Diversity in our Food: A new youth-oriented diversity project book

By Brian Raison, Ohio State University


Do you work with young people, youth groups, 4-H clubs, or schools? Are you looking for ways to introduce the topics of food diversity and food justice to these audiences? A newly released project book from The Ohio State University Extension offers a place to explore not only food, food security, and food justice issues, but also the many other forms diversity takes in daily life.

Diversity in our Food: Activity chapter in a new youth-oriented diversity project book

Do you work with young people, youth groups, 4-H clubs, or schools? Are you looking for ways to introduce the topics of food diversity and food justice to these audiences? A newly released project book from The Ohio State University Extension offers a place to explore not only food, but also the many other forms diversity takes in daily life. It invites participants to see life from various perspectives and have fun learning about new situations and people who are different.

One chapter focuses exclusively on food. Herein, participants are challenged to begin to explore where their food comes from and how it reaches their table. In brief, it begins by noting that “Everybody eats.” On the surface, that makes sense; and it sounds fairly simple. However the chapter quickly challenges participants to think more deeply about not only their food, but also how other people eat from town to town, family to family, table to table. It digs into the reasons for these differences through a series of activities.

Participants will be hit with challenging questions like this:

Did you know, 1 out of every 6 people in the United States is hungry every day (Feeding America, 2012). But more than 2 out of every 3 people in the United States are overweight or obese (CDC, 2012). How can this be?

The project also poses other questions to get at food justice lessons. For example: What are the big-picture lessons in food diversity? Do we eat only what we can afford? Or do we eat mostly what we can buy locally (near our home)? Could the answers to these questions change someone’s life? Their future job? Their health? Their ability to play sports? Their I.Q. level (how smart they are)? Perhaps the greatest question is this: Is food diversity a choice? Or do the first four points above demonstrate that many people in this world do not have a choice or the opportunity to eat a healthy diet?

The overall goal of this project book is to help participants answer these types of questions, and to learn how they can become involved in some activities that will help them understand that a variety of healthy, fresh, high quality foods are not available to everyone. They will also be challenged to increase their understanding of some of the reasons why there are differences in the foods people eat and consider how those differences might impact (positively or negatively) people’s lives.

Food Justice Focus Activity:

This activity challenges participants to think about the many types of disparity that exist in the world. It lists several to get the exercise started, and then asks participants to think about how they might handle them if they were to have that experience. Here are the examples:

Economic disparity—some families cannot afford to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Education disparity—some families do not know that different foods have differing levels of nutrients and health benefits.

Geographic disparity—in some urban or very rural settings, grocery stores are simply not available. They’re called “food deserts.” Supermarkets have left the neighborhoods and the only place to buy food is at a convenience store. Purchasing fresh, healthful foods requires costly travel.

The exercise concludes by asking the participant to think about disparities in food among people with different economic, education, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds.

Here’s an overview of each chapter in the project book.

Activity 1: Defining Diversity

Diversity is a word that you have probably heard often. But think about it. What does it mean to you? Write your own definition of diversity. You may want to do some searching online or in a dictionary to help you form your thought, but the definition should be your own—not someone else’s.

Activity 2: Looking Inward

Any exploration of diversity should start by looking inward and examining our first judgments about others who are different from us. Exploring diversity in our world is a way to expand and help us see a fuller picture of those around us.

Activity 3: Connecting with Others

Now that you have explored your own thoughts and observations when you meet someone different from yourself, let’s learn how to appreciate these differences and find some similarities by talking one-on-one with a few folks.

Activity 4: Appreciating Different Abilities

Sometimes when we see a person with visible disabilities, we may look away because we don’t know how to react. We sometimes forget he or she is a unique individual with the ability to contribute in a positive and caring way to those around us. Let’s do a sensitivity simulation activity to see what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Activity 5: Exploring Diversity in Our Food

Everybody eats. And apart from chocolate-covered insects from half-way around the world, we all eat pretty much the same thing here in the United States. You know—burgers and fries (and maybe some vegetables). Right? Or is it? From town to town, family to family, table to table, food often looks and tastes very different. The reasons for these differences are many and we explore them in this activity.

Activity 6: Understanding Religious Diversity

Over the course of history, people in different lands in different times have thought about the same basic questions about where we came from, what life is all about, and how we should treat each other. Many times, the answers are similar. On other topics, they may be quite different. In this activity we explore a religion that is different from your own.

Activity 7: Gauging Power and Privilege

Do you think you are privileged? You might be surprised by the answer. Having privilege is not always obvious. Let’s see where you feel you fit in with a variety of social groups.

Activity 8: Capstone Project

This Capstone Project is an opportunity to both apply and further develop learning from your individual activities. It is meant to capture the overall essence of what “diversity” means to you—whether in 4-H or in life.

The soft-cover project book is available from OSU for $7.50 at http://estore.osu-extension.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2802.

Note: The writer of this resource review, Brian Raison, is a co-author on the project book. However, the book is a product of his Extension appointment; and he has no financial interest or gain from the project whatsoever.



CDC (2012). Adult Obesity Facts. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

Feeding America (2012). Hunger Facts. Retrieved from: http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts.aspx

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