Activities for Module III Fur, Feathers, and Fins – Animals in our food
Activities for Section A: Animals in the Food System
Activity 1: Track it down, if you can
Purpose: Students will begin to ask how animal products get from the farm to the store. Students will find out what information food labels do and don’t provide.
Advance preparation: If this activity is conducted as a homework activity, the only preparation necessary is to give the students a handout with the four questions. If the activity will be conducted in class, the teacher or students need to bring in packaging materials from a variety of animal products.
Estimated time: 10 minutes to try to answer questions based on label, plus 15 minutes to discuss findings in class. Time to travel to a grocery and/or contact a store manager can vary greatly.
Ask students to pick a livestock product, such as cheese, butter, eggs, or pork, that you know is raised and processed in your state.
Have them go to the grocery store and try to determine where a sample of that product was grown and processed. (Or for an activity that can be conducted entirely in class, the teacher or students can bring in sample labels.)
Try to get the answers to these questions:
- Does the product label or store say where it comes from? Why or why not?
- When the product says it comes from a place, does that mean it was both raised and processed there?
- If the label does not say where it comes from, does the appropriate store manager (e.g., the butcher or the dairy manager) know?
- Why is any of this product imported from out of state, when it is also produced in-state?
Discuss the answers to the questions in class.
Most food products consumed in the US follow the Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL). Sometimes the product will display its origin if the marketer thinks that information will help sell the product, either because the place has the reputation of producing the food particularly well or because people like to buy local (or both). In addition, different labeling regulations apply, depending on the product.
In general, dairy products and eggs are required to list the location or principal business address of the most recent processor or packer on the label.
If a grocery store buys cheese from Canada and cuts and re-packages it in smaller portions, the label must still say the cheese was produced in Canada. However, although you might reasonably assume that Wisconsin cheese is made from milk produced in Wisconsin, as much as 8 or 9 percent of the milk and milk solids used in making Wisconsin cheese and cheese products is imported from other states and even other countries. There is no requirement to show that fact on the cheese label, and in fact the amount of milk products imported to Wisconsin is not even tracked. We just know that the state makes more cheese than it could using only milk from in-state.
The rules of COOL are not straightforward when it comes to meat products. COOL is required for many meat products such as shellfish, venison, poultry, lamb, and more, however the same requirements are not mandatory for beef and pork. Before 2015, beef and pork required COOL labeling for unaltered meat products. However, this was repealed in 2015, and COOL requirements were lifted. This was a controversial decision and received a lot of pushback from small US beef farmers and label conscious US consumers who want transparency with their food. People may want to know the origins of the meat they purchase due to health, safety, ethical, and environmental concerns. Why would certain parties want beef and pork to not label their country of origin? Below are two opposing arguments for and against beef and pork COOL labeling:
The label usually only tells you where the item was processed (or even just where the processing company is headquartered), not where the ingredients were raised (see above). For instance, a label for a raw chicken product that is unaltered (thighs, drumsticks, breasts, etc…) is required to be accurate to the country where animals were reared. However, if the chicken is further processed, it’s no longer considered “chicken” but rather the new product it was processed into (Gravy, chicken pot pie, ect..). The further processed product isn’t required to specify where the animal was raised, rather where the product was further manufactured.
To qualify for the “Taste of Iowa” label a food just must have at least 50% of its value produced in the state. That value could easily be contributed solely by processing in many cases. (CPG Sec. 560.200 Country of Origin Labeling (fda.gov) )
There are a number of reasons why a food may be imported, even if the same type is raised in-state:
- the commodity may be available more cheaply out of state,
- the store may buy all or most of its products from an out-of-state distributor,
- the product may not be available in-state during some seasons,
- processing may be cheaper out-of-state, or
- The closest processing facility may be located across state borders.
- Differences in labor and environmental regulations (Beef Example).
Activity 2: Pyramid Presumption
Purpose: This class discussion activity will help students see that animal products play different roles in the diets of different cultures. Students will also learn that USDA dietary guidelines are the product of politics and culture as well as nutritional science.
Advance preparation: Print out and copy a variety of food plates and pyramids from suggested websites. Estimated time: 15 to 25 minutes
Explain to students that the US Department of Agriculture has been giving nutritional advice since 1894. Students are probably familiar with the old USDA food pyramid and with the My Plate guidance. Both sets of guidelines, general as they may appear, are the product of US food culture, current food fashions, sometimes conflicting research and data on nutrition and public health, and the lobbying interests of a wide variety of businesses involved in food.
Show students the following:
- Traditional USDA Food Guide Pyramid 1992 version
- USDA Food Guide 2011 version (still used) – http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
- a summary of USDA recommendations overtime
- Alternative pyramids – based on traditional diets from other parts of the world (scroll to Other Food Guide Pyramids): Home | Food-based dietary guidelines | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (fao.org)
- Harvard School of Public Health Healthy Eating Plate: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/
Ask the students to discuss the following questions:
- What similarities are there between the recommendations for consuming animal products in the different plates and pyramids?
- What differences are there between the recommendations for eating animal products?
- What accounts for the differences?
- Can you think of a culture that would have a very different food pyramid from those shown? How might such a pyramid look? (for example Inuit culture might stress fish and marine mammal consumption and de-emphasize dairy products and grains.)
- How have USDA recommendations for eating animal products changed over time? Does this surprise you? Why do you think they have changed this way?
- What else do you notice when you compare nutritional advice over time and from different culinary cultures?
- Do you think the USDA food guidelines influence the food choices you make? The food choices your household makes? The foods served at your school?
- Do you know people who are following low-carb diets? How do you think those diets relate to the nutritional advice here?
- Do you think USDA guidance will change again, and if so, how and why?
- Optional question: Are any of the students lactose-intolerant or do they have food allergies? Does this affect how they feel about US dietary guidelines?
- Optional question: Do you know the proverb “One man’s meat is another’s poison?” What does it mean? How does it relate to this discussion?
Have students work in small groups or alone to develop their own food pyramid and explain why they set it up the way they did.
Activity 3: The Meatrix
Purpose: Introduce students to critiques of “factory farming” of animals. Discuss criticisms and raise questions to be addressed in following sections.
You can show the movie on the computer by going to The Meatrix YouTube.
Estimated time: 20 minutes
- Before you show the movie, ask students to listen for both specific facts and for the overall message. (Example of a fact: livestock are fed subtherapeutic antibiotics; example of overall message: modern meat production is not what you think it is.) If any of the students have seen The Meatrix before, you can ask them to share what they remember with the rest of the class.
- Show The Meatrix to the class (less than 10 minutes). Please credit the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE) and Free Range Graphics for the production and free sharing of the movie.
- Discuss the movie with the class. (You can appoint two or more students to act as discussion recorders.)
- Did you learn any new information from the clip? If so, what facts did you learn? What are the overall messages?
- Do you think the clip was fair? Try to back up your position with specifics. Were the facts correct or inaccurate? How could you check the facts? Did they leave out important information? If so, what is it? How do the graphics affect the message?
- Does geography matter? Are there parts of the country or the state that are like the movie? Are there areas where livestock farming is not like that?
- Does the clip make you think about meat production differently? Why or why not?
- What could be ways meat production can become both sustainable and ethical?
- If you had class recorders, have them review the key points from the discussion.