History of The Food Waste Doctor

In 2014 I had begun my PhD, I was researching Business Strategy, Enterprise and Innovation but specifically focusing on packaging development. I was looking into loads of different aspects but I couldn’t find anything I felt really drawn to. I knew if I was going to spend 3+ years researching and writing about something it needed to be something that I felt really passionate about. Then on a totally normal evening, I was making stir fry for a friend...

We were chatting in the kitchen when she picked up the pack of pre-sliced beef pieces and said ‘I don’t understand why this much packaging is necessary, I’d totally buy more from them if they just went old school and wrapped in brown paper like the butchers used to!’. And I agreed 100% with her. But later I started to wonder ‘Why do companies do this? It’s got to be costing them, so if it's totally unnecessary why would they bother?!’ So that was the next month of my life. Finding out why.

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How do organisations make the decision of how much packaging to put on products? And I was totally amazed to learn the things I did. I had no idea that food waste carried such huge environmental impacts or that packaging played such a huge role in minimising this.

I learnt that the reason the packaging on the beef was so large was that they piped in nitrogen to the packaging before sealing it which prevented the beef oxidising and extended its shelf life by days, giving consumers a greater length of time in which to use it and contributing to a reduction in food waste. And from that moment I was hooked.

I was in total shock that this wasn’t talked about more and I’d had no idea how harmful my waste levels were. I was raised to be respectful of food. My Dad’s side of the family lived in Kenya until my Dad was 11 and I was raised on stories of my Great Grandma Lilly (who I’m so proud to be named for). My Nan told me so many stories about how after her Dad passed away, her Mother raised her and her three siblings by doing odd jobs for people like sewing and cake making. I remember the story about how the kids were all allowed to serve themselves dinner but if they didn’t finish what was on their plates it was placed in a clean muslin and wrapped around their waists where it would remain until it was empty.

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This kind of thinking, that food is an amazing gift that is to be appreciated and never taken for granted, seems to have been lost over the ages which is why, I think, that even though I was raised on these stories I never really FELT it until recently. But when I started this research and I learnt how large a proportion of our environmental footprint it was and how much money we waste on food we’ll throw away, I felt it!

I really started to care about food waste and to try and reduce it as much as possible, and that’s what I want to share with the world.

Thanks for joining the food waste fight.

Dr Lilly Da Gama

The Food Waste Doctor