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Design students audit the canapés served at ISF book launch

18 April 2017

Guests at ISF book launch

As part of our commitment to ‘walk the talk’ we think carefully about the economic, social and environmental sustainability impacts of the food we serve at ISF functions.

We strive for best practice and serve healthy, locally sourced, organic, vegan food wherever we can.

Locally sourced food reduces the GHG emissions associated with food miles. Organic food avoids the use of pesticides and weedicides and the harms associated with their production and use. Vegan food avoids animal cruelty and GHG emissions associated with raising animals for food.

When we celebrated our 20th anniversary and launched Transdisciplinary Research and Practice for Sustainability Outcomes, on 22 March in the UTS Balcony Room, we welcomed UTS design students who are currently designing food waste management systems to conduct an audit of the canapés served at the book launch.

Some of their comments include:

At the UTS book launch, there was emphasis placed on the use of Australian ingredients in the canapés which potentially reduced the environmental cost of making of the canapés such as decreased energy used in transport due to shorter distances. However not all the ingredients were accounted for on the menus or the caterer’s website.

We noticed that the bowls were being taken off the tables once most of the vegetables were taken, despite the copious amount of hummus left in the bottom.

I’ve noticed that they tend to take the food back to the kitchen when it started to look unpresentable, even though it was nowhere near being finished. I understand that aesthetics are crucial in events, but was this really necessary?

Firstly, I think it so nice, they made the food look so pretty. We talked and went around looking at the food. But I think there may have been a little waste food problem. Because many people wanted to try the food and then the food started to look messy, so other people then did not want to touch the rest of the food. 

The canapés were served directly into people’s hands, drink glasses were refilled and paper straws were issued instead of plastic ones. Finger-food platters avoid the use of cutlery or disposable eating implements; encouraging people to use their hands to interact with the platter instead. These measures were implemented so that the inevitable waste produced could be minimized as much as possible

I think it’s important to note that this display was designed to inform the guests about vegan alternatives and connect the guests to the theme of organics which I feel it succeeded in, as most conversation surrounded the food and the presentation of the food.

Looking at the style of the food served at UTS’s book launch (and the context in which the food was consumed), I feel minimising wastage and harm were of high priority. The serving methods of the food aimed to have minimal dependence on packaging and serving utensils. The food encouraged guests to use their hands, physically interacting with the dishes.

vegetables and hommous served at book launch canapes served at book launch canapes served at book launch

The students are enrolled in ‘Wealth From Waste’, an Interdisciplinary Design Lab run by Dr Dena Fam and Dr Alexandra Crosby.

This studio seeks to bring together students to work in collaborative teams to design systems to support the social and technical change required to not only successfully separate food waste on-site (e.g. source separating bins) but also educate users and support staff through, for example, signage and manuals). They are encouraged to speculate and envision alternative systems for creating ‘wealth from waste’.

As part of this project, students completed a 24 hour self audit of the food waste they each produce. They begun the process with the environmental audits of artist and scholar Lucas Ilhein. Their waste audit was visualised through photographs, drawings and written reflection on shared on a publically accessible class blog. Their blog posts reveal some interesting insights:

We generally make larger portions, which can also serve as lunch or dinner the following day. By doing this, we are able to reduce the use of gas, electricity and water.

Eating might look simple but there is a tremendous process to support the whole industry chain.

Until now, I never really thought about the impact of organic waste on a large scale, 

As a result of analysing my organic waste, I noticed there was more than I expected, as I eat a diet rich in fresh food. I was confused by this until I realised that this was a result of buying mostly pre-packaged food.  As the vegetables are already pre-cut and pre-washed, there is no necessary preparation required. This convenience for the customer however, also removes them from the process of disposing of the organic waste. To make these packs, the vegetables must be washed (producing water waste,)  and the scraps from the zucchini, capsicum and carrots must be disposed of (organic waste.) Another issue is the plastic packaging that these pre-prepared goods are packed in. 

By conducting this audit I can start to consider where I can cut down on waste: I can use loose-leaf tea instead of teabags, replacing the pod coffee with ground beans, and replacing plastic bags with canvas bags.

I would love to better understand the post garbage collection and see if somehow the visibility of the process would change my own behaviours.

Although we generally understand the gist of recycling, I’ve noticed that a lot of us aren’t as careful when it comes to our organic / general waste bin. I’ve asked my roommates why they think we do this, and their answers were similar to mine; “when I’m in a rush, I don’t really think about it”.

Another alternate to prevent wastage of stale vegetables, is buying fresh and calculated amounts of vegetables for each day itself. 

As a Uni Student, I find that my waste is often small as am very thrifty with my food waste as it saves money and is more time efficient. 

I overestimated my appetite, resulting in unnecessary waste. 

I began to realise that because I had eaten at commercial food outlets, the food preparation process had been rendered invisible to me. I had not accounted for the organic waste generated in the preparation of my meal (eg. carrot peels, chicken bones, onion cores and shallot roots) because I hadn’t been able to see it.

Through our local vegetable co-op and our trips to Flemington markets, my housemates and I have started to gain a better understanding of the food we eat and of the “ecological mesh” that we live within. This connection was made through the human relationships made with farmers at market stalls, and the tactility of feeling and smelling fruit or vegetables to see if there ripe.

After conducting my audit, I believe I am part of this problem. This exercise has encouraged me to better manage my waste output.

In addition to auditing their own food waste practices students were also invited to walk through the food waste management system at UTS, have with an expert panel of representatives across government, industry and our own UTS facilities management team learning from a range of local perspectives on future challenges of managing food waste streams nit only at UTS but also in local council jurisdictions and across NSW.

The class blog for ‘Wealth for Waste’ – including the results of their food waste audits can be viewed at https://wealthfromwaste.wordpress.com/