Why is hunger a geographical issue?

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Introducing the topic: hunger

This course explores the issue of hunger. Completion of the course is intended to be a CPD activity, rather than a 'resource grab'. You are encouraged to adapt the ideas presented here to develop your own resources or unit of work. The intention is that completion of the unit will result in the development of new skills and pedagogical techniques, and offer opportunities for reflection.

One aspect of this course is to encourage an appreciation of the connections that food creates. Another aspect of the course is to develop some opportunities for students (and yourself) to engage in some 'creative writing'. The rise of new web technologies means that there are many more tools that can be used in the creation of a 'narrative'.

Food: A basic need?

"A trip to the market, a store, a fast-food restaurant, the movies or a local trader may be a taken-for-granted aspect of everyday life for many, but these actions play a critical role in the meaningful creation and expression of place." (Mansvelt, 2005)

Charles Rawding included the preceding quote in this article written for the Summer 2009 issue of Geography (GA members with a subscription to Geography can download this for free).

Food also features in most levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, in fact it could be said to feature at all levels, not just the bottom.

View a Wikipedia article on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

It might be appropriate to edit the diagram for use in the classroom if required.

Activity 1: I'm starving!

Imagine you are teaching a lesson about food.

The lesson begins with some images of food being displayed on the white board or screen, and someone makes a comment that is said by all of us at some point: "Oh, Sir / Miss, no more, I'm starving..."

What might be some appropriate responses to that statement?

Activity 2: The issue of hunger

Now let us go back to the original question: "Why is hunger a geographical issue?"

Get hold of a world map (see our Mapping Our Globe area for an outline map).

Mark where people are "most likely to":

a) Be hungry?

b) Be starving?

c) Be reliant on foreign aid for their food?

d) Become immigrants to increase their food security?

e) Be fighting conflicts related to the supply of food?

f) Be resorting to extreme measures to secure their food supply?

g) Be facing rising food prices?

h) Be spending an increasing amount of their income on food?

i) Be producing the food that we eat?

j) Be exhausting a food source that has existed for centuries?

k) Be receiving help from a UK Aid agency?

By working through these courses, it's hoped that you will be able to have a much clearer idea of the answers to all of those questions, and much more.

Activity 3: Food Wordles

One tool which has garnered a lot of interest since its launch is Wordle.

The image to the right was made with Wordle and contains the text of an article from the GA Magazine on the subject of food security, written by Professor Peter Jackson.

In the image, the words which appear larger are those which occurred more frequently in the original source text. Some key words associated with foods can be discerned.

Source 3 images which could be used as a lesson starter in a lesson on the theme of hunger.

Write a 50 word description of each image, and then create a Wordle of the text that has been written and identify some of the common features some of the common words which appear. Are the words mostly negative or positive?

Activity 4: Donate-A-Meal

Hunger is not confined to the less developed parts of the world: an area that we might call the 'Global South'

Visit the Donate-A-Meal website.

The website is for a charity which works in Dusseldorf, Germany: an important member state of the EU, a major industrial power.


Interact with the site for a few moments. It has been very cleverly designed so that you 'interact' with the children, and are 'thanked' for your donation with a smile.

How successful do you think this website is in persuading visitors to donate? What happens if you don't donate anything ? How could you take some of the methods used in the website and use it in other contexts?

What might be the difficulties in persuading people to donate food for children in:

Distant locations?
Your own home town or city?

Consider that well-worn phrase "charity begins at home" – is that appropriate here?

Activity 5

See the table below. Consider how these issues are connected to hunger.

This could also be used as a card sorting activity with students.

Changing weather patterns Deforestation Conflict
International trade agreements Foreign aid Globalisation
Financial crisis Culture Television
Poorly developed transport networks Risk of natural hazards Governance / political system
Poor health Availability of land Debt

How might these form part of your proposed activity / lesson sequence?

What opportunities could you provide for students to explore / research these issues in more detail, but at an appropriate level?

Food webs

Another possible focus for your unit could be the mapping of 'food webs', not of which animal eats which, but of the connections that are created between individuals and the wider world each time a meal is sourced, cooked and eaten. These webs or mind-maps could also inform lesson, or curriculum planning, and form the basis of student enquiry.

A selection of useful graphs and statistics related to food and hunger can be found at the BBC news website and these are well worth taking some time to explore when planning such an activity.

Your Learning Journey

Discuss with your year group partner(s) and / or mentor what ideas you might develop and how you will do this.

  • How have these examples and ideas help you to plan coherent and relevant learning for your pupils?
  • How did you adapt them?
  • What curriculum links did you focus on to link with the geography? Why did you choose them?
  • How have you enabled pupils to make connections between the local and the global?
  • How did you place value pupils' contributions and personal geographies? How did this impact on their self esteem and the value they place on themselves as individuals and as a group?
  • How do you think these activities contribute to your pupils' understanding of issues around sustainability and interdependence, and in particular the issues surrounding hunger?

On your learning journey

  • What changes, if any did you make to your original plan? How did professional learning conversations with your coach or learning mentor influence this and the outcomes of your learning?
  • How did you evaluate your own learning?
  • What feedback did you receive from pupils or colleagues?
  • How did you share this learning with others? What feedback have you had?

Where next?

You may now wish to move on to another course in this family in order to widen and deepen your knowledge base. 

The courses explore a range of supporting areas and can be completed in any order you wish. You may wish to take a quick look at them before going any further.

They are related to:

  • The work of Oxfam around the world in the area of food security
  • The sustainability of the world's oceans and fishing industry
  • The potential impacts of global climate change on food security
  • The impact of food preparation and cooking on the environment

It is important that you end by completing the Plenary section, as this allows you to reflect on your learning.

The Courses

Main Image: Empty Plate by Flickr user matt.ohara, made available under Creative Commons

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