Dhas, Michaela (2021) Eating Practice and Food Waste Performances in the UK Primary and Secondary Schools: Behaviour and Practice. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The volume of food waste produced by primary and secondary schools during school lunches raises significant concerns among politicians, scientists and school practitioners. Economic losses are the main factor driving schools to transform behaviour and practice in canteens. This thesis focuses on factors influencing the volume of food waste produced in two primary and one secondary school in England. The study's main aim is to explore how a range of factors such as meal satisfaction and general level of environmental awareness among pupils and staff influences the overall volume of food waste produced during school lunches.

This thesis draws on Warde’s (2013) work on the “Practice of Eating” to explore how dispersed, and integrative practices create the foundations for compound eating practice performances to bring about sustainable change in school meal provision. While schools often understand food waste production through ABC individual behaviour models based on the lens of food choice (Shove, 2010), I argue that what pupils consume and how much they waste depends on school routines and the nature of dispersed and integrative practices performed during the school day. These issues were explored in schools with very different levels and understanding of, and engagement with, sustainability and school food programmes. The thesis thus explores how each school’s approach to school lunch provision and healthy eating consumption varies and why eating practice performances in public schools bring about significantly different outcomes.

More than 3000 satisfaction surveys and 300 pairs of meal pictures were collected during the lunch break in all three schools. Additionally, pupils were provided with an environmental awareness test focusing on their knowledge and attitudes towards food waste while exploring the practices that lead to food waste. A series of interviews were also conducted with the staff members at the schools to better understand the development of the school’s eating practice performances and their attitude towards sustainability. Food waste and mixed waste volumes were also measured each day after the lunch break in all three schools. This extensive collection of qualitative and quantitative data creates a solid foundation for a holistic exploration of the food waste phenomenon in schools.

Surprisingly, this study shows that the school with the most extensive pro-environmental practices in place wastes on average 20% more food per pupil per day than the other schools. Moreover, the study found that attempts to understand and reform school food systems solely through behavioural interventions are inadequate to address the volume of food waste produced in schools. Therefore, it concludes that establishing effective routines within schools in general, and school canteens in particular, is an important way of encouraging a transition towards sustainability in school meal provision.

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