12 techniques of the holidays - Day 6

Day 6: Charles Levkoe's Creating an Everyday Food Experience Timeline

 Dr. Charles Levkoe

Name: Dr. Charles Levkoe

Area/Discipline: Equitable and Sustainable Food Systems; Social-Environmental Health and Justice

Twitter handle: @CharlesLevkoe

The Technique

In my courses, I work with learners to shift the focus from only individual behaviour to consider the systems and structures that enable and constrain our actions and choices. The Sustainable Development Goal “Zero Hunger” is a good example of this. Achieving this goal goes well beyond food itself (in fact, we currently produce more than twice as much food as necessary to feed the global population) to demonstrate ways that “hunger” is only a symptom of a much deeper set of challenges -- e.g. poverty, racism, patriarchy, settler-colonialism, etc.  I use a series of pedagogical techniques to map the associated systems that surround food. This provides a starting point to unpack and problematize the concept of hunger. 

I begin with learners’ everyday experiences to encourage critical thinking, conversation, and action. For example, we can look at a series of corporate food logos which are easily identified by learners. I then switch to a series of pictures of seeds (e.g. apples, strawberries, wheat, etc.) which are much more difficult to identify. This always sparks discussion about our disconnection to food systems and reliance on a corporate, industrial system to feed people. Then, we are ready to explore and analyze the systems of “food” (aspects of the system where we can gain information/insight).

One technique that supports mapping the food system and gets us thinking critically is an engaged brainstorming activity that uses real foods and encourages learners to reflect critically on the various steps along the food chain that brings that particular item to our tables. I typically use a can of tomatoes (although you could use any other item you have available). We begin by brainstorming all of the different tasks that need to happen before the can of tomatoes can be eaten by us (e.g. seed planter, harvester, truck driver, metal miner, label designer, cashier, etc.). As we brainstorm the list, each participant can identify a role and then line up in order of the tasks. From there, we can have all kinds of critical conversations about the food system -- like its efficiency, impact on climate change, elements of justice and equity, distribution of share of the cost, alternative systems, etc. 

The brainstorm and role playing gets us talking in very concrete ways about elements involved in a particular kind of food system, recognizing the pressures on those systems (the economy, environment, politics), and the opportunities for alternative food systems and their impacts. Our “aha moment” comes when students can alter the system and accurately alter the variable/results.

How I Use It

Get ready by setting up your flip charts or digital whiteboard and finding a can of tomatoes in your cupboard as well as name-tag size pieces of paper, a marker, and tape.

  • Hold up a can of tomatoes, and ask the group what types of jobs went into producing this can. Let everyone brainstorm as many jobs as they can think of. You may want to prompt the group if needed. Try to get a range of jobs from the farmer, to distributor, to factory workers, to sales and consumption. Make sure jobs are specific, e.g. seed planter, truck driver, etc.
  • As jobs are named, write them on your flipchart or whiteboard.

  • Then, write the job titles on the small name-tag papers, and tape one to each participant. 

  • Once everyone has a job taped to them, ask everyone to get in order – for example, the seed planter would go before the harvester.

  • Once the group is organized, you can take this activity any way you want. Here are a few suggestions.

An Alternative Food System – Survivor Style

Ask participants to think about how energy intensive this process is. Then ask participants to think about how this system could be made smaller. What could be taken away? What are the advantages and disadvantages? End this activity by having the group brainstorm and talk about alternative food systems they know of or have participated in.

The Real Cost of a Tomato

Explain that the cost of the can was $2 and have participants consider what percentage of the cost goes into each stage of the production. Who gets the largest share of the profit and who gets the least? Have groups of participants discuss and present their responses. 

Feedback from learners

This activity is viewed by learners as a fun and interactive way to identify and think through all the different things that need to happen to a food before we actually get to eat it. Also, learners mention during discussion that this activity gets them thinking about all the ways food is connected to systems and where we might be able to put pressure on those systems to make change. 

Supporting Goal 2

End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

This technique can support change and development in this area by focusing on the underlying causes of hunger as opposed to only the symptoms. It encourages learners to critically reflect on the systems that bring food from the fields, forests, and waterways to our plates -- along with issues of social and environmental justice.

A short task to challenge you!


We have provided a few local (Thunder Bay) organizations worth exploring this season and in the coming year. We have also 'seeded' this map with National organizations that support food security. Do you know of others that you want to share with us and others? Press the plus sign, type in their address to find them on the map and add a link to their site.

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Step 2

Reach out to your newly elected MP, and ask them to support advancing federal investment in a School Food Program for Canada. Take action now

One Final Task

Is this something you can use in your classroom? How might you utilize it? If you share your results somewhere on social media, please let us know by using the hashtag #12tech21LUDay6.

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12 Techniques of the Holidays 2021 by Teaching Commons@LU is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.