Tammara Soma

Study program:
PhD Planning
Current affiliation:
University of Toronto

Tammara is studying the factors that influence food consumption and food wasting in urban Indonesia and ways to end the dumping of food waste in landfills.

Tammara Soma (planning, University of Toronto) investigates the factors that influence urban household food consumption and food wasting practices in Indonesia. She strives to make food system consideration (including sustainable food production, distribution, consumption and the management of food waste) essential to urban planning decision making.

Doctoral research 

Planning From “Table to Dump”: Analyzing Household Food Consumption and Food Waste in Urban Indonesia

Rapidly industrializing countries such as Indonesia experience a paradox of growing hunger amidst extreme wealth in urban centres. Moving beyond the “farm to table” discourse, Tammara’s doctoral work analyzes the trajectory of food from “table to dump” and provides a holistic investigation of household food consumption and food waste in a developing country. Food wasting affects scarce natural resources and contributes to environmental degradation. Tammara’s research explores how factors such as culture, income, and urbanization influence household food consumption practices in Indonesia. Her study also investigates how structural changes such as the growth of big-box stores and the development of gated enclaves have changed food consumption patterns in Indonesia. By understanding the patterns and the factors that influence food consumption and food wasting practices in diverse urban households, planners can plan for a more sustainable, healthy, and food-secure city.

Tell us about your research project and its central idea.

Food waste is a major global concern, with 30 to 50% of food produced for human consumption wasted annually. My dissertation will investigate the phenomenon of food consumption and food waste in the developing country of Indonesia. Many cities in Southeast Asia, such as Manila and Jakarta, are rapidly industrializing. In the urban centres of Indonesia, there is extreme income disparity and a growing middle and upper class group. This is the fourth most populous country in the world, so food waste and food packaging are becoming a growing issue, especially due to poor waste infrastructure in many cities. My study will analyze how structural changes such as the increase in big box grocery stores, urbanization, and the development of gated enclaves influence the patterns of food provisioning and consumption of urban households in Bogor, Indonesia. My study will also analyze whether cultural and social factors influence household food wasting practices.

What led you to choose this research project in particular?

Planning decisions have an impact on how people live their daily lives. The practice of food provisioning – which includes shopping, cooking, eating, and disposal – is definitely affected by how a city is planned. The closure of wet markets or the siting of a big box store will affect where people can buy food and the types of food they consume. Urbanization has also affected where people work and live. People with long commutes may not be able to cook food from scratch, so food sitting in the fridge might go bad before it is eaten. Also, “waste” in one culture may actually be a delicacy in another culture, so the notion of “waste” is not static. Food waste research is fascinating, as it lies within the intersection of culture and structure. By understanding how each of the variables influences the others, planners can make better decisions to help prevent food waste.

What is new or surprising about your research?

One comment I get when talking about my research is “people in developing countries are too poor to waste food.” While this may be true in some cases, there is a growing middle- and upper-income population in many cities in developing countries. In fact, scholars have confirmed that food consumption patterns of middle- and upper-income groups in developing countries are “converging” with the West. Obesity is actually growing in Indonesia, and so are Western fast food franchises.

My research is new as it will challenge the simplistic assumptions around food consumption and food wasting in developing countries. Food waste is a complex matter, especially due to the numerous factors that influence an individual’s decision to waste or not to waste. My research is the first to study urban food waste in Indonesia and the first to take into account culture, religion, and land use planning considerations in food waste studies.

In your opinion, who will most benefit from your findings?

In countries such as Indonesia, household waste collection is unfortunately the domain of the privileged. Low-income individuals often open dump or burn their waste on a daily basis. Landfills in Indonesia are mostly uncontrolled, with food waste mixing in with other wastes, contaminating groundwater as well as creating the greenhouse gas methane. The increase in non-biodegradable food waste packaging is also creating a major health and environmental hazard in Indonesia. Food packaging waste increases the habitat for mosquitoes, which carry the dengue virus. The lack of organized recycling programs in cities results in non-biodegradable plastic clogging sewers and waterways and contributes to flooding. I dedicate my research to my nephew Arfan, who passed away in Indonesia at the age of three from the dengue fever. By addressing the issues around food waste and food packaging, residents will be able to live in a healthier and safer environment.

Within the next three to five years, what impact could your research have on the Canadian public policy debate?

Canada wastes approximately $27 billion dollars worth of food annually. Meanwhile, urban food insecurity and food insecurity in many indigenous communities are growing. In addition, the management of food waste through residential composting programs is not evenly practised in all municipalities in Canada.

I hope that my research will contribute to a waste directive in Canada whereby the dumping of food waste in landfills will be illegal and the source separation of food waste will be mandatory across the nation. Within the next three to five years, I hope that my research will contribute to a more holistic planning of cities and that food system considerations will be an essential factor in Canadian urban planning.

When I was first notified that I had been awarded the Pierre Elliott Trudeau scholarship, I could not have imagined the numerous doors of opportunities that would be open to me. As a scholar from the Global South, the scholarship from the Foundation was integral to the successful completion of my dissertation and the amount of interest my research has garnered both in the academic community and on mainstream media. My 2014 cohort has also developed a long-lasting personal and professional bond which I envision will last throughout our lives. The Foundation community does not only consist of bright academics and leaders, I have observed time and time again the compassion and commitment by members of our community to social justice and equity. I hope to continue my involvement with the Foundation and inspire other scholars (especially those coming from the Global South) to be part of this community.


2014 Trudeau scholar Tammara Soma is immersed academically and professionally in the field of sustainable food system. Her dissertation investigates the issue of urban food waste in Indonesia by exploring the transformation of household food provisioning practices due to factors such as urbanization, the modern supermarket revolution, the growth of the middle class, and market liberalization. It does so by exploring the ways in which households of diverse incomes shop, cook and consume food to better understand how everyday food provisioning practices influence the generation of household food waste in Indonesia. This study is the first to investigate the issue of consumer food waste in Indonesia and is also the first to challenge the prevailing notion in food waste scholarship that consumers in the Global South are "too poor to waste." Her research has been supported by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the International Development Research Centre and the Dr. David Chu Scholarship in Asia and Pacific Studies. The Food Systems Lab, the first social innovation lab in Canada to address the issue of food waste (which Tammara co-founded in 2016 as part of a Foundation Targeted Area of Inquiry project) is still in operation (as of 2018). As the current Director (Research), the Lab has leveraged new funding opportunities to conduct innovative research on food waste. She is also the Global Food Equity Coordinator at New College, University of Toronto, teaching courses on food matters, and is a sought after public speaker on issues of food security and food waste. Along with academic publications, Tammara's research and articles are featured on major news outlets (Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Metro News, IBI Times, Huffington Post, Jakarta Post, La Presse), in radio (Metro Morning, Rogers 1310 News, CBC Ideas) and on national television (TVO The Agenda, CTV Your Morning). She is also commissioned as the co-editor of the upcoming Routledge Handbook on Food Waste due to be published Spring of 2019.


  • November 1, 2019
    As part of Women’s History Month, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is presenting snapshots of women in our community and the significant impact they have had in their fields. Ending waste Food waste and food security have always been at the center of Tammara Soma’s life. Her inspiring projects have led to innovative ways of changing food systems in Canada and Indonesia.