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Planet Pizza – linking food with climate change

By Molly Watson, Department of Envionment and Geography, University of York

How do you teach young people about the link between food and climate change? Around a third of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change come from food but how do you communicate that message to primary school children, when it’s not something that’s taught on the curriculum?

We’re hoping that a new classroom activity, Planet Pizza, will do just that by getting children in schools across Yorkshire thinking about their food choices.

The activity has been developed by FixOurFood led by University of York, Take A Bite Out of Climate Change and Rethink Food  along with help from partners across the UK including the AFN Network+ and funding from the Transforming UK Food Systems Programme.

The idea for the project came out of a brainstorm run by Professor Sarah Bridle at the University of York in February which brought together a group of people interested in transforming the UK food system. The aim was to think about how to engage the public and to build on resources that had already been created by the Take A Bite Out of Climate Change project.

Food system transformation will be vital over the next decade and we know that young people feel strongly about climate change. But the group felt strongly that children don’t always know that the food on their plate has an impact on climate change, and the ingredients they choose can make a difference. The task was how to communicate that message. Melanie Reed from Rethink Food CIC had the idea for an activity designing a pizza which would be a fun and effective way to do this – and would build on the Take A Bite Out of Climate Change flashcards which show the emission values of different foods.

Over the following weeks a group of those who’d attended the workshop worked on the practicalities of producing the activity. How would it work? What should it look like? What emissions data was needed? What information did we need to provide with it and how would we get the resource into schools?

Belinda Morris (FixOurFood) and graphic designer Dave Gledhill created the graphics, Melanie Reed and Rebecca Lait (University of York) made the worksheets, Ximena Schmidt (University of Brunel), Jacqueline Silva (University of Edinburgh), and Professor Sarah Bridle did the calculations; with Sarah also obtaining funding for the project.

Finally after six weeks of people working on the project remotely around the UK, a prototype was produced in time for Rethink Food CIC to take it into seven schools across Yorkshire to tie in with Earth Day. 

Image shows the contents of the Planet Pizza game

Each school will be given a pizza box containing the base of a pizza, plus different toppings each showing the emissions value of the ingredients. Children will be asked to make their own creation, by choosing toppings and considering the different greenhouse gas emissions of the ingredients they’re using. Bestseller Pepperoni Pluto has an emission total of 1467grams of CO2e, but can they create a pizza that has a lower emission value? The activity will also encourage them to think about how their food has got to their plate, the impact that has on emissions, as well as portion size, the carbon footprint of plant vs animal products and not forgetting that cooking pizza produces emissions too. 

A lot of work from a lot of people has gone into the project, but we’re excited to see how it goes down with pupils when it finally gets served up to them.