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Food waste fighters: What motivates people to engage in food sharing?

Schanes, Karin, Stagl, Sigrid
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.211 pp. 1491-1501
collective action, communications technology, consciousness, emotions, empirical research, food waste, interviews, morality, motivation, socioeconomic status
Increasing concerns around food waste and the rise of emerging information and communication technologies such as web platforms and mobile applications have enabled the rise of local initiatives that collect, manage and share food surplus. However, while food sharing is often discussed as a potentially transformative mechanism for a less wasteful food system, empirical studies are still scarce and only few researchers have yet investigated the motivations of food sharing practitioners. Therefore, in this article, we explore people's underlying motivations to participate in food sharing and shed light on their individual goals. The study builds on in-depth interviews with Austrian members – so-called ‘foodsavers’ – of the initiative ‘foodsharing’, which collects food from a variety of food providers before it is thrown away or enters a 'waste' state and shares it for free with a diverse group regardless of their social status. The results show that members are motivated by: (i) Emotions and Morality, (ii) Identity and Sense of Community, (iii) Reward, (iv) Social influence and (v) Instrumentality. The category Instrumentality comprises different goals that have a strong motivating effect: Save food from being wasted, Food (re)distribution, Food surplus prevention and Reinvigorating a new consciousness around food. The motivations and goals behind individuals participating in food sharing are rich and diversified and can mutually re-enforce each other. Indeed, participation can be triggered by moral considerations and at the same time people can be motivated by the benefit of having access to free food. However, rich and diversified motivations and expectations behind individuals participating in collective action can also lead to tensions e.g. those who see their participation as an expression of certain sets of principles (morality) and others that mainly pursue individual benefit (reward). The analysis also unveiled disagreement between different individual views on what food sharing should and can achieve i.e. between those who wish to upscale the initiative and save as well as distribute more and more food while others aim at more radical and systemic changes (food surplus prevention) making initiatives that collect food obsolete.