Keeping it Fresh: crowd-sourced modes of food preservation

Daisy D S Tam*, Tomas Holderness, Melissa Cate Christ

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


How do we keep a loaf of bread fresh? How do we stop it from expiring? In a supermarket, the “best before” date—a time-stamped, data-backed guarantee from the manufacturer—is the loaf’s primary indicator of freshness. In practice, though, there is great variability in whether food is perceived as fresh or expired. Some consumers, regardless of the storage method, will discard food that is past its best before date, while others may transform a hardened loaf into bread pudding or breadcrumbs, substantially extending the shelf life assumed by a manufacturer. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately one third of the planet’s food, roughly 1.3 billion metric tons, is lost or thrown away unnecessarily each year. What we call “waste” is in fact a classification system that industries use to designate liability, and that we in turn absorb and act upon, often unconsciously. As the anthropologist Mary Douglas writes in her 1966 book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, “there is no such thing as dirt; no single item is dirty apart from a particular system of classification in which it does not fit.” Revealing the structuring capacities of our culture, Douglas allows us to challenge waste as an inherent, fixed category and focus instead on the structural process by which food becomes waste. By reclassifying waste in the (dis)organization of our food system, we can address the conditions necessary to prolong shelf life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-119
Number of pages2
JournalHarvard Design Magazine
Volume43 (Fall/Winter 2016)
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


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