What a waste! University of Guelph study looks at food people throw out

As part of her master's project at the University of Guelph, Carly Fraser asked Guelph residents to take pictures of the food they were throwing away, then asked them how they felt about their green bin's contents.

Homeowners were asked to take photos of moments they recognized food was going to waste

The group says people often donate food that's left over from gatherings. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

People don't like to talk about how much food they waste.

But for her master's project, Carley Fraser asked Guelph residents to not only talk about their food waste – she asked them to photograph it.

"I decided to use photos so I'd have a starting point for people to talk about their food waste," Fraser told CBC News.

"Waste is often hidden from us so it brings attention to the moment when waste happens so we could talk about it."

Working with the Guelph Food Waste Research Group at the University of Guelph, she surveyed 22 households about what food they were throwing out and why. Homeowners were asked to take between 12 and 24 photos of moments they recognized that their food was going to waste or anything they thought was part of their household food waste.

People's reactions

After two weeks, Fraser sat down with homeowners to talk about their food waste experience through the pictures they took, which brought interesting conversations and reactions, she said.

"I had a lot of families in my study so our waste conversations often shifted to food conversations, which became an interesting thing for me because we talked about all of these moments that combine and lead up to the moment of waste," she said. "We don't often think about waste until after it happens." 

P.E.I. Food Share would rather see excess food donated, than thrown out. (CBC)

Fraser also mentioned there were moments where some homeowners expressed guilt, shame and some were even embarrassed to talk about their food waste. Fraser said it could be because there is a level of stigma or judgement from society around food waste.

However, she also heard stories of joy and relief from homeowners. Some mentioned how happy they were to finally get rid of something that was sitting in the fridge for sometime and others felt they were doing a good job with how they handled their food waste at home.

Though her project wasn't intended to instigate change in people's habits, she said the participants were able identify problem areas and areas where they were doing well.

"It definitely started some conversations about what some challenges might be to the typical way we go about promoting waste reduction," she said.

"There is a lot of things that are telling us that we need to change and food waste is now being added to those. 'I know I should reduce food waste', people already know that...but the how is still a big question."   

Fraser is helping host an event Wednesday night in Guelph called Wasted? An Evening of Food, Film and Performance to Investigate Waste.

It will be at the Guelph Youth Music Centre starting at 6 p.m. and includes a soup social, a screening of Trash Dance, a live performance of a choreographed dance featuring Fraser and dance artist Georgia Simms and a chance to talk about the issue.