What’s for Dinner?

    The Challenge

    Map the life cycle of your favorite food product or dish, and put on your chef’s hat to create its most environmentally sustainable version!


    The growing human population presents challenges to ensuring that all people have access to safe and nutritious food.  A changing climate is of further concern for risks to sustainable food supplies, and vulnerability of populations to environmental and other shocks.  Addressing these challenges of food security involves approaches to improve agricultural practices, while ensuring that the environmental impacts of these practices are minimal.

    According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, almost one-third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted every year![1]  This waste is a tremendous missed opportunity for improving food security and simultaneously minimizing environmental impacts, such as air pollution, landscape degradation, water use, biodiversity loss, and deforestation.[2] 

    Employing life cycle analyses (LCAs) to evaluate all stages in the production and consumption of food, including raw material growth or production, processing, distribution, use, and disposal, can facilitate integration of environmental impact assessment in decision-making.

    Your challenge is to map the life cycle of your favorite food or dish and integrate seasonal environmental patterns to determine the best time and way to eat it!  Conduct a comprehensive analysis of the processes that bring the food to your plate— from growing crops and managing livestock to transporting products into your city.  Use Earth observations to assess agricultural productivity and identify environmental risks to sustainability.

    This challenge addresses the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to engage all countries and all stakeholders in a collaborative partnership.  The SDGs aim to build a better future for all people by achieving sustainable development in three dimensions – economic, social, and environmental – in the spirit of strengthened global solidarity:

    • Goal 1.5: By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.
    • Goal 2.1: By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.
    • Goal 2.4: By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.
    • Goal 12.3: By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.
    • Goal 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.


    -Consider the spatial and temporal distributions of crop production for the food products/ingredients of your interest.  

    • What are sources of waste during the production of your items of interest?
    • How long does your food item have to travel before it gets to you?  Are there ways to minimize use of resources for food transportation?
    • Are there alternatives that may satisfy your palate and belly, while minimizing resource use and food waste? 

    -Does your food item have a short shelf life or spoil easily?  Can measures be taken to improve the shelf life of these items?  Do these improvement measures come at additional environmental costs? 

    -Are there alternative uses for these end-of-life waste products, including spoiled food?

    [1] “Food loss and waste facts.” SAVE FOOD: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  Website Accessed April 12th, 2017. http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/infographic/en/

    [2] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Food wastage footprint, Full-cost accounting: Final Report.” 2014.

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