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Tackle food loss and waste in the language classroom

September 29, 2020 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

Food loss and waste is increasingly evident in our homes, schools and workplaces, but also in cafes, restaurants and supermarkets. And it has a huge impact on the environment. A lot of fresh food is thrown out at the end of each day in shops and restaurants, and we often overpack our fridges with food we never consume. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Just think about all the water, land, energy and labour that go into producing a packet of biscuits or a bag of fruit and vegetables. What can we do about this? How can we address this issue in the language classroom?

Such is the extent of the problem that the UN has decided to observe International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste for the first time this year. This topic gains special significance during the pandemic we’re facing, as one of our biggest questions has been how we can guarantee food supplies during such difficult times. As we learn from the official website of this awareness day, around 14 percent of food produced is lost between harvest and retail globally, without calculating the quantities which are wasted in retail and at consumption level. 

As the UN website reminds us, this imposes serious threats on our environment because of the resources we also waste with food waste, and the impact food disposal in landfills has on our environment such as greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change.

However, this is also the kind of problem which can be tackled on individual, community and corporate/government levels. Let’s see how we can contribute to solving this issue by introducing language activities which also raise awareness of food loss and waste in our students. Dedicate a month to learning about food loss and waste.

1 Discuss food loss and waste in class

Start with a simple mind-mapping activity. Write food loss and waste on the board, and ask students to come up with examples from their own lives. This step is important to make students aware of the existence of this problem.

2 The difference between food loss and food waste

  • Food loss happens during production, storage, processing, and distribution stages.
  • Food waste refers to the good quality food which is not consumed because we throw it away or let it spoil.

Watch these two videos by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to learn more about these concepts.

  • This video is more suitable for young learners and teenagers because of its visuals and written highlights.
  • This video works better with adults as it has no text to help comprehension.

3 Keep a food diary

Although our students cannot directly influence food loss apart from eating whole unprocessed locally grown foods, they can do a lot about food waste. One way to get them to think about their own food waste habits is to ask them to keep a food diary and observe how much food is thrown away in their own homes or at school. After a week, dedicate a lesson to talking about their findings.

This activity is great to practise vocabulary and grammar:

  • food vocabulary
  • the language of containers and quantities
  • countable and uncountable nouns
  • singular and plural forms
  • indefinite pronouns some and any
A New Life food bank
Illustration from the e-reader A New Life written by Martyn Hobbs. Illustrated by Michele Rocchetti. © Helbling Languages

4 Group project: How to save food

Give students one or two weeks to come up with ideas on how they can stop wasting food. Ask them to prepare a poster presentation or a series of cards which give advice to others about reducing food waste. They could even set up an Instagram account and post their cards.

Hold a brainstorming session and ask students to think about:

  • How packaging affects how we choose food. For example: do we always need a whole bag of apples or carrots? Would it be better to buy only one or two?
  • Talk about ‘ugly’ food: does a funny-shaped potato taste worse? Of course it doesn’t! Tell students to check the quality of small or funny-looking fruit and vegetables and save them at the supermarket.
  • What is the difference between USE BY and BEST BEFORE written on the packages? And are these always 100% correct?
  • What are the best ways to store different types of food (e.g. bread, cereals, yoghurt, fruit, vegetables) so that they last longer?
  • Are there any initiatives in your city to save wasted food? Check out the Too Good To Go project get and idea of what a food waste movement does.

Check out the information cards on this website for more ideas.

5 Read stories 

Finally, you can raise your students’ awareness of food loss and waste by reading stories which show different perspectives on this issue. 

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Adapted by Janet Olearski, illustrated by Mario Onnis

This Dickens novel tells us a lot about life for the poor in 19th century London. Oliver was born in a workhouse and grew up in an orphanage. At the age of nine, he was sent to work in a workhouse. One day Oliver runs away to London and stays with Fagin and his ‘family’. But Oliver realizes that they want him to become a thief and he tries to run away.

Ask your students to find examples of the challenges Oliver Twist faces when it comes to food. He has very little to eat. How many times does he eat in the workhouse? What do they give him to eat? What eventually drives Oliver to run away from the workhouse?

Helbling Readers Red Series Classics Oliver Twist

A New Life e-reader by Martyn Hoobs in SURE Beginner
Illustrated by Michele Rocchetti

In this short e-reader which is bundled with our secondary-school course Sure, we meet Ade, a young refugee boy who is hoping to build a new life in a British city. Ade wants to live a peaceful life but he soon realises that life for a refugee is difficult. He also notices that life in the city is difficult for lots of other people too when he comes across a food bank offering free food basics to underprivileged people. This raises the question of food and poverty in the so-called ‘rich’ countries.

A New Life cover

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