Food Waste: Home Consumption, Material Culture and Everyday Life

Food Waste: Home Consumption, Material Culture and Everyday Life

Author: David Evans

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Price: £17.99

A lecturer in Sociology and Research Fellow of the Sustainable Institute at the University of Manchester, David Evans sets out to explore why food ends up in the bin and considers solutions to the problem in his new book Food Waste: Home Consumption, Material Culture and Everyday Life. As an academic, Evans draws on studies of consumption and materials culture alongside social science perspectives on everyday life and the home to get to the bottom of why we waste food.

We all know there’s a big problem when it comes to food waste: ‘[G]lobally one third of food produced for consumption is wasted – or otherwise lost – each year’, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. And Evans readily admits that there are other books about the ‘food waste scandal’, but in writing this book, he seeks to bring to our attention to the processes through which stuff that is ‘food’ becomes stuff that is ‘waste’.

Having gathered material from an ethnographic study of household food waste in the North West of the UK, the evidence from the study suggests that it is created not through irresponsibility or from individuals not caring about the environment, but from households trying to ‘eat properly’ as a family and the varying demands of daily life: ‘Although surplus food is far from benign in its consequences, it is rather more mundane in its origins – it is the fallout of everyday life.’

This article was taken from Issue 79

Food Waste goes on to examine how food is turned into waste. Simply put, food is wasted when people do not want to eat it anymore. However, Evans suggests that ‘“food” becomes “waste” through a complex and anxiety-laden process’, and therefore should not be taken as evidence of households not caring about the food that they waste. He also refers to the argument that food waste can occur further up the chain, when food is packaged in excessive quantities, for example.  

As for what to do with food waste, however it is produced, Evans favours ‘shared facilities for food recycling, and to locate them outside of private households’, though he recognises that this could result in households feeling that the waste has been ‘dealt’ with, resulting in the thinking that they do not need to reduce the waste. He further calls on policy makers to focus on surplus food and, for example, methods of redistributing it.

He concludes: ‘For as long as waste policy continues to focus its attention on households, I will continue to advocate the need for further empirical and social scientific research in the spirit of this book… however I wish to advocate a move away from the households… the real challenge is one of reducing waste generation at other points in the food system.’

Food Waste is aimed at social scientists and students, but could be of benefit to those in the waste industry wanting to take a different look at why we waste food.

Leonie Butler