Do Older Generations Waste Less Food?

Do Older Generations Waste Less Food?

To some, the answer to this question may seem obvious – yes! Of course!

Both anecdotal evidence as well as academic sources repeatedly show links between age and amount of food waste, favouring older populations as wasting less.

It is interesting to consider just why this occurs.

Historically, there hasn’t always been the abundance of choice that we enjoy today when it comes to food purchasing and consumption. Many from older generations grew up in times of food scarcity and rationing. Any, even minor, food waste in this context simply did not occur. Creative cooking techniques, the re-imagination of leftovers and a healthy appetite were all employed in the name of food waste mitigation and making the most of what was available.

Several qualitative studies have interviewed seniors about their feelings on food waste. Despite now living in times of relative food abundance, the important lessons regarding the value of food and the importance of avoiding food waste have become life-long habits. In some studies, participants reported feeling that wasting food was a sin and that witnessing food waste was anti-ethical to how they live (Cohenmansfield et al., 1995; Palacios-Ceña et al., 2013). Food waste for these individuals elicited feelings of regret, embarrassment and guilt (Graham-Rowe, Jessop, & Sparks, 2014). For them, food was clearly viewed as a privilege and not something not to be squandered.

Since our views on food are strongly influenced by our unique history and experiences, living through food insecurity had clearly left an impression on these individuals. Perhaps if the overwhelming notion in modern-day society was that food waste is anti-ethical, we wouldn’t be faced with a food waste problem of this scale. In fact, some sources argue that food waste is a contemporary issue that historically stems from a shift away from food scarcity to food abundance (Hebrok & Boks, 2017).

Of course, the solution to the food waste problem is certainly not widespread food scarcity. However, if we were to experience food rationing in our modern-day context, it is likely that our perceived value of food would increase and thus, food waste may be reduced.

In summary, my question is this: Can the growing food waste problem in North America at least partly be explained by perceived food abundance? And does this perception of abundance contribute to a reduced valuing of food, which subsequently results in food waste?


Cohenmansfield, J., Werner, P., Weinfield, M., Braun, J., Kraft, G., Gerber, B., & Willens, S. (1995). Autonomy for Nursing-Home Residents – the Role of Regulations. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 13(3), 415–423.

Graham-Rowe, E., Jessop, D. C., & Sparks, P. (2014). Identifying motivations and barriers to minimising household food waste. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 84, 15–23.

Hebrok, M., & Boks, C. (2017). Household food waste: Drivers and potential intervention points for design – An extensive review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 151, 380–392.

Palacios-Ceña, D., Losa-Iglesias, M. E., Cachón-Pérez, J. M., Gómez-Pérez, D., Gómez-Calero, C., & Fernández-de-las-Peñas, C. (2013). Is the mealtime experience in nursing homes understood? A qualitative study. Geriatrics and Gerontology International, 13(2), 482–489.

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