the Sustainable Food Movement. Together with the enterprising spirits of independent farmers, locally owned businesses and partner organizations, the Eat Well Guide’s collaborative technology harnesses the power of the web to effect social, environmental and economic change, and maps the route to a more sustainable food system.