The generative mechanisms of 'food waste' in South Australian household settings

Author: Vicki Mavrakis

Mavrakis, Vicki, 2014 The generative mechanisms of 'food waste' in South Australian household settings, Flinders University, School of Health Sciences

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In the developed world, up to 50% of food produced for consumption is wasted, with much of the uneaten, wasted food coming from households. Much of this waste ends up in landfill where it contributes to greenhouse gas production through the production of methane and presents an environmental hazard. While studies have attempted to quantify the amount of food waste, little is known about the underlying generative mechanisms. Through this exploratory research, I provide insights into the socio-cultural and generative mechanisms of food waste. Without knowing why people waste food, we cannot reduce its occurrence. I developed a contemporary methodological approach using ethnographic methods to study food use in 14 households across the city over a 13-month period in 2011 and 2012. I used a suite of methods including in-depth semi-structured interviews, observations, food maps, photographs and vignettes to gather a range of data. Waste practices occurred at five key food activity stages. These were Provisioning, Storage, Preparation, Consumption and Clean-up. Practices that generated or mitigated waste were identified for each stage. The subsequent conceptual analysis presents four dimensions of food waste. The cultural, social, temporal and material dimensions of food practices influenced the perception of edible and inedible food by participants. 'Food waste' practices occurred as part of everyday routines, which were confounded by situational impediments. The term 'food waste' did not resonate with participants, but what constituted wasted food was socially and culturally constructed, imbued with a range of values that determined edibility or inedibility of food. The perishable nature of food and the perceived risk by participants were also contributing factors to the determinations of edibility. Food waste at the household level is reflected as the shadow of consumption. It is an intrinsic and embodied component of food and associated food practices. Therefore, food waste should always be considered within the context of food and not as a separate set of discrete practices.

Keywords: Food waste,practices,ethnography

Subject: Public Health thesis, Health Sciences thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2014
School: School of Health Sciences
Supervisor: Prof John Coveney