Student Reflection – Maximus Waste: A Food Waste Mockumentary (6.1)

By Jack Dorst, Joseph Erwin, Sarah Lemke, Lia Miller, Isabella Ruta

Food Waste. When our team started this project for our First-year Seminar Honors course at Columbia College Chicago, we knew we were tackling a complex issue. However, as we moved through the research and production process for our mockumentary “Maximus Waste” and the accompanying website, we came to understand the concept of food waste as a deep, multilayered question that everyone needs to be conscious of. Our research led to questions of how and where food waste occurs, how the waste impacts the environment, and what the economics of food waste and food insecurity are. Subsequently, we were confronted with questions about the morality of wasting food, both as college students and as citizens of Chicago, coupled with the legal complexities surrounding not wasting food. What could have simply been an investigation on where leftover food from college dorms went turned into an investigation about the entire concept of food waste.

Our team began the project by educating ourselves and investigating various aspects of food waste. We learned all that we could by breaking our research into subtopics, developing questions, finding relevant statistics, and exploring published research. Isabella worked on finding information on the facts of food waste and potential solutions. Jack investigated college student food waste. Lia dove into freegan philosophy and practices of dumpster diving. Sarah navigated the complex web of health regulations and the laws around food waste. Joe tackled the environment to help us understand why food waste is so detrimental to the world we live in. As a whole we wanted to communicate our research to the public in an informed and compelling way that would provide information and also push people to think about and maybe even reconsider some of their own food waste habits. Our initial model for how to convey our research was something along the lines of documentary you might see on PBS Kids. Given the research “characters” we had developed and our desire to set up the documentary as a dinner party interspersed with information, we made the choice to make a humorous turn towards mockumentary.

We had two main areas of concern in the development process: 1) would we able be to use humor effectively without subtracting from the important ideas we wanted to convey? 2) how could we incorporate the large amounts of relevant research we had found in a usable way? Ultimately we decided to use the dinner party frame for the documentary, interspersed with information from our research, and to embed the video in a supplemental website that allows viewers to navigate the research and the full interviews and to commit to making changes, even small changes, in their own food selection and food disposal habits. We believe that this approach works because it makes the information understandable and engages people in a story.

Overall, we have learned a great deal about food waste and a great deal about the teamwork and collaboration required to successfully complete a digital, multimodal project like this one. Early in our semester, we took a survey of the skills, talents, and interests of our five team members, agreed on the questions we would be exploring, selected a project manager, and set guidelines and a timeline for how the work would get done. As we reflect on the finished project and how much we, ourselves, have learned to be mindful about our food and waste choice, we hope that our final work appeals to a wide audience in ways that a print-only research project for a college class could not.