Nonprofit journalism dedicated to creating a Human Age we actually want to live in.

Classroom Resources: The Problem of What to Eat

By Natasha Loder, Elizabeth Finkel, Craig Meisner, and Pamela Ronald
July-September 2008 / Vol. 9 No. 3

Read the article >>

Discussion Questions

  • What are some of society’s typical conceptions about the local food movement, organic agriculture, nitrogen fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms? How does this article challenge these assumptions?
  • Loder argues that buying locally grown food does not necessarily translate into a lower carbon footprint.  However, are there other benefits to buying local foods?  How would you define a “local” food?  Identify some of the tradeoffs between buying locally grown food and buying food transported from long distances.
  • Why do you think the production costs for red meat and dairy products are so high relative to other foods?
  • Using your knowledge of conservation, consider the data put forth by Williams et al. (2006).  Why do you think organic dairy farms emit higher levels of greenhouse gases and use more land?  Are there other measures of the environmental burdens of both forms of production that should be compared?
  • What are the costs and benefits of no-till agricultural systems? Why do you think the use of no-till farming is increasing?
  • Meisner argues that, despite the results of Badgeley et al. (2007), organic farming may not be feasible for poor farmers in developing countries. How can food production match the needs of growing populations in the developing world? What role does equitable food distribution play?

Websites for Further Information

Food Production in the News

Peer-reviewed Literature (in addition to the citations listed in the article)

  • Edwards-Jones, G., et al. 2008. Testing the assertion that ‘local food is best’: the challenges of an evidence-based approach. Trends in Food Science and Technology 19:265-274.
  • Jordan, C.F. 2002.  Genetic engineering, the farm crisis, and world hunger.  BioScience 52: 523-529.
  • Lal, R., et al. 2004. Managing soil carbon. Science 304: 393.
  • Ohlsson, T. 2006. Food waste management by life cycle assessment of the food chain.  Journal of Food Science 69:107-109.
  • Pretty, J.N., et al. 2005. Farm costs and food miles: An assessment of the full cost of the UK weekly food basket. Food Policy 30:1-19.
  • Stagl, S. 2002. Local organic food markets: potential and limitations for contributing to sustainable development. Empirica 29:145-162.

Key Concepts

  • Carbon footprint
  • Food miles
  • Life cycle analysis
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Organic farming
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)