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close this bookExploding the Hunger Myths - High School Curriculum (FF, 1987, 173 p.)
close this folderLesson 2: Is scarcity the problem?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentActivity 1: Diet diary
View the documentActivity 2: How much food is there?
View the documentActivity 3: Where does the food go?
View the documentActivity 4: Hunger in the midst of plenty

Activity 1: Diet diary

Students will compile a list of their calorie and protein consumption for one day and can investigate the diets of three hungry families. They will also discuss the amount of grain used to feed livestock and compare the efficiency of eating a diet of grain-fed meat to eating a diet of plant materials. This activity fits very well in a nutrition unit. It is also best used with at least one other activity in this lesson to get across the idea that scarcity is not the cause of hunger.


· To define calorie, protein, malnutrition, and undernutrition and to learn ingredients for a healthy diet

· To complete a Diet Diary handout listing all food consumed in one day

· To compare how individual diets meet some basic nutritional requirements

· To contrast the students' diets with the diets of hungry families

· To discover the hidden consumption that occurs when we eat meat and discuss how hidden consumption affects the world food supply

· To discuss ways our diets could be changed to become more efficient


· Student handouts:

Diet Diary
Calories and Protein in Common Foods
Other People's Diet Diaries
The Case of the Disappearing Grain


Twenty minutes to give overnight assignment of diet record plus fifty minutes in class the following day


Class discussion


calorie, hidden consumption, legumes, malnutrition, protein, recommended dietary allowance, undernutrition


1. Introduce the concepts of calories, protein, malnutrition, and undernutrition. If time is short in class, you can prepare a handout with definitions for the students.

Calories measure the energy we get from food. Energy is needed to maintain cells, to build new cells, to build muscles, and to allow the brain to function. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates all provide calories.

The average adult needs from 2,000 to 2,700 calories each day. This varies a great deal from person to person, depending on size, age, the amount of physical activity, the climate you live in, etc. If you are pregnant, work at hard physical labor, or are growing, your calorie needs are greater.

Protein is an important nutrient because it is used for building bone, muscle, skin, and other organs; regulating the body's chemistry; and fighting infection. Protein is concentrated in animal sources (meat, chicken, eggs, cheese, milk) as well as a variety of grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Malnutrition can result from too little food (undernutrition) or too much food (overnutrition or obesity). When we speak of people going hungry, we mean they are not getting sufficient food - particularly calories and proteins - for a healthy diet. They are undernourished.


Overnutrition, which results from too much food, also represents an unhealthy diet. A diet of hamburgers, french fries, soda, and sweets, for example, may be too high in fat and sugar and too low in vitamins and minerals. Diets high in fat can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Because fat has more calories than carbohydrates or protein, a high-fat diet may contain more calories than a person can use and therefore cause people to gain weight. If there are students in the class with serious weight problems, you might omit the discussion of overnutrition (obesity) to avoid embarrassing them.

Diets that include lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are lower in fat (and therefore have fewer calories) and provide more nutrients for a healthy diet.

2. Explain to students that they will need to keep a record of their diet for one day. Give each student the handouts Diet Diary and Calories and Protein in Common Foods. Be aware of your students" food situations. A student might be embarrassed by this activity. Remind the students that the diary will not be turned in. No one will be forced to discuss his or her own diet.

3. Spend a few minutes showing students how to fill in the Diet Diary. Explain that they are to list all of the food that they consume during a twenty-four-hour period, including snacks and beverages. They should use the calorie and protein chart to estimate the number of calories and grams of protein contained in each food. Many foods are not included on the list, so ask students to estimate as closely as they can by comparing with listed foods. Good resources for more complete lists are:

· Jean Pennington and Helen Nichols Church, Food Values of Portions Commonly Used (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1980).

· Nutrition Search, Inc., Nutrition Almanac (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979).

· USDA, Composition of Foods, Handbook No. 8 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office).

· USDA, Nutritive Value of Foods, Home and Garden Bulletin No. 72 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971).

4. The next day, discuss the following points:

a. How many calories did they consume?
b. How much protein did they consume?
c. How did their diets compare with the recommended dietary allowances for calories and protein listed in the table of calorie and protein requirements?

Explain to students that the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is not the minimum requirement for a nutrient, but the average amount needed to live a healthy, active life. Note that there are different requirements for men and women and for different age groups. You might explain that the RDA changes as nutritionists discover new information about nutrients.

5. To learn about the dietary intakes of hungry people, students can study the diets of three families in Colombia, the Philippines, and the United States. Pass out the handout Other People's Diet Diaries ( p. 29), and ask students to read the descriptions of each family's food situation. What types of foods make up the diets of poor and hungry people? From looking at their diets, can students tell whether families get enough energy? Why are the families unable to get enough food? Is it because food is scarce?

6. Give the students the handout The Case of the Disappearing Grain ( p. 30). On the handout, look at the chart Pounds of Grain to Make One Pound of Meat Point out that almost half the grain raised in the world is fed to animals. This is called hidden consumption because people only eat the animals and do not realize how much grain is fed to animals. Does this seem like the most efficient use of the world's resources? Why or why not?

Discuss different diets around the world. Look at the bar graph Where Grain Goes. Diets in other countries (France and China) are much less meat-centered than the U.S. diet. Can the students think of ways to make the U.S. diet more efficient as well as healthier? When I taught this lesson with international students, we discussed the advantages of traditional diets compared with fast-food diets. Traditional Latin American diets combine corn and beans in a manner that satisfies protein needs. Many oriental diets use rice and beans in a similar way.

7. Inform students that healthy diets can be made up of little or no meat by combining grains, legumes, and other foods to get the protein we need. If you wish to pursue this topic, the book Diet for a Small Planet is an excellent resource for you and your students.

8. Point out to students that while there are personal changes they might wish to make (such as cutting down their intake of meats or high-calorie junk foods), such changes in and of themselves will not end hunger. However, making choices based on knowledge of our bodies' real needs and the most efficient use of resources can be an empowering personal statement - a way of living closer to the world we want to be creating. (How, for example, might such choices be similar to - or different than - deciding not to smoke or not to drive a huge, fuel-guzzling car, even if you could afford it?) Activities 2-4 demonstrate that in most countries adequate food - or the potential to produce it - exists to feed everyone. But until people have access to land or jobs, no extra amount of food we "save" will end their hunger.



· Community Nutrition (periodical), Community Nutrition Institute
· Diet for a Small Planet (book), by Frances Moore LappR>· Nutrition Action (periodical) and Nutrition Scorecard (poster), Center for Science in the Public Interest


Your class can hold a World Hunger Meal for other students. This can be based on the awareness activity called Eating the Way the World Eats (pp. 8-10). Students can design the publicity and coordinate a discussion on hunger in a world of food abundance.


List all foods and beverages you consume during a twenty-four-hour period. Use the table Calories and Proteins in Common Foods to compute the number of calories and grams of protein in each food.

Diet diary

Daily calorie and protein requirements by age and sex

Calories and protein in common foods

Calories and protein in common foods - continued

Other people's diet diaries

The Case of the Disappearing Grain