Vasisth, who is a master student Computer Science, actually started taking this on in his Indian hometown Bangalore where he volunteered for the Robin Hood Army, which redistributes leftover food from events like banquets to people in need.
Saito, in turn, does a minor Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions and volunteers for the Green Office VU, a student-led sustainability platform. There, she started busying herself with food waste. “I went to high school in the US for a year”, she says. “I noticed a lot of food is wasted there. In Tokyo, where I’m from, leftover food is taken from convenience stores at the end of every day and thrown away. It bothers me a lot.”
Someone pointed out to Saito that there is a so-called Dream Team, which also studies the problem. Vasisth was already a member of this Dream Team.
Dream Teams are teams of students from different scientific disciplines which work on societal issues like health, environmental preservation and improving mobility of paraplegic people. Saito and Vasisth are part of the Dream Team consisting of nine students, which focuses on reducing food waste .
“We’ve talked to people of the Facility Campus Organisation and of Eurest, the company which does most of the food catering at VU”, Vasisth says. They’ve told us about measures they’re taking to bring food waste to a minimum, like reusing ingredients for salads or offering food at a discount at the end of the day. They say most of the leftover food comes from events with many people. Due to hygienic standards, Eurest has no choice but to throw that food away.”
Saito and Vasisth’s Dream Team doesn’t have the solution yet, they’re still gathering data to be able to analyse the problem properly. “That’s why we’ve put a survey online and are hoping as many students as possible will fill it out”, Saito says. “To get a good idea of their food consumption on campus, to consider every possible reason for people to throw away their food.”
The survey asks where students buy their food and what kind of food, but also by which factors their choices are influenced. “We were told 80 percent of all food offered by Eurest is vegan or vegetarian”, Vasisth says. “It could be a reason for people to throw it away, for example because they weren’t aware it was vegan and don’t like vegan food.”
But that’s all speculation. “We don’t know anything yet, we’re just asking questions”, Vasisth says. “Other Dream Teams build on research already done by former Dream Teams, which have been studying the same issue for years”, Saito says. “But we are the first Dream Team focused on food waste, so we’re only laying the foundations for the next Dream Team to work on.”
“We would be happy if we succeeded in raising awareness”, says Vasisth. “If people start thinking about their food consumption and their own responsibilities because we’re asking questions about it, that would be a first step in fixing the problem.”
“We’re starting small at the VU campus”, Saito says, “but what we are doing is also relevant for the city of Amsterdam, for the country, even.”