An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Problem of Food Waste

cardboard cutouts and collage artwork

The idea started with a problem and a question. Early Childhood Demonstration Teacher Hasmik Cochran and Jade McKenzie, a student from UCLA’s Visual and Performing Arts Education (VAPAE) Program, saw that children were not finishing their lunches and food was being wasted.

Ms. Cochran and Ms. McKenzie asked: How can we make an inquiry process of the problem we’re seeing?

“It’s in the nature of UCLA Lab School to take an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning,” Ms. Cochran said. “When it comes to the study of the environment, we believe this is all the more important. Viewing environmental topics through multiple lenses helps students understand the many factors that contribute to the well-being of our treasured natural world. And it allows children to engage with the subject in ways that are interesting and accessible.”

Seeing an opportunity for meaningful learning, Ms. Cochran and Ms. McKenzie created “Why Waste?”, a visual arts-based inquiry to help students understand the detrimental effects of food waste on both the planet and the community. Their goal was also to get the children to be more mindful in their lunchtime habits.

teacher and young children working at table in classroom

The initial lessons introduced students to proper waste disposal through recycling and composting. Additional lessons provided students the chance to create a still life inspired by the photography of Aliza Eliazarov, who focuses on animals, farming, and food and uses wasted food and recyclable trash in her work.

To provide additional exposure to arts activism, the teachers introduced children to public street art through the cardboard cutouts of Michael Aaron Williams. Student art works inspired by this style reflect their interpretation of dozens of social and environmental issues, from union strikes to air pollution.

Throughout the five-month inquiry, students and teachers were exposed to important issues pertaining to food waste, environmentalism, and food insecurity. Students explored these issues and learned how to bring awareness to them through sculpture, still lifes, stickers, icons, collaged body cutouts, and activist posters. Their work proclaimed: “Hey, No Trash in the Creek!”and “Help the animals” and “Save Your Food for Later! Don’t Waste it!”

To culminate the process, the class marched to the Community Programs Office (CPO) Food Closet located on UCLA’s campus. The march highlighted a real-life example of people working to combat the issues of food waste and food insecurity in the local community.

As for the lunchtime issue? The children showed a much greater awareness during and after the inquiry, Cochran said. “They were more likely to save their food or take it home instead of throwing it out,” she noted. “They would also remind each other about not wasting food and about composting the leftovers.”

sign saying hey no trash in the creek in child's handwriting
young boys working on collage artwork