top of page

Hacking Food Waste with Youth

Resources for Extension educators

Hosting a hackathon with youth can be a great way for them to explore a topic in depth. Extension educators and others are welcome to use materials from Learning Games Lab hackathons for educational activities of their own. Our website Hacking Food Waste ( presents a hackathon structure, activities, and a curated set of resources that can support other educators in hosting their food waste hackathon or activities related to the content.


The hackathon

Last fall, September 27–29, 2023, the NMSU Innovative Media Research and Extension team hosted a Food Waste Hackathon in the Learning Games Lab on the NMSU main campus. During three full days, 11 middle schoolers immersed themselves in thinking about food waste, collaborated on design activities, learned the Transformational Design Process, and used media design to propose solutions. The hackathon aimed to help youth learn about how food waste contributes to climate change, and to help them discover how they could make a difference through strategies to motivate sustainable behaviors in their communities. 

Animated graphic showing various food items with the sentence "Food Waste!" at the center.
Graphic from the Hacking Food Waste website.

Hackathon instructors Matheus Cezarotto and Amy Smith Muise, along with student assistants Joel Gonzalez Parra and Emalie Hames, first helped youth explore research-based materials tailored to their grade level. The team then supported youth in identifying and narrowing down a food waste problem they wanted to address at the consumer level, articulating: 

  • who they saw as their audience 

  • what people in that audience didn’t know about the problem

  • what this audience needed to learn, and 

  • what change they wanted to see in their audience.

May be a photo of kids presenting and discussing games in the Learning Games Lab.
The hackathon led youth through a media design process to address the problem, identify their key media messages and environment for use, and build a basic prototype.

Experiential learning

Youth learned first-hand about food waste during lunchtime meals at the NMSU Taos Dining Hall. Each day, as they learned more about their topic, they made another trip to the all-you-can-eat cafeteria. It was a great way to practice making decisions about serving size, consumption, and waste. A dining hall chef generously met with the youth, answered questions, and discussed how staff plans daily for quantity, variety, and to minimize waste. For example, youth learned that the dining hall receives an alert when the football team plans to eat there, so they can prepare extra servings of protein.

Design process

In addition to experiential learning and knowledge gain, the hackathon focused on design processes and activities to support learners’ agency and active learning. Design is collaborative and hands-on, giving youth creative opportunities to express their ideas and improve their problem-solving skills. Tailored inclusive and interactive design activities supported youth in engaging in complex research-based content, giving them agency to understand and create their interpretation. 

Youth discussed the impact of food waste on climate change, and the opportunity to make a difference globally with their local actions to reduce food waste. Youth also evaluated games and interactive tools and provided feedback on Theme Park Kitchen, a cooking game for middle schoolers. 

By collaborating with digital tools, producing content, and delivering media prototypes, participants in the hackathon enhanced their digital fluency and media literacy skills and learned about the impact of food waste. Technology can be a valuable partner in developing these skills while also learning how to critically and mindfully use media, tell stories, and work together.

Impact on youth

Surveyed on their experience, youth (10) ranked the experience as "extremely good" and valued the skills taught in the session. Youth learned about “how much food we waste in one day”, “It made me interested [in] how much food is wasted each year and so [many] ways we can prevent it, but we don’t”. Parents (6) highlighted that the experience provided youth "the awareness and importance of controlling food waste”, the chance to “design a game promoting awareness of food waste and how to address positive/productive solutions,” and that youth were “excited to have this experience, and … obtained a better understanding as to how bad food waste can be”. Overall, surveyed families reported their child's experience at the session was "extremely good" and that skills taught were "extremely" useful.

Educational animations produced by Innovative Media Research and Extension and used in the hackathon

Written by Amy Smith Muise, instructional designer, and Matheus Cezarotto, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Innovative Media Research and Extension


bottom of page