Table Scraps

Table Scraps: Educating Yourself on Food Waste and Sustainability

Online classes, docuseries, and podcasts all about food waste and sustainability — and how those two overlap.
Online classes, docuseries, and podcasts all about food waste and sustainability — and how those two overlap. Drew Dempsey/Unsplash
Welcome to Table Scraps, a monthly series on the growing problem of food waste and what some eateries, officials, farms, institutes, and everyday people are doing right. This isn’t a guilt trip, just a way to unpack initiatives attempting to reduce kitchen waste and food loss, as more than 40 percent of all food is wasted in the U.S. We’re exploring backyard composting to city programs, restaurant tips to technology, and anything related to this global issue. Heat up those leftovers, and settle in.

It’s hot, there’s a pandemic going on, and most of us are little mouse potatoes anyway. It's a good time to use the internet to educate yourself on food waste, sustainability and how those two overlap.

If you’re reading this, chances are you're at least somewhat interested in the topic. But rather than me doing all the preaching and bitching, here are a few recommended online classes and documentaries on this ever-worsening (there I go, bitching already) topic.

click to enlarge ASU's School of Sustainability has online classes so you don't have to go anywhere near Tempe. - CYGNUSLOOP99/WIKIPEDIA
ASU's School of Sustainability has online classes so you don't have to go anywhere near Tempe.

Classes and Programs — Online or Otherwise

A major go-to in the online course world is edX — a huge directory of online courses and programs from big names like Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley. Querying “food waste” in the directory yields programs like Food Security and Sustainability, while individual courses include Global Food Futures and Agri-food Systems Solutions and Sustainable Food Security: Crop Production. (And for fun, check out The Science of Beer.) Most of the courses are free, but you can tack on a verified certificate for $49.

If you’ve ever heard a podcast or watched a YouTue video, you’ve probably aware of Great Courses Plus and MasterClass. The former offers 36 lectures under the program Earth at the Crossroads: Understanding the Ecology of a Changing Planet, one of which is titled The Challenges of Waste and Disposal (our kind of lecture).

On MasterClass, you can learn how to reduce food waste with Chef Massimo Bottura — that world-famous, Parmesan-loving Italian chef and restauranteur.

Food professionals may register for Creating a Full-Use Kitchen from the James Beard Foundation. The online course covers "technical and creative approaches to food waste, and examines the need to reduce food loss along the entire supply chain."

To learn more about sustainability and food systems, but not in a way that takes over your life or throws you into more student loan debt, consider the Certificate of Completion in Sustainable Food Systems from Rio Salado College. This course from our own Maricopa County Community Colleges demonstrates sustainable home practices and cooking techniques and showcases the cultural, economic, environmental, and sociological influences on food systems throughout history. Plus, Sustainable Kitchen Practices is its own course.

Arizona State University has an entire school dedicated to sustainability: the aptly named School of Sustainability. And while this path requires more of a commitment, it's cool to know this institute happens to be the first school of sustainability in the country. (Plus, they cutely call their programs "green degrees.") A Sustainable Food Systems certificate is available here, as well as courses like Sustainable Food and Farms, Food Advertising and Promotion, and the Ethics of Eating.

And a few more random online classes that study food waste in some way include Preserving Abundance: Learning from our Ancestors to Reduce Food Waste and Build a Pantry, Share Food, Cut Waste, and Feeding the World.

click to enlarge Just Eat It is a whole food waste story. - PEG LEG FILMS
Just Eat It is a whole food waste story.
Peg Leg Films

Films, Documentaries, and Docuseries

There exist many well-known documentaries on the topic of food waste, and one zillion internet articles already list them in detail. So instead of doing that, I’ll just rattle off a few. Be sure to watch Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, Just Eat It, Taste the Waste, and Ten Stories About Food Waste.

The show Rotten on Netflix goes into this topic as well. (Big shout out to the first episode's title and nod to that ultra talented lunatic Warren Zevon, "Lawyers, Guns & Honey.")

But if you want to get hyperlocal, two short films (okay, they’re more like quick videos) were recently created by the aforementioned School of Sustainability at ASU and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in a class instructed by Peter Byck: Holding on to the Corn and Plant the Rain. Plant the Rain follows two elementary school students in Tucson who use rainwater to sustain their home and community gardens. Holding on to the Corn spotlights a northern Arizona Hopi community promoting self-sustainability, better diet, and food growing to younger generations.

Hadis Malekie/Unsplash


Of course, many food-related podcast hosts interview sustainable chefs or offer tips on kitchen waste in random episodes. NPR has had a segment or two on the topic. But a few shows focus solely on food waste.

I do have a favorite. A good, year-long podcast on the topic is Food is Wasted — a 14-episode British show about putting surplus foods to good use. It is in no way current (the latest episode is from August 2018) or overly exciting, but it is a soothing, informative podcast with tips and interviews about reducing food waste.

Actually, I think I need your suggestions on more podcasts. Any recommendations?
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Lauren Cusimano is Phoenix New Times' food and drink editor. She is a journalist and food waste writer based in Tempe. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.
Contact: Lauren Cusimano