InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Food as the Foundation for Healthy Communities > Student Materials > Unit 1: The Food-Energy-Water Connection
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Unit 1: The Food-Energy-Water Connection

You will investigate the components of energy and water as they relate to food production. You will also learn how food is connected to the dynamic elements of energy and water. You will explain the roles of each component as it relates to the others in the system. You will explain the set of connections that make up the system if the system breaks down or the connections are negatively affected. You will identify the most important factors involved in food production, based on the roles of energy and water in that production. You will explain and support your choices.

Activity 1.1: Module Introduction, Overview of Unit 1, Discussion of Concepts & Themes, and Formation of Groups (approximate time: 60 min)

This unit opens with an audio-visual introduction of the Food-Energy-Water Connection slide presentation that provides an accessible means for you to follow, and your instructor to convey, important questions, concepts, themes, relationships, and issues central to gaining an understanding of the subject matter. Unit 1: Module Presentation Slides (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 8.4MB Oct25 17)

Activity 1.2: Guided Discussion and Viewing of Introductory Videos (approximate time: 45-60 min)

You will access two videos that introduce you to the elemental forces in nature that are indispensable to food production. These videos also initiate discussions about the real-world implications and consequences of decisions made regarding energy and water management and use.

  1. The Food-Water-Energy Nexus — Thinking Explained. Institute of International and European Affairs (time – 2:18 seconds) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKW_ux2Xo_w
  2. The Food-Water-Energy Nexus in South Africa. World Wildlife Fund – South Africa (time – 2:31 seconds) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGNxRZD4Uxs

Activity 1.3: The Food Energy Water Connection and Systems Thinking — A Guided Discussion (approximate time: 30–40 min)

Your instructor will lead a guided discussion on the significance of the information and how it builds an understanding of the nature and dynamics of a complex system.

  • Formative assessment: In Activity 1.4 Unit1. Five Minute Paper (Acrobat (PDF) 10kB Aug16 17), list the four types of limitations to producing sufficient levels of food in rank order from first to fourth, and explain why. Your responses should be based on your understanding of how each limitation impacts real-world situations.
  • Summative assessment: In Activity 1.5 Five Minute Paper _ Unit 1 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 31kB Aug14 17), describe concisely in writing the roles of energy and water in food production, providing examples of real-world challenges to food availability.

References and Resources

Resources Used in the Unit

1. Getting to Grips with the Water-Energy-Food Nexus? An IChemE Green Paper.

Reference 1 presents a clear and comprehensive look at the food-energy-water system, its linkages and inter-dependencies in the context of human reliance.

2. The Food-Water-Energy Nexus - Thinking Explained. Institute of International and European Affairs. (time -2:18 seconds).

3. The Food-Water-Energy Nexus in South Africa. World Wildlife Fund - South Africa. (time- 2:31 seconds).

References 2 and 3 present basic, practical descriptions of the food-energy-water system.

Additional References and Resources

4. Environmental Justice, Environmental Health Disparities and Food Systems Thinking: Challenges and Opportunities.

References in #4 integrate food systems thinking into the environment, justice, and health.

5. "Food sovereignty, food security and health equity: a meta-narrative mapping exercise." A.M. Weiler, C. Hergesheimer, B. Brisbois, H. Wittman, A. Yassi and J. M. Spiegel. Health Policy and Planning. 2015. 30:1078–1092 doi:10.1093/heapol/czu109

6. "Globalization, Climate Change, and Human Health." Anthony J. McMichael. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013. 368:1335-43. DOI:10.1056/NEJMra1109341.

7. Environmental sustainability issues in the food–energy–water nexus: Breakfast cereals and snacks. H.K. Jeswani, R. Burkinshaw, and A. Azapagic. Sustainable Production and Consumption. 2015. 2:17-28.

8. Tracing the Water Energy Food Nexus — Description Theory and Practice Geography Compass 9/8 (2015): 445–460, 10.1111/gec3.12222.

9. Scale and Cross Scale-Dynamics: Governance and Information in a Multilevel World . David W. Cash. W. Neil Adger, Fikret Berkes, Po Garden, Louis Lebel, Per Olsson, Lowell Pritchard, and Oran Young. Ecology and Society. 2006. 11(2):8.

References 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 give additional information and perspectives and are sources for some of the slides in the PowerPoint presentations.

These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »