The Waste, The Will and The Way: The Underlying Attitudes and Social and Material Context of Student Food Waste at Yale

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John Wargo
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Mitigating food waste is an essential part of the solution to the formidable challenge of equitably feeding a growing population on an earth threatened with rapidly depleting resources. Though the literature on food waste is relatively nascent, recent studies have highlighted the environmental, economic, and social costs of food waste, especially those incurred at the level of the consumer. This paper fits into the growing global dialogue on food waste by exploring the behaviors, attitudes, and drivers of waste in Yale’s college dining halls. The study seeks to understand the dichotomy between students’ knowledge of and concern for food waste issues and the prevalent generation of food waste by examining the external forces influencing the processes of consumption and disposal in the dining halls. The paper concludes that the generation of food waste at Yale is not simply due to a lack of knowledge about the costs implicated in food waste or an apathetic student body. Rather, a more nuanced account of how and why food is wasted begins to emerge, highlighting the high level of complexity and importance of social and material contexts in facilitating the generation of food waste. Ultimately, there is a great opportunity for the University to capitalize upon students’ existing knowledge of and willingness to engage with food waste issues, and pursue institutional changes to nudge, inspire, and facilitate action to reduce waste.