Waste-Free: The New Healthy Diet?

Did you know that approximately 2/3 of the food wasted in Canada is fruits and vegetables?

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This statistic is all the more surprising when we consider how highly we value fruits and vegetables for our health.  Although healthy eating fads come and go, most healthcare providers can agree that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help to prevent various chronic diseases.

With this advice in mind, we eagerly reach for the colourful array of produce available at our local grocery store. However, without proper meal planning and storage techniques, it is unfortunately far too easy to let this healthy food go to waste.

Experts often blame the perishability of fruits and vegetables for their tendency to be wasted. However, it seems this topic may be far more complicated.

Over-provisioning, or purchasing more food than is necessary, is common and often occurs when shopping for produce. Which begs the question: why do we engage in this behaviour?

The most commonly discussed theory in the literature is that of the “good provider identity”. The good provider identity is a desire to provide an abundance of food that is both healthful and liked by the family (Schanes et al., 2018). This is a noble inclination indeed, but one that often results in food waste when too much of a particular item is purchased.

Another concept is the “compensation effect”. This occurs when an individual consumes a meal that is perceived to be unhealthy, then purchases an abundance of healthy and perishable food the next day to compensate for their unhealthy indulgence (Schanes et al., 2018). Although purchased with good intentions, this perishable food is often wasted.

This scenario certainly felt familiar to me! After a particularly unhealthy meal out, it is natural to be drawn to the healthy array of produce available at the grocery to help counteract yesterday’s meal, whether or not you have the time or interest in consuming all that you purchase.

Other factors that may contribute to the over-purchasing of fruits and vegetables  include differences in taste among family members, attempts to stockpile food (often done when produce is on sale or when perceived future time constraints are present), bulk purchases, and over-sized packaging. Additionally, concerns about food-borne illness and a desire to eat only fresh foods also provide rationale for discarding produce that is perceived to be beyond its best before date.

Finally, although composting is an excellent way to handle unavoidable food waste (such as banana peels, chicken bones etc.), it can serve to undermine individuals’ motivation for waste prevention. Composting should be seen as a last resort, rather than as a way to  mitigate the negative consequences associated with food waste.

So, what is the solution?

We can prolong the shelf-life of our healthy fruits and vegetables by buying only the fruits and vegetables that we need, storing them properly and keeping them visible in our fridge so that we don’t forget about them.

References

Schanes, K., Dobernig, K., & Gözet, B. (2018). Food waste matters – A systematic review of household food waste practices and their policy implications. Journal of Cleaner Production, 182, 978–991. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.02.030

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