Tammara Soma: Ending waste

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.

Tammara Soma grew up in West Java, Indonesia. Wasting food was inconceivable during her childhood, as her parents would firmly scold her, she recalls in an interview with the Globe and Mail in 2018. “The rice is crying,” her parents would tell her, in reference to a local fable. These words stuck with her, and her interest in food waste was partly renewed when she first moved to Canada for her undergraduate studies. “Coming to Canada, I just kind of expected that with such a prosperous country and such an abundance of food, it didn’t make sense to have this huge amount of hunger”, she tells about food wasting practices in Canada.

Pursuing her doctoral studies in planning at the University of Toronto starting in 2014, she investigated the issue of urban food waste in Indonesia. The same year, she became a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar. Tammara Soma rose as an expert in food systems planning, an approach that prioritizes food in city planning, to ensure that issues like food security are taken into consideration when making decisions. Her dissertation received numerous awards such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Joseph Armand Bombardier Scholarship and the Dr. David Chu Asia Pacific Studies Award.


“Food is critical for survival, and yet, in a world of 24/7 food availability and abundance […] close to 1 billion people are still malnourished”

—Tammara Soma, in a Globe and Mail interview in 2018.


During her time at the University of Toronto, she co-founded the Food Systems Lab exploring food systems that are more equitable and less wasteful. Working on the Social Innovation hub, she was able to bring together groups from vastly different backgrounds. Her leadership led to innovative experiments and solutions.


“In that lab space she’s created, we can actually plan and resolve issues, as opposed slinging arrows at each other” -- Glen Murray, Ontario’s environment minister from 2014 to 2017.


Soma’s research concluded in 2018. Fighting the misconception that people in developing countries are too poor to waste, she made several recommendations to help fix this issue during her time at the Social Innovation Lab. “It’s ingrained in me”, she said. “That idea of respecting food, valuing it—that rice—it’s part of my identity.”