Sarah's research seeks to understand and address commercial food-waste in the face of hunger. As an ethnographic project, she works closely with donors and anti-hunger activists to find empowering ways of getting otherwise wasted food to people in need. 

Research Description

My overall research project looks at the reclamation of food-waste both as protest material and to help alleviate hunger. As an ethnographic endeavor, I have entered dumpsters and warehouses to rescue wasted food, witnessing the commercial wasting of food as well as its reclamation. Working with Food Not Bombs activists, my research looks at food in/as anarchistic protest. Working with donors, my research looks at the wasting of even donatable food.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Being a public scholar means first engaging with various stakeholders through collaborative conversation. Second, being a public scholar means applying what I have learned through my research and in conversation with community partners to the public good. Third, being a public scholar means inspiring other students to consider both the relevance of their work to and what they might learn from those outside of the university.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

Translating one's work into the public sphere or engaging in applied scholarship enables a conversation outside of the walls of the university. The Public Scholars Initiative creates opportunities for this conversation to occur and, in so doing, extends the potential for informed and engaged scholarship.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

As an anthropologist, I hope to bring to light how commercial food actually comes to be wasted during the course of everyday life and work. I hope to continue this public scholarship while simultaneously inspiring students to value anthropological perspectives and methods of inquiry.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

Using ethnographic and participatory methods, my research itself is conducted alongside donors and anti-hunger activists. As a researcher, I have been privileged to work alongside these partners, learning from their experiences. In so doing, I have encountered the vast amounts of food that donors would like to give away but do not do so. Together with donors, we can come to understand why this is happening. Together with those already doing the work of food distribution, we can begin to find empowering ways for people in need to access food.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

Collecting food that would otherwise have gone to waste then distributing that food to those most vulnerable in Vancouver, I have confronted both wastefulness and need. Drawing on both my experience with non-hierarchical organizing and working with the contacts I have developed over the years, I hope to bridge the gap between those who have excess food that they are willing to donate and those who are in need of food. Furthermore, I hope to learn from and inspire individuals and organizations to go about food distribution in creative and empowering ways.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

As an undergraduate student, I developed a passion for the discipline of anthropology and its potential to explore human diversity while foregrounding a sympathetic understanding of different human experiences. Volunteering with Food Not Bombs, I simultaneously became acquainted with the abundance of edible food in garbage bins and the potential of non-hierarchical organizing. My graduate work has since focused on understanding those two issues.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

Coming out of a graduate degree program where applied anthropology was emphasized, I found that UBC similarly valued collaborative and engaged research methodologies.


being a public scholar means applying what I have learned through my research and in conversation with community partners to the public good".