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reading food labels | cruelty free labels | reading textile labels


keywords: ingredients | product credibility | certification | production info | instruction for use | packaging
reading food labels
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courtesy, Charmichael Linch agency

goal: raising awareness about the importance of reading food labels; developing critical thinking on labels credibility and clearness; inspiring responsible behaviour (e.g. refusing to buy products that do not provide consumers with clear information; asking producers for more information about a certain products; etc.).

risk: talking about labels, you should avoid the risk of mixing up product quality with brand reputation; at the same time you should make the difference between advertising claims and useful information about the product (nutritional features, certification, etc).

YXC level: individual (1st level).

YXC materials: respecting our bodies [ EU ban on antibiotics | Soft-drinks’ truth | EU food labelling | Healthy fast foods | Delhi students | US food advertising | Certified farmers | Italian bio store ] pay the right price [ Oxfam campaign ] facts & figures [ Fair trade | Organic food ] dep’t store [ Organic ice-cream | Innocent drinks | Cafédirect ] job opportunities [Pesticides Action Network | Petrini-Slow Food ] links [ Empowered consumers ]

subject areas: Health & well-being | Cultural studies | Science & technology | Economics & biz

work planning: Phase 1, testing students’ knowledge of the issue; Phase 2, intro to the issue; Phase 3, creation of 4-5 teams; Phase 4, individual homework; Phase 5, reporting.

start with a quiz (see test&play section): testing student knowledge (with key questions):

  • How do you choose what to eat?
  • How healthy is the food you eat?
  • What is it made of?
  • Where does it come from?
  • In which environmental, social and cultural conditions was it produced?
  • Which kind of information do you take into account when deciding what to eat?
  • How can you gather information about a product?
  • What kind of information do you expect to find on food packaging?
  • What makes the credibility of a label?
  • What kinds of food labels do you know?
  • What are the advantages of certification for a company?
  • Is the label an element for building consumer brand trust?
  • How can you check the credibility of health claims (e.g. light, fat free, cholesterol and sodium free, low in calories, etc.)?
  • What do you consider important in food packaging (e.g. hygiene guarantees, % of recycled/recyclable materials)?
These questions should be discussed in the form of class brainstorming before any subsequent introduction to the topic, to test students’ knowledge/awareness.

intro to the topic (background): international food safety crises (e.g. mad cow syndrome) and nutritional diseases, food intolerances and allergies often related to pesticide and preservative residues present on our plates have induced consumers to ask for more controls on food production and more information about what they eat. In this context, the role of labels in informing consumers, protecting their health and influencing their consumption choices has increased. To address the concerns of consumers, public authorities in several countries have enforced strict foodstuffs labelling regulations (e.g. the 2002 European Commission measures). At the same time, beside the purely health care concerns, consumers have become more interested in gathering information about the social and environmental impact of food production methods. Ethical, fair trade, and earth friendly labels have grown in number as well as many companies’ commitment, at least on paper, to more responsible production patterns. In some cases, firms have adopted green-washing strategies aimed at inducing consumers to associate a product with some generic and barely verifiable feature: that it is ‘eco’, ‘bio’ or ‘nature friendly’, etc. Learning to read labels and decipher claims has become a fundamental step to caring for ourselves, caring for other people and caring for the earth.

providing evidence: you could bring products to class that show examples of certified products or clear food labels versus misleading, confusing ones. The DEP’T STORE displays several products that could be used as examples for this goal (check the related issues list).

per product groups
  • Fresh food (dairy food, fruits & vegetables)
  • Frozen products
  • Meat, eggs & fish
  • Pasta, rice and baked products
  • Sweets & snacks
  • Beverages (coffee & tea, water, milk and soft drinks)

keywords (complete list)
  • ingredients| nutrient facts | allergies & intolerances | ingredients by % | e-numbers| preservatives | weight info | languages
  • instruction for use| packaged/expiry date | cooking time | pre-cooked | half-cooked | tips for storage | recipes
  • production info| made in | imported by | farming conditions | type of process | biodiversity| endangered species | brand info | logo | claims | etc.
  • product credibility| certification | organic food | fair trade | ethical label | GMO free | lab credits | supported by | designation of origin | green-washing
  • packaging | made of | recycling info

methodological suggestions:
  • gathering information: to develop this activity students working in small teams could be asked to analyse different product groups. They could list the information provided by labels on: production methods (e.g. intensive farming); product features (e.g. is it certified? Is it GMO free? etc.); packaging, and product disposal (e.g. recyclable %). Groups should be then invited to share their conclusions with others in terms of: % of certified products with respect to non-certified ones, the level of information clarity, etc.

  • detecting best practises: you could invite ‘per product teams’ to vote for the best labelling practise, asking them to bring to class the best and the worst product and to explain to the other students the reason for their choices.

  • student competition: finally ask students to bring to class the most unhealthy but appealing products and the most healthy but unappealing ones they know... and let them vote on the best two!

  • what’s on my plate: as homework ask students to list the recurring brands in their nutrition habits at breakfast, lunch and dinner, describe their peculiarities, and report them to the class.
results assessment: the success of this pedagogical module on reading food labels can be measured by the following results:
  • informative goals: 1) students know different kinds of food certification, the main food labels and their characteristics (e.g. difference between ethical and fair trade labelled products) | 2) they know the difference between claims and certifications.

  • action goals: 1) students ask the school canteen to clearly indicate food ingredients, their provenance (e.g. local production or imported) and possible certification (e.g. organic rice, fair trade bananas...) | 2) they campaign for the introduction of fair trade labelled coffee and tea in the school cafetaria.

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