Ask this to yourself. When you think about stuff that is hurting our environment, what do you imagine? Chimneys puffing out black smoke? Cars and automobiles with their greenhouse emissions? Water with that rainbow glimmer due to the oil spills?
You’re not wrong, but did you even think about the perfectly good food that gets thrown into the trash, every day, all over the world?
When we think of climate change and what is deteriorating our environment, we don’t think about the tonnes of food that go to waste every day. In India, nearly 40% of the food produced goes to the bins, while the needy remain hungry. Three in every 20 Indians, go to bed hungry every night. And all of this wasted food is a huge contributor to climate change.
In 2018, the food waste in India was estimated to be worth about 92,000 crores per annum. When food is wasted, it not only makes the whole chain of resources involved seem meaningless but also leads to the release of greenhouse gases when it decomposes.
To put this into perspective, if global food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, just behind China and the USA.
The sad thing is no one likes to waste food. So what is causing this problem, which may grow into an existential crisis shortly, you ask? There is not a single reason to be pointed at, but a bunch of them.
A study on food waste revealed that most of the food that goes into the refrigerator is worthless to us than something fresh. It revealed that people experienced more guilt and remorse when throwing away a fresh carton of eggs than throwing away a perfectly fine carton of eggs that stayed inside the refrigerator for a week.
Another fact is the steady growth of the average refrigerator volume for the last 50 years. It has grown from 18 cubic feet in the late 70s to about 22 cubic feet in recent years which accounts for an increase of about 22%. Since we have larger storage options, we overbuy and as a consequence throw away a lot too.
A new multi-country study found out that large, high-calorie portion sizes in restaurants are a global problem. They found that 72% of fast food meals studied in five countries contained 600 calories or more. Not only are servings getting larger, but some top fast-food chains are also engaged in cunning marketing ploys which could confuse customers who think they’re ordering less than they are.
But, even when consumers try to do right by their diets by choosing a small or medium of something at a fast-food chain, they get more than they expect. Gigantic portion sizes of the fast-food restaurants subtly encourage us to overeat. eventually making us throw away a lot too. ‘Value-sizing’, getting ‘more’ food for the dollar, is the culprit to be blamed here.
Also, globally, the average size of the dinner plate has significantly grown with time, from an average diameter of 10 inches in the 80s to 12 inches in the present times. Which translates to an increase in the area of about 40%, which is massive. When you have a big plate, you tend to put a lot of food on it, whether or not you can eat it all.
When it comes to food, our brain is uncomfortable with empty white spaces. This is linked to our primal instincts and is the reason why we don’t like seeing empty spaces either in our refrigerators or in our plates. Subliminally, we love stocking up food. This instinct helped us survive the wilderness a long time ago when food supply was unstable but seems obsolete in modern times. If we overcame these primal urges, that in itself would lead to less waste in our homes.
The business strategies of supermarkets have to take a lot of blame because they make us overbuy unconsciously exploiting our psychological weaknesses. For a start, the “Buy one get one” (BOGO) offers. While the offer seems like a steal, often it is the opposite of that, extremely deceptive and not a good deal at all. “Multi buys” are also similar to BOGOs.
All these business models deceive us into thinking that we are saving money when we are buying in bulk. But we are not. The reality is, we are overbuying with the intent of saving money. Confusion over date-labelling leads to billions of pounds of food waste every year too. Also, remember the fact that shopping carts these days are bigger than ever.
Levels of population and food production have grown exponentially in the last 50 years, leading to an increase in greenhouse gases. This creates a paradox in exchange, where the rising amounts of food production are speeding up climate change, but on the other hand, climate change is threatening food production.
We have to overcome these mind games played by the consumer industry and see the big picture, the real picture behind the facade. Of all the things we can do towards saving our environment, reducing food waste is the easiest thing to do, that has a bigger positive effect on our planet.
Don’t waste food. Don’t overbuy.
About the Author: Monish is a free-spirit with a passion for art and science. A modern age ‘Jack-of-all-trades.’