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Masterclass ‘Zero Food Waste Lab’ tests food system intervention strategy on food waste

Imagine: The baker on the corner of the street has some leftover bread that he can’t use the next day. So, he throws it away. Food waste. How could you resolve this? You could make croutons from it, for example. But according to the Future Food Systems lectureship, this is merely dealing with the symptoms, not addressing the cause of the problem.

Because the baker will be left with unsold bread every day. There is an underlying pattern here. He may be baking too much bread, for example, because he’s afraid customers may see empty shelves and stay away. And if we look deeper into the problem, we find structures and ultimately paradigms that make food waste and other unsustainable practices happen time and time again. The lectureship has developed a method to analyse the system and so expose the underlying causes and structures and address them at all levels. Thus, making the entire food system more sustainable.

Testing a food system approach

During February and March,  30 students, lecturers and a number of external professionals took part in the ‘Zero Food Waste Lab’ masterclass. The masterclass, an extracurricular programme, was an initiative from the Future Food Systems lectureship, in collaboration with the new foundation Samen Tegen Voedselverspilling (Together Against Food Waste). The aim was to test a food system approach, leading to an intervention strategy based on a system analysis. This method – described briefly above using bread as an example – was developed by the lectureship. At the start of this year, lecturer Frederike Praasterink was looking for an opportunity to carry out a pilot study using a specific topic. This turned out to be food waste. According to Frederike, the pilot was successful, thanks in part to the enthusiastic contribution of the masterclass participants.

Preventing food waste

The central question in the masterclass was: how can we use a system analysis to draw up an intervention strategy that prevents food waste, and so contribute to a circular use of ingredients? This is about coming up with a series of interventions that can make such a system sustainable. Frederike: “The method helps us look for the real problem at a system level. Food waste isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom. Developing products using waste streams is very important, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying patterns and structures that enable food waste to recur time and time again. The interventions are also aimed at the underlying causes, enabling us to make the system significantly more sustainable, rather than simply treating the symptoms.”

Exploratory research

“The masterclass was held over 4 evenings,” she continues. “Our method involves 4 steps. This allowed us to tackle 1 step each session. Sessions included a guest lecturer relevant to the topic, for example the coordinator of one of the programmes from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. This programme is a collaboration between 36 large companies that are joining forces to address ‘food system reform’. One of their priorities is food waste. This instantly demonstrates the value of the masterclass: it’s not just about the content of the sessions; it’s also about connecting with key people within the network. As Future Food Systems lectureship, we believe it’s important to carryout exploratory research like this together with students, lecturers and professionals. This also increases the visibility of HAS University of Applied Sciences in networks of pioneers, and also helps students gain access to interesting parties.”

Grand finale

The foundation Samen Tegen Voedselverspilling contributed greatly to the masterclass. “HAS University of Applied Sciences has good contacts with the foundation,” says Frederike. So, it was easy to decide to go with the topic of Food waste. Toine Timmermans of Wageningen University is the foundation’s co-initiator and is an expert when it comes to food waste in the Netherlands. He was keen to help facilitate the masterclass. This enabled us to work to a grand finale. We were allowed to present the findings of the masterclass during the foundations kick-off event on 12 March, with many important guests. And this is leading to all kinds of new invitations.”