What’s (Not) for Dinner?

Brandon Levy, Sean Soni, Mikayla Murphy, Meghan Kokoski

The data say that 700,000 children and adults in Massachusetts don’t have enough food to eat and 40 percent of the food produced in the US each year is wasted. MIT’s dining halls donate excess food to Food for Free, so when MIT students waste food at dining halls, that wasted food could have provided meals to food-insecure individuals via Food for Free’s Family Meals program. We want to tell this story because we think it will encourage MIT students to take smaller portions and reduce food waste, thereby helping both the environment and Food for Free.

Our audience is MIT students who eat in MIT’s dining halls (although our installation could be implemented at any dining hall that donates extra food to Food for Free).

Our goal is to encourage MIT students to waste less food, which not only helps the environment but also helps to feed the hungry by increasing the amount of food MIT’s dining halls can donate to Food for Free.


Our installation shows the number of food-insecure individuals Food for Free’s Family Meals program could feed with the food wasted in MIT dining halls, which donate excess food to Food for Free. Our project uses several sources of data, one of which currently exists and some that we would find or generate ourselves if we implemented this idea. We pulled positive quotes about Food for Free from a database of feedback provided by the organization’s recipients. If we went ahead with this project, we would ask Food for Free to provide data on approximately how much food (by weight) goes into each Family Meal they prepare, so as to accurately calculate how many people Food for Free could feed with the food wasted in MIT’s dining halls. We might also run a short experiment to calculate roughly how much of the food wasted in MIT dining halls could be used instead by Food for Free – specifically, cases where a student could have taken a smaller portion of food, since food refuse like apple cores and discrete food items like burgers and bread that have bites taken out of them would not be useable by Food for Free if they were saved.

MIT students often take excessively large portions given the chance and throw away the uneaten food. Our installation would confront students with the consequences of those actions by displaying the amount of wasted food that an MIT dining hall could have donated to Food for Free and how many people could have been fed with that food. The idea that someone might go hungry because of wasted food at an MIT dining hall provides an emotional punch to our call-to-action (reducing food waste) and, in our opinion, makes it more likely that our message will stick with students and influence their future behavior. The use of photos from Food for Free and quotes from organizations that receive rescued food from the organization also helps to humanize the food-insecure individuals who would benefit if MIT students reduced their food waste, adding additional emotional weight to our message. Finally, the practical tips we provide for reducing food waste will help students take the action we want them to.