The Challenge of Food Waste Governance in Cities: Case Study of Consumer Perspectives in Los Angeles

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Food waste has been linked with food insecurity, environmental degradation, and economic inefficiency. Although research on food waste has increased recently, food waste tends to be poorly conceptualized and is often disproportionality focused on local consumer decisions. For this reason, this paper critically analyzes perspectives on food waste in Los Angeles (LA) as a case study in order to understand the structural challenges of food waste governance in cities. To achieve this goal, this study uses content analysis of interview data of key stakeholders in LA’s food system and descriptive statistical analysis of survey data of university undergraduate students in LA. Findings in this paper suggest that students purchase, consume, and waste food in line with broader national trends in the U.S. Additionally, students indicated that the causes and solutions of food waste management lies with more responsible individual decisions and sustainable local food practices. While students noted that they may have acted differently towards food waste reduction if structural opportunities existed, results from the survey reveal that the role of corporations, global food system flows, and the political economy of food production remain relatively unrecognized by students in their perceptions of food waste. Although responsible consumer practices are clearly an important aspect of food waste reduction, findings in this paper suggest that food waste governance may be limited by a narrow local consumer focus.