Problem of Food Wastage over the years

[Trace back your thesis idea as far back in product design as you can. If possible, think before products, before technology, into as far past into human evolution as you can. Argue how your idea could contribute to future evolution. If your idea is still hazy, argue what the problems are that need to be improved.]


In the last few days of my research, I’ve tried to get as far back in time as possible to get to the root of the problem of Food wastage (focussing primarily on consumers & households). Back in those days, the amount of food wasted was considerably less, primarily because of the following reasons:

a) Demand more than Supply: The quantity of total food produce in (most) countries did not meet the demands of its people. Food was not as easily accessible, both in terms of price and availability. People valued what they had more and practiced a more efficient consumption cycle. But as countries became self-sufficient in their food produce and supply, the problem of food waste increased. In the United States the Food Wastage has trippled since the world war II, from 12.2 million tons in 1960 to 35 million tons in 2012.  Over the same period of time, the number of food insecure Americans — those who have a problem enjoying consistent access to food — has grown from one in 20 in 1968 to one in six in 2014.

b) Traditional and cultural ways of food preservation: Communities around the world have been employing food saving methods in order to prolong its shelf life. Also, back then, people spent much more time in the kitchen, cooking, using and re-using cooked items to make sure everything they had gets consumed - essentially people knew their food and eating habits better because they spent more time with the food. In contrast, people today rely more and more on packaged food and go by the best before stamps & expiration dates more than the quality, taste and odor. Also since throwing is a easier options than using traditional ways for preserving or re-using the food, people choose to rather throw and get rid of it.

c) Sharing food in community: My grandparents lived in a small town in India. As a kid, I remember, every afternoon the local worker (who swept the neighborhood) would come and collect food from my grandparents house and similarly from the other houses in the community. It was a way for families to shares the extra cooked food with the ones who need. This helped people to waste less food and the workers to save on their food costs. This kind of system worked well in the old indian households, since they had fresh meals cooked three times a day for a joint-family of 10+ people, often resulting in food leftovers from the previous meal.

d) Local markets instead of Supermarkets: In the times when grocery shopping meant buying from the local markets (farmers market), the amount of food that was wasted for appearance, size, shape was negligible. The farmers sold all their produce through the day by balancing the quality, quantity with the price. This brought the consumers closer to the farmer’s produce and eliminated the decision-making by the supermarkets on behalf of consumer which led to throwing of tons of produce on grounds of appearance.

As I progress with the research, I’m interested to dive deeper into these social-economic and cultural traditions that helped communities run a more efficient food consumptions cycle in the past. It’s an exciting challenge to figure out what it takes to bring back that mindfulness in the urban societies today, where resources exist in abundance and people are perennially running out of time.

Below are a few videos & articles I came across during my research, that have informed this blogpost: 

Why do we throw away so much food?

South Korea’s innovative solution to cut back on food waste.

Traditional and indigenous food preservation methods

The U.S. Government Wants To Cut Food Waste In Half