Methodology of UglyFruit

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We originally wanted to work with homelessness data again after the 5th mini-project due to the large quantity of data and relative cleanness, but could not find a concrete call-to-action to frame our story around. We brainstormed some alternative ideas; the strongest alternative was to tackle childhood obesity by drawing on CDC data, with a call to action of either encouraging kids to write letters to “Save Recess!”, or to help parents encourage their kids to play outside more. However, the CDC data was not available as a raw dataset, but only as already-prepared charts and graphs, and we also felt that the split audience of parents and kids would make it hard to find the appropriate tone for the project.

We pivoted to a project tackling hunger in America, drawing on data from Project Bread and the US Department of Agriculture, with a focus on reducing food waste using data from Food for Free. Since we were creating a webpage with a strong emphasis on narrative flow as opposed to hard statistics, we were able to concentrate on finding fewer, more salient numbers which most strongly supported our story (did you know that 40% of food in America goes uneaten or is otherwise wasted?), and back them up with graphics and animation. We also focused on looking for summary statistics that were pre-aggregated, as opposed to breakdowns along any dimension, to highlight that fact that this is a national problem; this meant very little data cleaning was necessary. The most difficult part of the data-gathering process was not finding appropriate statistics, but picking the most relevant portions. Because we had two main focuses (hunger and food waste), we first searched for multiple sources and datasets for each topic and collected them in a shared document. We then looked to focus our argument based on the data we had available; there is a wealth of information available on these large and complex problems, but with a fairly broad audience we needed to use numbers that brought the issues of hunger and waste to life without including too much. Another challenge was juxtaposing the hunger and waste data into a coherent narrative; we decided to open by introducing the immediate problem of hunger with some statistics as hooks, then pivot to food waste and a breakdown of the different ways it occurs.

One important technique that we wanted to incorporate was personal stories; we collected quotes from sources such as the Project Bread status reports in order to weave them into the narrative. However, we ultimately took the project in a slightly different direction of focusing on reducing food waste as a solution to hunger, and less on the problem of hunger itself, so we decided not to incorporate quotes about hunger. However, we did include a quote from the former President of Trader Joe’s about food waste in grocery stores, which helped add a more real-life connection to our website.