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Eating from the bin: salmon heads, waste and the markets that make them

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journal contribution
posted on 2013-01-28, 16:43 authored by Benjamin F. Coles, Lucius F. Hallett
Recent scholarship in the social sciences and humanities have begun to question the cultural contingencies that demarcate waste from ‘stuff worth keeping’ (Watson and Meah forthcoming this issue). Drawing from a material culture(s) perspective this scholarship has variously interrogated the relationships between objects, commodities and value, as well as those of consumption and consumers in order to problematize ‘typical’ linear discourses of production, consumption and disposal and respatialize (Heatherington 2004). Missing in these debates, however, are the ways in which place and place-making are complicit in constituting these relationships. These questions of value and waste (and the places where they are negotiated) become particularly interesting when it comes to food because the lines that separate food from waste are often thought of as impermeable and the process of transformation as irreversible. This paper, however, engages with where and how the lines that delineate food-waste from foodstuff are drawn, as well as where and how these lines are contested, transgressed and otherwise reproduced as part of geographical processes of place and place-making. Through the lenses of salmon heads and salmon, their peculiar material properties, the places where they are (re)valued and the geographies into which these places and objects assemble, this essay examines what happens to waste for it to become food, and for food to become waste. Specifically, we employ a ‘topographical’ perspective that interrogates place and place-making within food markets (as sites where waste and food are delineated) to analyse the geographical relationships whereby in some places salmon heads are valued as food-stuffs and in others where salmon-heads are valued as waste. We use this perspective to further argue that these valuations extend beyond the place of one market, are indeed are produced as part of an assembled geography of markets, and by tracing out the geographies of not just salmon heads but also salmon, and the markets where each can be found, we can better understand and articulate where as well as how it is that waste can become food. Ultimately, we argue that questions of food and waste are not just questions of materiality, but questions of the ways in which the material relate to the social and cultural relations of place, place-making and geography.



The Sociological Review, 2013, 60 (S2 - Special Issue: Sociological Review Monograph Series: Waste Matters: New Perspective on Food and Society), pp. 157-173

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING/Department of Geography/Human Geography


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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The Sociological Review









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Evans, David;Campbell, Hugh;Murcott, Anne

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Sociological Review Monographs



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