Discussion Questions

Here are a few questions you can use to start discussions about the issues explored in When We Vanished. Feel free to use them for classrooms, book clubs, or online conversations. And let me know if you think of others I should add!

Printable Version

Download the pdf version of the discussion questions!

Discussion Questions for When We Vanished

The Characters & Story

  • Which point-of-view character did you connect with the most?
  • What was the most surprising moment in the book? The scariest? The most triumphant?

Snack Foods

  • How do you feel while eating your favorite snack foods? How do you feel afterwards?
  • Is it possible to be addicted to certain foods? Can we find a balanced way to eat things we enjoy but know aren’t good for us, or is it better to give them up entirely?


  • Food companies often spend a tremendous amount of resources on marketing and advertising their products. Do you think that your own choices are influenced by ads, either consciously or subconsciously?
  • Do ads make you feel entertained, or manipulated, or both?

Corporate Responsibility

  • What responsibility, if any, do companies have when it comes to the health of their customers?
  • Do they have any responsibility to the environment?

Food Product Research

  • Every processed food product goes through a long process of research and development before it hits the shelves (for an in-depth look, check out this New Yorker article.
  • How do you feel about the amount of high-tech food science that goes into processed food? Is it gross? Or kind of amazing? Does it make you feel safer?

Food Chains

  • On p. 188, Naveed hides in a Dumpster surrounded by loaves of bread and thinks about everything that went into them.

    • What are the typical ingredients in a loaf of store-bought bread?
    • Which resources went into creating each ingredient, and the loaf as a whole?
    • How about the packaging?
    • Think about the people involved in the process, too—how many different job roles might be involved in producing, selling, and marketing this product?

Making Changes

  • What are some of the choices we can make as individuals to improve the ecological impacts of our own diets?
  • What can we do individually or collectively to improve the food system itself?