Visual Culture of Food Waste Data: Theaters of Proof

By Max Liboiron

A lot of discard issues are about scale. Scale is expressed in functions of measurement or computation, yet scale is more than a quantitative sum. Scale is always relative (“bigger,” “smaller,” “less than,” “twice as much,” “a quarter of”), and therefore relational.

So scale is not merely about being big or small. At different scales, different relationships matter. Scale is a way of organizing which processes are dominant and meaningful within certain sites. For example, looking at a skin cell under a microscope, you would notice cell division and nutrient circulation, among other processes. When you zoom out to look at the surface of someone’s skin with your eyes, you may notice goose bumps, scars and skin colour, none of which were apparent under the microscope and all of which have entirely different social and medical connotations. When it comes to food waste data, the best infographic designers not only endeavor to show you “how much” food is wasted, but why these amounts matter, what relationships and contexts can produce the scales of waste they chart, and what the social, cultural, and environmental connotations of waste at a certain scale might be.

In short, their quantitative work does qualitative work. Their display of data also engenders disgust, rage, empathy, embarrassment, or a desire for justice. Bruno Latour calls this sort of display a “theater of proof,” where viewers can see the phenomenon under study in “black and white.” We understand, all at once, the entire phenomenon. The data in theaters of proof is “indisputable” because it is obvious and right before our eyes. Scale is one method with which to conduct a theater of proof. The infographics below aim to show all the underlying ramifications of scale.

Bill Marsh and Kari Haskell/The New York Times; Photograph by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

From a Report by Clean Metrics on the Climate Change Impacts of US Food Waste, available by clicking on image and following the link in the article.

Created by: Public Health Degree

UN Food and Agriculture Organization statistics.

One thought on “Visual Culture of Food Waste Data: Theaters of Proof

  1. Pingback: Monday Leftovers

Comments are closed.