Exploring Food Waste at a Residential Youth Summer Camp: A Mixed-Methods Approach

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Virginia Tech


Up to 40% of all edible food is wasted in the United States (U.S.) and a large proportion represents consumer waste. Research on food waste is in its infancy, particularly as it relates to youth. Summer camps offer a unique setting for food-based education, with the opportunity to reach large numbers of youth. This MS thesis describes a study that used a mixed-methods research approach to explore three objectives: 1) assess food waste in a residential 4-H youth summer camp setting; 2) determine if an educational program delivered to youth ages 9-13 years, would reduce food waste; and 3) understand stakeholders' views about the benefits and barriers to food waste reduction programs in the camp setting. The research team and camp staff developed and adapted food waste activities based on the Experiential Learning Model. Participants attended one of four weekly sessions to raise their awareness about food waste. Consumer and production food waste from three meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) was collected over a 24-hour cycle and weighed before and after each weekly program to determine total amount of food wasted (pounds) during each week, average waste/child (pounds), and waste/meal (percentage). Waste was collected using the direct weighing method. Paired t-tests were used to assess differences. Stakeholder interviews (n=6) were conducted with Extension Agents, camp program directors, and camp staffers involved with the program. Inductive thematic analysis was used to determine themes and subthemes. This cross-sectional study included 864 residential campers. Over the course of the four weeks, the cafeteria produced a total amount of 3,182 lbs of food of which, 996.6 lb (30.4%) was wasted. Total consumer waste for all four weeks before and after the intervention was 76.5 lbs and 57.3 lbs, respectively. Although a decrease in consumer food waste was observed, results were not statistically significant (p>0.05). Total production waste decreased from 441.5 lbs before to 390.6 lb after the intervention. Production waste, in relation to the number of servings prepared, also decreased throughout the course of the four weeks. The main themes from the stakeholder interviews emphasized the need for a food waste curriculum and adequate resources to build and sustain the capacity of the education program.The limitations of this study included different menu items served throughout the four weeks, lack of randomization, and limited sample size of camps (n=4). This was the first food waste study conducted at a youth summer camp, which showed that food waste reduction and behavior change among campers are possible within a short time period. Further research is warranted to minimize food waste in broader contexts and in other camp settings.



Food waste, youth, Education, summer camp