Household food waste : moral and social dimensions of the generation, rejection, and disposal of surplus food from family meals and domestic gatherings (a qualitative investigation)

Aleshaiwi, Alia (2022) Household food waste : moral and social dimensions of the generation, rejection, and disposal of surplus food from family meals and domestic gatherings (a qualitative investigation). (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis focuses on the social and moral dimensions of the journey of surplus food within homes, covering a gap in the literature and revealing new ways in which practitioners can intervene. There is a tendency in the food waste literature to relate sets of factors directly to food waste generation, thereby neglecting the many steps in the passage of food into waste. This has led to overlooking the moral aspects involved in managing food, a key topic of this thesis. In addition, this neglection has contributed to claims that people behave in ways that are inconsistent with their moral attitudes towards food waste and that household food waste can be reduced by bridging the attitude-behavior gap. This thesis looks at how food becomes surplus and then unwanted and the trajectories of unwanted food in both family and domestic gathering settings. Adopting an indepth interviewing technique using a sample of twenty-eight Muslim Saudi women and the reflexive thematic approach to the analysis, this thesis analyzes the steps of surplus generation, rejection, and disposal within their relevant social contexts, in contrast with earlier work that views food waste as an individual matter. In doing so, the thesis illustrates the prominent social and moral motivations and concerns throughout these steps. While moral concerns and motivations take prominence when disposing of unwanted food, concerns about taking care of family and guests are more prominent during the stage of surplus food generation. In contrast, concerns about serving attractive food take precedent over other concerns during the stage of surplus rejection. These concerns and motivations demonstrate how food can be a means to express identities, provide a positive eating experience, and enact moral beliefs. The above findings are organized into empirical chapters that discuss the journey taken by food at the household level. While previous food waste studies conceptualize the good provider identity as one broad concept, this thesis illustrates how the expressions of this identity vary across the family life cycle and in various settings. These expressions reveal different underlying reasons for surplus food generation. In addition, the thesis addresses the limited attention given to how surplus food cleanness impacts on its rejection. It highlights the influence of changes in eating manners on the heightening of food-related disgust and the perception of surplus as (un)clean. Furthermore, the thesis broadens previous findings on the role of taste in the rejection of surplus food by defining the concept of 'sensory eating experience' and revealing how it is influenced by the rise of societal affluence. The thesis also pays attention to circular practices of disposing of unwanted food - sharing and donating food and leaving it out for animals. Engaging in these practices is motivated by deeply held moral beliefs but is hindered by the lack of access to these pathways, resulting in food waste. This thesis provides insights to practitioners for moving away from blaming individuals for the surplus and food waste generated at the household level, to giving greater attention to the cultural and social context and relationships in which food consumption is situated. Such a way of viewing household food waste would help in forming a robust base from which interventions can be built.

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