During 2015, a team of DFA-NYU students become interested in the issue of food waste while participating in the Do Tank challenge on Food waste in NYC in Fall 2015. As we decided to keep working on this theme in Spring 2016, we realized that the issue of food waste was a salient one at the local level, and one very close to us: university and the students community.
We did some interviews and workshops at NYU, and realized that:
- There are many events in the university with free food but a lot of this free food ends up being wasted.
- Some students don’t necessarily eat enough but have insecurity regarding this, so they feel ashamed about admitting it.
- Students would be willing to give up some food or take on food from others if there was a platform to do so.
Based on these insights, our team came up with an idea. We call this, Project Avocado.
It is a platform for students, where they could share their excess (and good) food with other students before it goes to waste. This not only feeds those who are in dire need for food, but also helps build a stronger community, without wasting the food. This was our theory. But it is always different when things have to be practical.
The end of each semester brings about two things: a lot of unwanted things the students had stockpiled during their entire school year, and excess food which they had purchased, but did not have time to consume.
We had conducted this experiment in early May of 2016, the time when the Spring semester was coming to an end. The prototype was set up in the GreenHouse Innovation Space of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Students were requested to bring any good food which was still consumable, which they might have otherwise thron away. This food was to be shared (not donated) with students who needed it.
Students were asked to write their details and some more information regarding the food on a post-it. The post-its were colour-coded, and students were requested to use them accordingly. If they had not brought containers, we provided them with one. The post-it notes were then stuck to the containers.
Many students came to us asking for the food. Some even asked if they could take only what they needed. Students were also willing to accept uncooked foods (produce).
The team made two important observations:
- It did not matter to the students if part of the food which they wanted to take was already taken by someone else
- Most of those who took the food, wanted to express their gratitude to the person who shared it with them
We now know that there are students who willing to share food, and students who are willing to receive such food and show their gratitude. This is what building a better community is all about, and looking at it carefully, it will reduce food waste before the food actually gets spoilt.
And since we know that this works, we want to improve the platform and encourage students to be more participating.