Daisy Tam: Urban food waste fighter
30 Jul 2018
In addition to literature and reference books on cultural studies, Dr Daisy Tam, Assistant Professor of the Department of Humanities and Creative Writing, also has a pack of organic soil in her office. As an urban food system expert, not only does she support organic farming, but she also pays effort on the deployment of resources and the strengthening of our food waste recycling system in order to give a better future to our city and its citizens.
With degrees in Comparative Literature at the undergraduate and graduate level, and a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies awarded in England, one would be hard-pressed to find any connection between her training and food. In fact, her interest in food waste was inspired by a conversation with a professor when she started her PhD dissertation. "The professor said, 'All studies on humans and society are related to the basic necessities of life, namely clothing, food, housing and transportation.' I am always eager to seek extraordinary tasks in ordinary life and I love food as well. This is what motivated me to study food waste."
At that time, in order to collect data and information, Dr Tam visited Borough Market, one of London's largest and oldest food markets. She met many traders and finally got a part-time job in a stall. The five-year part-time experience gave her a better overview of her research on food waste. "No trader wants to waste food. The market has developed its own 'food recycling system' in which traders will reallocate the surplus food to others through various means. Actually, our city is facing a food waste problem as well, so I am keen on studying the food waste recycling system and the redistribution of surplus food in Hong Kong."
A recipient of the 2018-19 Fulbright-RGC Hong Kong Senior Research Scholar Award, Dr Tam will continue her interdisciplinary research project on food waste at the Urban Risk Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in USA. She always stresses that technology combined with humanities can solve the urban food waste problem: "I think one single discipline is not enough to provide a solution. My academic background in humanities and the way I was trained to think allow me to understand the root cause of the problem as well as the relationship between humans and food waste, while experts from different disciplines like geographic information system, engineering, information technology and computer science in MIT can provide technical support and together we can come up with an effective solution. I think Arts and Sciences should always come together to create a way out for a city." During the six-month trip, Dr Tam will continue her project "Crowdsourcing Food Rescue -- a new approach to Food Security and Urban Resilience" which investigates the potential of a networked approach to collecting surplus food in the city. She aims to co-develop an online platform with the Lab to be piloted in Hong Kong.
Through her years of research on urban food waste, Dr Tam does not only want to provide solutions on 'rescuing food', but also raise public awareness on food waste, "Those born in a rich city do not realise how critical the situation is. In fact, the problem of food security is severe in most cities. In Hong Kong, most of the food is imported from other regions and countries. In the event of natural disasters or market turmoil, food insecurity will affect us all. We have to be fully aware of the fragility of our food system." Dr Tam said that technology and change of lifestyle are essential for tackling the food waste problem. Cities around the world still have a long way to go.