The Food We Eat Can Have a Positive Impact on Climate Justice

This page is authored by Deepti Karkhanis, Bellevue College (email: deepti.karkhanis@bellevuecollege.edu)

This assignment was inspired by a keynote speaker who presented on climate justice at a college-wide event in 2019. I have compiled the lesson using information from several OER sources such as NobaProject, Our World in Data, TED talks, etc.

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Initial Publication Date: June 17, 2022 | Reviewed: August 4, 2022

Summary

In this psychology real-life investigation, students investigate the food on their plates, identify the source location of the foods they consume on a regular basis, and calculate their carbon footprint. The goal is to identify their diet (its source of origin – where was it grown, packaged, shipped from, etc.), its impact on their subjective well-being (also known as "happiness"), and its impact on their health as well as climate justice. Students conduct research to identify one potentially problematic ingredient that they frequently ingest. The idea here is for the students to investigate their carbon footprint and reflect on their current dietary choices, and also consider food ingredient(s) that might be detrimental to their well-being, such as increasing the vulnerability to certain diseases such as COVID-19, cancer, diabetes, etc. The goal is to widen students' awareness and encourage them to make up their own minds about their dietary choices while considering new directions to take. Furthermore, with the encouragement of a TED Talk on the power of talking about climate change with others, students are asked to create/design an infographic to effectively engage with the larger community on the issues of climate change and climate justice, and then use the infographic to talk to friends and family about what you are learning about climate change and climate justice.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

Through this activity, students will understand the following content/conceptual goals for learning --

  • what is climate justice,
  • understand the concept of carbon footprint,
  • reflect on their everyday behaviors around what they choose to eat,
  • explore how their everyday behaviors and dietary choices contribute to climate change,
  • identify the action(s) they could undertake to reduce the carbon footprint of their diet and motivate their family/friends to do the same.

Overall, they will assess the impact of their behavioral change on their own subjective well-being (also known as happiness) levels.

Learning goals --

1. Calculate one's carbon footprint and take identify concrete steps to reduce their carbon footprint through conscious dietary choices.

2. Share thoughts and information about climate change and climate justice with friends/family via conversations and sharing an infographic.

Context for Use

This assignment can be used in introductory/general psychology, positive psychology, and health psychology courses wherein students learn about subjective well-being (SWB), and the external and internal factors that contribute to SWB. Students must have some understanding of subjective well-being (SWB) as well as the internal and external factors that contribute to SWB. The knowledge, skills, and abilities that students will have to master are critical thinking, inclusivity, judgment, and decision making. For instance, one's pursuit of physical well-being and realization of health outcomes (through diet and food security, through the improvement of environmental quality) are related to human subjective well-being (also known as happiness).

This lesson using the PPT slides Happiness and Diet PowerPoint Slides.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 16.3MB Jun5 22) could be used in 1 two-hour class session or broken down across 2 (two) fifty minutes sessions.

Faculty can assign this as an individual assignment and have students present their reflections and findings to the instructor or as a final class group project. This assignment can be used at the high-school and undergraduate college levels with both small and large class sizes. It is a real-life field experiment that can range from 4-5 days to several weeks, as determined by the instructor. One way of conducting this assignment is to have two components to it - 1. self-realization journey and reflection (through carbon footprint and changing one's diet) and 2. civic engagement through conversations and/or creating infographics to spread the knowledge in the community.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students will be asked to calculate their carbon footprint https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx and watch a Ted Talk to learn about how they can have a real discussion with friends and family to connect over shared values like community and religion and to prompt people to realize that they already care about and can respondto a changing climate.

Step 1. Students are first asked to download a PPT file Happiness and Diet PowerPoint Slides.pptx (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 16.3MB Jun5 22), which presents both conceptual information and links to videos and websites that present additional material. The PPT specifically:

  • introduces and describes subjective well-being (SWB) and components of Subjective Well-Being (SWB),
  • lists external and internal factors affecting SWB
  • explores how environmental quality affects our SWB (or happiness)
  • introduces the phenomenon of climate change and the concept of climate Justice
  • introduces carbon footprint
  • and finally, defines food sovereignty and its six principles (optional content).

Step 2. Students then download the assignment document Climate Justice, Happiness and Diet Psych Assignment V3.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 103kB Jun16 22). Instructions include:

  • conduct a Real-Life Field Investigation, wherein students individually document their diet for one week, including various foods' origin (were grown or made, where and how packaged, were shipped from, etc.), and their possible impacts on one's health as well as on climate change;
  • read and watch resources that educate us about climate change, climate justice, and how what we eat contributes to climate change;
  • think and write responses to reflection questions;
  • consider dietary choices that might reduce one's carbon footprint, and thereby play a role in contributing to climate justice. 

Step 3. Encourage students to comment on what they learned about climate justice, and what action they are considering to contribute to this social justice movement. Specifically,

  1. Create an infographic to –a) to show you understand course content and can relate it to your lived experience AND b) to share it effectively with the larger community
    • Infographic templates can be found on canva.com 
  2. Use the infographic to talk to friends and family about what you are learning about climate change and climate justice

Teaching Notes and Tips

This section is a work in progress. Since I have only implemented this assignment in asynchronous sources in 2020, I'm yet to teach the lesson in a face-to-face course. Also, it was assigned as extra credit so only 9-10 self-motivated students completed it. I did not get any questions or face any challenges in explaining the content of the PowerPoint to students.

When I plan to teach it in a face-to-face class, I would definitely have students do some reading and/or watch a video on climate justice before coming to class. That way they will have some time to process the information. I can see splitting this lesson and activity components into two class sessions. If the class is small, I could definitely have a seminar-style discussion of students' carbon footprints (after they have calculated it for themselves) and then make a list on the whiteboard of ways to reduce the footprint.


Assessment

I'll let students know that the Real-Life Field Investigation reports will be graded using the following rubric –

Criteria --> Observations and Insights

Full points (15) – detailed and thoughtful observations, high degree of insight and analysis of the carbon footprint, and responses to questions provide evidence that information is processed and deeply reflected upon.
Moderate points (10) – adequate degree of observations, some insights with an incomplete analysis for carbon footprint, and responses show reflection but lack depth.
Partial/low points (5) – simplistic observations, little to no insight, the carbon footprint is not calculated, and responses are descriptive, not reflective.

I will also share with students the purpose of the infographic assignment (purpose/goal, audience, criteria for your evaluation using the rubric listed below), and I will also share a sample infographic, and direct students to use canva.com for infographic templates.

Here is the rubric for the infographic --

Criterion

Exceptional

8-10 points

Proficient

5-7 points

Developing

0-4 points

Organization/Focus

Clearly states and defines the project, in detail.

Never diverges from the topic.

The topic relates to psychology and climate justice

States and defines the project, but with details missing.

Sometimes diverges from the topic.

Topic somewhat relates to psychology and/or climate justice

Does not clearly define the project, and important details were missing.

Diverges from the topic.

Topic does not relate to psychology or climate justice

Content/Critical Thinking

-inclusion of information from the course

Draws conclusions and makes connections to course content.

Visuals augmented and extended comprehension of the issues in unique ways.

Clearly demonstrated new knowledge

Draws some conclusions and briefly ties to course content.

Use of visuals related to the material.

Demonstrated new knowledge but in an unclear manner

Does not make a connection to course content.

Visuals did not add to the presentation.

Did not demonstrate new knowledge

Format and Creativity

Infographic was of sufficient length.

The student demonstrated clarity in creativity

 

Infographic was close to sufficient length.

The student demonstrated some creativity

 

Infographic was of insufficient length.

No creativity was demonstrated by the student

 

References and Resources

List of resources and readings --

A. Assigned videos required of the students:

B. Suggested optional readings for the students:

C. Helpful resources to instructors as they develop this activity: