Ecosystems | Community Connection: Do My Food Choices Matter?

Community Connection: Do My Food Choices Matter? Activity (Optional)

Students explore how much carbon dioxide goes into foods in their daily diet.

Guiding Question

Do my food choices matter?

Activities in this Lesson – Do My Food Choices Matter? Worksheet

  • Activity 1 Do My Food Choices Matter? Worksheet


  1. To explore the series of ecosystems that produce the food we eat.
  2. To compare the environmental impacts of different food choices.

NGSS Performance Expectations – see unit

Background Information

We can think of the ingredients in our food as coming from a series of ecosystems managed by people to maximize production. When food ingredients come from higher trophic levels, in general, more ecosystems are required to produce them. Most food produced in large quantities begins with an ecosystem where plant biomass is the main product. We may use the plant biomass directly (for example, beans) or it may be passed to another ecosystem where it is fed to consumers or decomposers and we eat products from the consumers or decomposers. Fruits, vegetables, and vegetable oil are just a few examples of food ingredients from plants. Eggs, mushrooms, fish, and pork are examples of food ingredients from consumers or decomposers.

Every agricultural ecosystem has some negative effect on the environment – some more than others. The machinery people use to develop, manage, harvest, process, and/or transport food uses fossil fuels which add CO2 to the atmosphere when burned. Tilled land and animal waste also produce greenhouse gases. Fertilizer and animal manure may end up in water. Water use may deplete aquifers. Soil may be eroded or degraded. Chemicals used to control pests, weeds, or diseases may have unintended consequences. In this lesson, we look only at the carbon footprint (net addition of carbon to the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels) of different foods. However, students can investigate other environmental impacts in the Digging Deeper Section.

Key carbon-transforming processes: cellular respiration, photosynthesis, biosynthesis, and combustion of fossil fuels

Talk and Writing

At this stage in the unit, the students will be applying unit ideas that should be well-developed. This is an opportunity to practice those ideas an additional time. The table on the next page shows specific talk and writing goals for this phase of the unit.

Talk and Writing Goals for the Application Phase

Teacher Talk Strategies That Support This Goal

Curriculum Components That Support This Goal

Treat this as an opportunity to practice unit ideas

In this unit, we’ve learned a lot about cellular respiration, photosynthesis and biosynthesis of organisms are dependent on other organisms in their ecosystem. Let’s see how these ideas apply to our diets.


Listen for student ideas about matter and energy at different scales. Are they using unit ideas or informal reasoning?

How are the ecosystems that produce human food alike and different from ecosystems that are not managed by people for production? How do the matter and energy inputs and outputs compare? What are the effects of scaling up from growing just enough for one person to eat to growing enough to feed the country?

Four Questions Poster from the unit

Help students practice using precise language to describe matter and energy at different scales.

What are the matter and energy inputs and outputs of the organisms in the ecosystem? What are people doing in the ecosystems that require energy and matter inputs or outputs?

Four Questions Poster