Waste? Not!

By Alissa Hamilton (Author of Squeezed and Got Milked?)  – Writer in Residence, Food Systems Lab


Photo: Heather Kaiser (Corn Silk)

Every so often we hear news of the latest updates to the Oxford English Dictionary.  Mostly they include additions.  “Binge-watch” and “vape” are a couple of new activities that have become so popular that the OED editors have deemed them deserving of word recognition. But on one late summer walk, Canadian born Wayne Roberts and Indonesian born Tammara Soma put their birth-languages together to arrive at what they believe should be a deletion: “waste” as a noun, and therefore “food waste” as a term.  Over tea a few days later, Tammara explained to me that while Indonesians talk of wasting food, food waste isn’t a thing in Indonesian.  That’s the way it should be in English too.

In “Waste-Soma,” Wayne’s newsletter entry about his walk with Tammara, Wayne—who, as the former and longtime chair of Toronto’s Food Policy Council, is the man largely responsible for putting food on Toronto City Council’s agenda—outlines the global problem that he and Tammara met to discuss:  the massive amounts of food that humans waste each day, week and year.  The crux of the problem is easy to illustrate: every apple we don’t eat is all the wasted energy used to grow, harvest, package and ship it, plus all the global warming gases emitted as the apple rots in landfills.  The solution isn’t so easy to picture. Composting plays a familiar, if limited role. It mitigates the problem, but only marginally because it doesn’t make up for all the energy it took to get the apple to you in the first place. Recognizing that preventing so many truckloads of food from being wasted demands a diverse set of interventions, innovations, and perspectives from stakeholders ranging from indigenous communities to for-profit businesses, Tammara has launched the Food Systems lab.  Wayne is so enthused by Tammara’s vision to take a comprehensive approach toward identifying ways to reduce the amount of food we as a society waste that he has agreed to become a Special Advisor to the lab.  First off the waste-busters want to put an end to food waste literally. As Wayne writes, “’food waste’ has to be renamed ‘wasted food,’ because waste is a verb, not a noun.”

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Launch of Canada’s first Social Innovation Lab aims to tackle food waste

By Tammara Soma @TammaraSoma


On Thursday November 24th 2016, the Department of Geography and Planning was the site of a historic event, the launch of Canada’s first social innovation lab on food waste and food insecurity funded by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and developed by PhD Candidate in Planning and Trudeau Scholar Tammara Soma and Belinda Li of GOAL 12 and Engineers Without Borders. University of Toronto’s President Meric Gertler was present to officially launch the event.


Co-founder of the foodwastestudies group Tammara Soma introducing President Meric Gertler of the University of Toronto

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“Fight Against Food Waste Act” falls, embers remain

By Paul van der Werf @allfoodisfood

Bill C-231 “The Fight Against Food Waste Act” was defeated on 5 October. Brought forward by NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the bill sought a National Fight Against Food Waste Day and a number of measures that would help better quantify the actual amount; further facilitate food donations and set a target for its reduction. I suppose the bill’s failure shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given the snowball’s chance private member’s bills are given.

Still for a government so bent on changing the face of Canada’s climate change policy they clearly seem to be unaware of the climate change impact of wasted food. If greenhouse gas generation from food waste were a country it would be number three, right behind the total GHG generation of the United States and China. If that isn’t a big enough problem, then consider the 8% of Canadians that are food insecure during at least part of the year. I know it will seem strange to say it this way, but, we are making a choice between feeding people and feeding the microorganisms that create the potent greenhouse gas methane, while munching away in our landfills. If that is not a big enough problem, then consider the $600 plus dollars the average Canadian family rolls up into a ball and throws into the garbage each year- just from their household food waste.

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“Buy Today Eat Today”: Infrastructures of Food Waste Prevention



                                                                            Photo by@ Tammara Soma: Mr Ujang, the neighbourhood Tukang Sayur

Growing up in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia. I would wake up in the morning to a familiar holler from the front of my house “Yur! Yur!  Sayur Neng!!” ( Veg, Veg, Vegetables Miss). My mother would then go out to greet the Tukang Sayur (Mobile vegetable vendor) around 6:30am. This is how the conversation would often sound like:

Vendor: What are you planning to cook today?

Mother: Hmm I’m thinking spinach soup. Do you have anything good?

Vendor: This is really fresh, it’s 5000 Rupiah for this bunch;

Mother: Ok, I’ll just get two. How about this corn, is it sweet?

Vendor: Yes, how about you pair it with this tempeh. It’s a good combination

Mother: Nah, I had tempeh yesterday. I’ll just grab a small bag of the potatoes. I’m going to make perkedel kentang  (potato croquets). Can you bring me a nice cut of beef tomorrow, all cleaned and cut? I want to make semur (beef stew).

Vendor: Sure. See you tomorrow

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The food waste problem in the US – A video from Coat of Arms

The post production company Coat of arms has produced a short video highlighting the problem of food waste in the US.

Coat of Arms description:

“An undisclosed fast food restaurant chain asked us to create a pitch/sizzle video. This video was meant to get an internal conversation started to increase food waste awareness and to implement strategies for reducing such waste. All video elements were sourced from various news outlets and food waste videos. We’ve removed the client name and fast food chain name for privacy”

See http://www.coatofarmspost.com/portfolio/food-waste/ for more information

Foodwastestudies members at the Scarborough Fare: Global Foodways and Local Foods in a Transnational City conference

By Leo Sakaguchi – @jampgade

I am delighted to publish my first blog post as the new Social Media and Communications Manager for the foodwastestudies.com group and soon will publish an article on my work and the goals for the foodwastestudies group.

I wrote my first report about this years annual meeting and conference by ASFS/AFHVS/CAFS hosted at the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Several members of the foodwastestudies group came together and organized 3 sessions on food waste and 1 round table discussion on food waste research, policy and practice.

The number of researchers working on food waste at this conference  is expanding with 9 contributors from the US, Canada, UK/Australia, Indonesia and Germany. Our scholars are making a great contribution to the variety of topics at this conference and sharing it with outstanding food scholars. Usually communicating via virtual media, we are grateful for the opportunity  to meet in person!  It is great to have the foodwastestudies group as platform for academic networking and most importantly friendship.


Foodwastestudies members at Scarborough (left to right: Christian Reynolds, Tammara Soma, Madison Maguire, Leo Sakaguchi)

The 3 panel sessions addressing food waste includes topics across multiple stakeholders and is packed into two days.  On the 23rd of June, Madison Maguire (York University) and me, Leo Sakaguchi (UC Berkeley) presented our research and Master’s theses on food waste in restaurants including obtained data on behavior both in Toronto (Madison) and the city of Berkeley (Leo), knowledge and needs of restaurants targeting the reduction of food waste. Christian Reynolds (University of South Australia) addressed the differences between socio-economical behavior on food waste in the UK and Australia and conducted a multilevel analysis on food waste. He also pointed out the different definitions of food waste and connected income with an increased amount of waste along the whole supply chain of food. The presentation were followed up by a vivid Q&A session by conference participants from multiple areas along the food supply chain, which gave a big value to the discussion atmosphere.

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Helping consumers tackle their food wastage in an age of ‘bought but not eaten’

By Jordon Lazell – @jlazell

I am now a Love Food Hate Waste champion. I attended the training course and “gained understanding of key behaviours in addressing the problem of household food waste” and I have the certificate to prove it. But yet some of the information provided and the way solutions were presented have made me think more broadly about the potential of such educational actions and the way in which some solutions were presented.

WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) the organisation behind such training, are fantastic and by writing this post I’m not questioning their ability in any capacity. In the UK we are lucky enough to have this organisation (which I believe is run by charitable means) working to tackle waste and resource problems across the supply chain of a variety of sectors. Food waste is one area that has seen considerable effort and reward, working with both industry and consumers to minimize the amount of food thrown away.

The training provided in-depth information of how ‘us’ as food consuming individuals, can best frame our behaviour across the storage, preparation and cooking of food to prevent food from being thrown away. For example activities that tested our knowledge amongst others included: Where best to keep certain fruit and vegetables, the fridge or the freezer? How long can you keep leftovers for? and How much is an appropriate portion, and how can you best work this out? Discussions of personal experiences were brought out in group activities with participants noting their surprise of how things should be kept for maximum freshness (like putting potatoes in the fridge) and dismay that they had been throwing out food that could had been eaten (like the ability to freeze meat until the used by date).

The majority of actions presented related to the fact that food is wasted in households because we buy food and then it fails to be used up. This problem was clearly explained. We are wasting ‘little bits here and there’ and must plan and use food more efficiently to make sure we do not throw anything away we have bought. We even completed an exercise that involved thinking up meals to use up leftovers over the course of a week. Throughout this however there was little mention that perhaps one of the ways we could avoid having more food than needed is to purchase less, as well as whether the retailers could be partly responsible for our purchasing behaviour that puts consumers in this position.

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Food Waste – What Do Women Have to Do with It?

by Siera Vercillo – @sieravercillo

There are gender differences in the causes and consequences of food waste. Women are largely responsible for food across the supply chain from the field to the fork by growing, processing, cooking and distributing food in diverse ways globally. Therefore, women and men have different experiences, knowledge, challenges and needs in relation to food. Efforts to mitigate food waste need to incorporate a gender analysis within the scoping, piloting, scale, monitoring and evaluation processes in order to work towards food justice for all.

1Women’s important roles processing and selling food for local markets
Photo taken by Siera Vercillo in Sierra Leone

2Women’s important roles cooking and distributing food
Photo taken by Siera Vercillo in Sierra Leone

Across the world, women are primarily responsible for food production and for feeding their families. In the global south, where 1/3 of all food is wasted at the farm gate, and in the global north where 1/3 of food is wasted at the retail and consumer levels, women’s roles on the farm, in the factory, and at home, as well as their empowerment, access to resources, and knowledge matters a lot. In sub-Saharan Africa for example, women farmers are responsible for as much as 70%  of the production, 90% of the processing and 80% of the storage of food, suggesting that interventions to reduce food loss must target, be tailored for, and engage women.

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Tackling our food waste and the technological fix

It’s fantastic to see the momentum of media interest in food waste moving from statistic filled articles and information graphics to coverage of innovative projects that seek to tackle the waste problem. In the UK, recent television programs have started to draw upon narratives of empowerment to bring together consumers and the wider public in ‘fighting’ the war on waste as set out in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recent BBC television programme. But despite this impetus and increased proposition of technological solutions, the potential for such ideas to achieve real change is debatable.

Research that has sought to understand why we throw away food has delivered one key message; that the wastage of food by individuals both inside and outside the home is a problematic phenomenon, wrapped up in the complexity of our everyday lives. The transition of food into waste is encompassed in the routines and habits of how we consume food across stages of purchasing, storage, preparation and consumption as well as how the schedules we keep to as part of our lifestyles influence what we eat, when and why (Evans, 2015). Further to this, waste is a material that is hidden and absent from thought, removed from the household and also from our consciousness. Therefore any means of tackling the wastage of food has the difficult task of interrupting, changing and establishing new procedures that go beyond reducing food waste material to prevent the wastage of food in the first place.

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The interrelationships of hunger and waste: towards more audacious solutions?

Charlie Spring, Marie Mourad and Tammara Soma discuss the recent ‘Envisioning a Future without Food Poverty and Food Waste: Societal challenges’ conference held in Paraninfo, Bilbao from the 17-18 November 2015

Conceived as a “multidisciplinary deliberation forum,” the conference called for linking the complex issues of food waste and food poverty through the lenses of rural development, agronomy, engineering, environmental sciences, human nutrition, law and governance, sociology and philosophy. More than 150 speakers and participants came from all over the world, including us: three PhD students members of the “international food loss and food waste studies” group from Canada, Great Britain and France. Without trying to be exhaustive, the following wrap-up offers our own tri-disciplinary and tri-national perspective of the conference.

Food waste and food poverty: What? Who? How?

The conference covered a wide range of topics from raising awareness on the environmental impacts of food waste to building food systems based on human rights and social justice. Keynote speakers came from the academic world as well as multinational organizations and institutions (EU and FAO) or grassroots movements and non-profits. We found their presentations did a great job in presenting the issues of food waste and food poverty with their latest developments, but not necessarily in bringing new ideas for experts on the topic. Presenters, for their part, were mostly academics and divided in two parallel sessions. 12 minutes to talk, with 3 minutes of questions and answers, can be frustrating. We found that too little time was given to in-depth discussions and questions, even less answers. While we greatly appreciated the variety of speakers and participants, welcomed by a professionally held bilingual setting (Spanish-English, with simultaneous translations), we finally questioned the limits of interdisciplinarity as well and the relevance of linking food waste with hunger and poverty.

Key themes

A recurring theme was the values and practices of food charity in the context of economic recession and austerity policy. Karlos Perez de Armino (co-author of last year’s First World Hunger Revisited) drew attention to a lack of data on the extent of hunger but painted a contextual picture of degraded welfare services, high unemployment and 20% annual growth of the food bank network. He described food charity as ‘uncritical solidarity’, with food banks receiving large funds from the very banks that caused the financial recession that sparked the current situation. The state of food aid as a response to market conditions rather than evident need is another reason to question the assumption that it is the right way to respond to the conditions that produce hunger.

Other papers focussed more specifically on the ethics and practice of surplus food redistribution: how far can this address the ‘paradox’ of food waste coexisting with high levels of food poverty?

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