The Cheeseburger Challenge

Third grade girls at Hutchison School study map skills. They also love lunchtime. We combined these two activities for a cool project to teach about where our food comes from.

First, we examined the lunch menu, and we chose a meal to research. Cheeseburgers are a perennial favorite, so I tried to track down every step that the ingredients of a cheeseburger took before it got to our plates.

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First of all, it’s harder than you might think to find out where our food comes from. I tracked down sources for as many ingredients as I could, and for some of them, I just had to use my best guess. During this process, the girls learned that most ingredients don’t go straight from a farm to their lunch plate. They make stops at processing plants, wholesalers, distribution centers. They stop to get washed, packaged, labeled, and sometimes they make another stop to get re-packaged and re-labeled.

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The girls added up the miles for all of these different stops that I discovered. We found that a plain cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato likely traveled over 13,000 miles before it got to us. We then tried to see what 13,000 looked like in a smaller scale. Using their map skills, they tied together pieces of yarn that represented the different legs of their lunch’s journey. Even when one inch of yarn represented twenty miles, their string went out my classroom door, and up, down, and around our hallways. We then examined the pieces of yarn that were cut to represent potential miles traveled in a local food system. All stretched out, the yarn didn’t even leave my classroom.

The great thing about this project is that it led to more questions. We debriefed for over thirty minutes as the girls had dozens of questions about how their food system works, and now I wonder where the girls will take these questions next.

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