Dan: I’m here with Guy Schaffer and we’ve just been talking a little bit about what his current research topic is and how kinda relates to STS more broadly.
Guy: My work, which focuses on social movements and food waste, takes a lot from STSish work science and social movements. The gist of a lot of this work is that while science provides one way of knowing and technology provides all these things, there are social movements that can pose challenges to that knowledge and that often know things from these positions that are not the positions that we understand as the knowledge producing positions more broadly in our society. So these forms of knowledge that social movements have often can pose critical challenges, can just add to or just kind of guide other ways of doing thing. And this is really exciting to me. I’ve kind of taken this excitement about other modes of knowing and alternative modes of doing into the field and started looking at a few different social moments that are trying to deal with field waste. Right now I’m working with one that’s trying to create a composting system in Troy, NY but I’m also starting starting to work with a few that are more interested in eating food waste.
What these systems are doing is really- they’re doing two things I guess. Three things. Let’s say three. They’re doing three things. They’re providing these alternative modes of knowing garbage. They’re creating alternative systems of knowledge about what’s garbage and what’s not. With compost, it’s the creation of “That Quite Garbage, That’s Something That Can Be Saved and Turned into a Soil Amendment”. With Food Not Bombs or Dumpster Divers, they’re saying “That’s Not Garbage, That’s Food!” They’re also creating alternative forms of and systems for doing this. One of this is just about organization of how to get things out of dumpsters; how to get things out of the waste stream. And how to deal with things that are going bad. One example I’ve always thought is really interesting is just a time based relationship with food. Rather than recognizing as going bad at some point, you understand it as just changing to another part of it’s life. Kimchi is a great example of this. My neighbor growing up taught me that Kimchi is a table thing when it’s fresh and then it’s to make fried rice as it gets older. As it starts to ferment more and more it becomes a flavoring rather than something to eat. These alternative systems of doing kinda ending up embodying not just that, but these alternative ascetics around trash. So what I’m really the most excited about is this taste for garbage that needs to be nurtured within these social movements. It’s not just knowing what waste is or knowing how to deal with waste, but actually loving trash. I might be influence as my own position as a die hard trash lover/dumpster and composter, but I think these are these alternative systems for experiencing trash that are being mobilized by a lot of social movements. They show promise for changing the way that institutions and other structures deal with waste, but they also, at the ground level, are doing a really interesting thing in terms of creating these alternative networks of knowing, of eating or composing and just of experiencing trash on its own.
Guy Schaffer is a waste researcher and videographer who splits his time between Troy, NY and Brooklyn. His interests include the politics of food, queer feminism, and fermentation.