Exploring food assets in Vancouver

This past year, Food Systems Lab has been working on a project to map food assets in Vancouver using a community-based approach. In the first phase, we hosted a community charette in July to explore what Vancouverites see as food assets in their city and what food assets mean to them. Here are some photos from the charette. This spring, we will be sharing more results from this project, including a photo voice book and web map.

Can Playing Games Reduce Food Waste?

Food Systems Lab is excited to announce that we have published an open-access journal article titled
Food Waste Reduction: A Test of Three Consumer Awareness Interventions. This article presents findings from our research on household food waste reduction awareness campaigns in Toronto. We have some promising signs that gamification can be an effective means to help reduce food waste in homes!


Halving food waste by 2050 as per the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 is key to securing a food system that is sustainable. One approach to reducing household food waste is through education campaigns. We recruited 501 households divided into three types of intervention groups and compared with a control group to better understand the efficacy of diverse education campaign approaches. Food waste interventions included a passive approach (handouts), a community engagement approach, and a gamification approach. We conducted waste audits, household surveys (pre- and post-intervention), and a focus group at the end of the campaign. The passive and gamification groups had similarly high levels of participation, while participation in the community group was very low. The passive group and the gamification group had higher self-reported awareness of food wasting after the campaign and lower food wastage than the control group. Waste audits found marginally significant differences between the game group and the control (p = 0.07) and no difference between the other campaign groups and the control group in edible food wasted. Frequent gamers were found to generate less edible food waste than infrequent gamers. We conclude that the evidence about the potential for gamification as an effective education change tool is promising and we recommend further study.

Food Systems Lab receives grant for social innovation on bioplastic packaging

Food Systems Lab is pleased to announce that we have received a grant from the Trans-Atlantic Platform Social Innovation Call for a new project titled Social Innovation Management for Bioplastics (SIMBIO). We will use a social innovation approach to address the environmental and social challenges of bioplastic packaging throughout its entire supply chain from production to end-of-life management in collaboration with researchers from Brazil, Poland, and the United Kingdom.

Bioplastic packaging made from bio-based polymers has a large potential impact on both food systems and waste management systems worldwide. As plastic pollution is a global problem, the solution needs to be developed with a global context and cannot be isolated to one region or country. This requires close collaboration of research team members on both sides of the Atlantic to work on a solution to bioplastics that is viable and scalable to multiple locales. We will engage stakeholders throughout the supply chain who influence and/or are impacted by the production, use, and end-of-life management of bioplastic packaging, including those who are normally excluded from design and decision-making processes across three continents.

Through this project that will take place over the next two years, we plan to explore the following research questions:

  • What are the social and environmental roles of bioplastic packaging in the global context of sustainable food production and consumption?
  • What is the current understanding of bioplastic packaging for food from the perspectives of consumers and businesses?
  • Under what circumstances is bioplastic packaging the best option for storing and transporting food?
  • What are alternative products with lower environmental footprints that can be used instead ofbioplastic packaging?
  • How does the resource extraction and industrial processing for producing bioplastic packagingaffect food security, the ecosystem, and the well-being of those impacted?
  • If the quantity of bioplastic packaging increases substantially, how will these products impact theformal and informal recycling, composting, and waste management sector?
  • If bioplastic packaging is the best option for certain scenarios, what are product design parameters,processes, policies, and supporting systems that need to be in place to manage a supply chain of these packaging materials that minimizes negative environmental and social impacts?

Building on our experience from running a food waste social innovation lab in Toronto, we will be using a similar methodology for this project, following a three workshop format to understand the problem on bioplastic packaging, design solutions, and prototype promising solutions. Summary reports and journal articles will be written as we progress through this research.

SFU Farm to Campus Initiative

Food Systems Lab is excited to announce the launch of the SFU Farm to Campus Initiative in partnership with Embark Sustainability and the SFU Sustainability Office.

For 10 weeks, participants of this initiative will receive a box of seasonal farm produce from a small farm in Delta. Help reduce food waste and support a more sustainable and just food system. The zucchinis offered by this farm are certified organic and delicious!

Bake it, broth it, buy what you need

A guest blog post from one of our student research assistants

Hello! My name is Lydia Ng and I am a third year undergraduate student studying a Neuroscience and Nutritional Sciences double major at the University of Toronto. I am originally from Vancouver, British Columbia and in Vancouver, composting is mandatory by law  for everyone. When I arrived in Toronto, I was surprised the lack of food waste prevention practice and food waste knowledge from my peers.

During my second year, I became involved with a start-up company, Feedback, who help reduce food waste from restaurants by offering dynamic pricing of their menu items during off-peak hours. It was great that I got to be part of something to help with the food waste problem in Canada. The importance and value of food has always been a major teaching growing up, so when I heard about the open research position for the Food Systems Lab, I jumped at the opportunity to apply. I was excited to be part of a team that was dedicated in food waste prevention within the community. As a research assistant in the Food System Lab, I helps the research team with tasks, such as data entry, workshop planning, and data analysis. I was also very interested in being part of the interactions with the community to hear about their own food waste prevention strategies.

One of my favourite recipes to prevent food waste is to make a broth using vegetable scraps or meat bones. I love how simple it is to make, and it helps me used parts of the food I would otherwise not normally eat. I am also a huge baker, so whenever I have some very ripe fruit, like bananas or apples, I would use them in my baking. A few examples include, banana bread, apple strudels or tarts, scones, or muffins.

My top three tips for reducing or preventing food waste include:

  1. Do Not Always Buy in Bulk. Everytime I go grocery shopping, I notice the retailers advertise specials like buy 4 for $5, or buy 2 get one free. Often as consumers get trapped into the idea that buy more is cheaper, however it not always the case, especially if food gets wasted in the end. Sometimes the 2 for $4 is a trick for you to buy more because in the fine print, it may say that the item is still $2 if you only buy one.
  2. Portion Control. Try to cook enough food for only that meal, maybe a bit extra for leftovers for the next day. If you are someone that tends to forget about leftovers or prefers not to eat the same meal multiple times, it is better to only cook enough food for that one particular meal. Sometimes less is better.
  3. Purchase Versatile Ingredients. For example, carrots, onion, and celery can be used for soups, pasta, or fried rice. When I want to try a new recipe, sometimes it requires an item that I normally do not purchase. During those times, I try to substitute those items with items that I already have on hand or ones I know I can use for other meals.

A New Grant and A New Toolkit

Food Systems Lab has been quietly working this spring on some new initiatives and we are thrilled to finally be able to share them with the world!

New Frontiers

Assistant Professor Tammara Soma (PI) has been awarded the SSHRC New Frontiers Grant for Our Home, Our Food, Our Resilience: A Citizen Science Approach to Food Asset Mapping and New Frontiers in Ecological Heritage Planning in Canada. This two-year project will involve extensive collaboration with researchers at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia spanning fields of expertise including Ethnobiology and Archaeology, Forestry, Indigenous Governance, Biology, Information and Arts Technology, Social Work and Geography.

Food asset mapping is an emerging tool in planning and has been used to document available food infrastructures in cities for the purpose of achieving food security. However, food asset mapping has not included ecological and cultural assets important to food system resiliency. Further, what are considered “assets” may not reflect the lived experiences of marginalized communities. This study will apply a “citizen science” led community food asset mapping in three cities: Port Alberni, Terrace and Vancouver. The project includes a photovoice methodology representing diverse communities including Indigenous, racialized, and low-income communities.

Food Matters Action Kit

Looking for learning materials and project to tackle the issue of food waste? Look no further!

Food Systems Lab is delighted to announce the launch of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s Food Matters Action Kit with over 2 dozen activities to inspire youth to make a difference. With support from colleagues in the United States and Mexico, the Food Systems Lab team had the opportunity to contribute to the development of this youth action kit. We hope to spark a collective youth movement to prevent, reduce, recover food loss and waste in North American and beyond. Spread the word and join the youth movement!

Pro Tips from the Field

A guest blog post from one of our student research assistants

Hi! My name is Linda Lu and I am currently a fourth year undergraduate student studying Immunology and Nutritional Sciences at University of Toronto. Coming from a city where many society members depended on resources from foodbanks, I was able to gauge the importance of food sustainability and waste reduction at a very young age. I have been involved with food consciousness and accessibility since my senior years in high school where I helped jumpstart a school-wide breakfast club and community garden specifically designed for inner-city students of British Columbia. 

I love traveling and meeting people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Just this past summer, I traveled to Pujili, Ecuador to build homes for families affected by local earthquakes. I was intrigued at how our cultural practices were so different – mainly, how wasteful we are in terms of food back at home. After returning, I joined the Food Systems Lab through a community-engagement research course, courtesy of New College at University of Toronto, to be able to speak out about food-waste in a more active way. What intrigued me about the lab was the opportunity to translate my education into a real-world setting. Similarly, being able to work with key stakeholders and community members of various backgrounds regarding food-waste topics is another aspect that drew me into the program.

My schooling in nutritional sciences has provided me with the knowledge of food safety, nutritional literacy, food chemistry, food processing techniques and many aspects of basic human nutrition. As a research assistant, my role is to produce up-to-date educational material such as newsletters, and workshop outlines to facilitate our current research task. I work to curate tips, present guidelines and gather recipes to produce fun, yet informative, newsletters for our readers to enjoy. In addition, I have also been involved with behind-the-scenes tasks such as mailing letters, surveys, and setting up for workshops. 

Besides my love for food and travel, I also love making green juices. If you are also a juice fanatic like me, you might be generating a ton of veggie pulp and worrying about how wasteful this is! My favorite thing to do with the veggie pulp is to make them into vegetarian meatballs. Sauté some garlic, shredded zucchini, red pepper and slowly mix in your veggie pulp. Add parsley and Italian seasoning for flavoring, or even crack in an egg for extra texture. Form the mixture into balls and bake! Get ready to enjoy your veggie meatballs, with your freshly pressed green juice on the side of course. 

Here are my top 3 tips to reducing food-waste:

  1. Plan your meals: As a university student, this is especially a time-saver! I love meal planning particularly because it allows me to pack my own ready-to-go meals that I can quickly grab and head out the door. After asking around, I found that a large majority of my friend’s food-waste comes from not properly planning out what they are going to eat, leading to spoiled or rotten food. Meal planning is a great way to ensure that you only purchase what you plan to eat.
  2. Proper storage: Learning about proper food storage is key as it prevents excess bacterial growth and undesirable chemical reactions from happening to your food. Most common foods that are stored incorrectly include bananas, pineapples, cucumbers, and eggplant. These foods can actually suffer from chilling injury, making them appear more undesirable. To keep them looking top quality, keep them out of the fridge in a cool and dry environment instead.
  3. Freeze what you cannot finish: The freezer has always been my best friend when I accidentally purchase excess food. You can freeze various things ranging from bread, bananas, fruits, and meats. This prolongs the life of your food by slowing bacterial or fungal growth and you might even find alternative ways to finish your food such as making smoothies with frozen fruits! 

In addition, I would like to share with you the link to an online recipe book where you can access multiple ways to reduce your food-waste around home:

We’ve Moved!

Food Systems Lab has moved across the country! Our Director of Research and Co-Founder, Dr. Tammara Soma, has joined the School of Resource and Environmental Management (REM) at Simon Fraser University as an Assistant Professor. Over the next year, we will continue our research work in Toronto on food waste reduction and awareness campaigns while planting seeds to start up Food Systems Lab in British Columbia.

News release from Simon Fraser University:

The School of Resource and Environmental Management (REM) is pleased to announce that Dr. Tammara Soma will be joining REM on December 1, 2018 as Assistant Professor in Planning. Dr. Soma holds a Ph.D. in Planning (2018) from the University of Toronto. She is currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto, a Research Fellow at the University of Guelph, the Co-founder / Director of Research at the Food Systems Lab (a Canadian Social Innovation and Research Lab) and is leading the Food Equity Initiative as a Lecturer with the Department of Equity Studies at New College’s New One Program (University of Toronto). She has published her work in the journals Local EnvironmentBuilt EnvironmentIndonesia (forthcoming), Journal of Agriculture, Food System and Community Development, and in the books Conversations in Food Studies (University of Manitoba Press), and Learning, Food and Sustainability (Palgrave McMillan). She is a co-editor with C. Reynolds, J. Lazell, and C. Spring of the upcoming Routledge Handbook on Food Waste. Beyond academic publications she also writes for the Huffington Post, Policy Options, Alternatives Journal, and is frequently interviewed by media such as the Toronto StarGlobe and Mail, CBCTVO The Agenda and more. Her current research projects are funded by the Weston Foundation “Seeding Food Innovation” grant and she is leading a tri-country team (U.S, Mexico and Canada) on a Commission for Environmental Cooperation project to develop toolkits for youth engagement in food loss and food waste reduction. She is a 2014 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Doctoral Scholar, a Joseph Armand Bombardier SSHRC CGS Doctoral Fellow, an International Development Research Centre Doctoral Award recipient, and a SSHRC Top 5 Storyteller finalist.

Dr. Soma’s area of research complements REM’s interdisciplinary approach to resource management, and she will bring SFU and REM, new courses and expertise in food systems planning, food waste, waste management, and social justice implications within each of these areas.  In Spring 2019, Dr. Soma will be teaching her first course at SFU, REM 363 Special Topics:  Building Sustainable Food Systems. Stay tuned for more information later in the Fall 2018 semester!

Food Systems Lab Awarded a Seeding Food Innovation Grant

We are thrilled to announce that Food Systems Lab has received a Seeding Food Innovation Grant to conduct research on the efficacy and innovative potential of food waste awareness campaigns. This research is led by our team at the University of Toronto, in partnership with the National Zero Waste Council and City of Toronto.

Study Goals

The goal of this study is to better understand the efficacy of awareness campaigns to increase awareness of the negative impact of food waste and encourage residents to take action to reduce food waste at home. Through this study, we will identify strategies to:

  • Motivate food waste reduction;
  • Determine factors that would result in behavioural changes; and
  • Identify innovations that can be incorporated into food waste awareness campaigns.

The findings from this research can help governments, businesses, and organizations working on food waste issues to prioritize interventions and strategies for reducing household food waste based on data and evidence.

Our Approach

Building on materials developed for Love Food Hate Waste Canada, we are going to test different types of campaigns in neighbourhoods in the City of Toronto. The pilot campaigns will run over 12 weeks, starting in the summer of 2018. Strategies that we will test distribution of information, door-to-door engagement, community workshops, and a web-based game. Data from participant surveys and waste composition studies at the beginning, end, and three months following the end of the campaign will be collected to monitor progress. We are excited to be the first research study in Canada testing gamification strategies on the topic of food waste.

What’s Next?

Over the next couple months we are preparing our research materials for our pilot campaign launch. We plan to post updates throughout our research program. Questions about our research can be directed to Tammara Soma, Director of Research at