Healthy diet linked to high level of food wastage
While opting for a health conscious diet is essentially good for an individual, it might not be good for everyone, specifically the environment, a University of Vermont co-authored national study finds.
According to the research published in PLOS ONE, between 2007 and 2014, U.S. consumers wasted nearly 150,000 tons of food per day and out of the 22 food groups included in the study, those that are usually found in healthy diet, such as fruits and vegetables are found to be wasted the most; with dairy coming in on the second and meat dishes on the third. These data are only focused on domestic food waste and food waste generation when people eat out.
Waste within the agricultural system before food reaches a home or restaurant was not included, nor was food wasted at supermarkets.
“What we’re reporting is about 25 percent of the food that’s available for consumption gets wasted,” said the Agriculture Department’s Zach Conrad, the study’s lead author.
The study found produce classified under ‘healthier diet’ led to greater waste in irrigation water and pesticides, which are used at higher rates on average for growing fruits and vegetables. The researchers estimated that consumer food waste corresponded to harvests produced with the use of 780 million pounds of pesticide and 1.8 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, annually. Both represent significant costs to the environment and the farmers who dedicate land and resources to producing food that’s meant to be eaten.
“Eating healthy is important, and brings many benefits, but as we pursue these diets, we must think much more consciously about food waste. Higher quality diets have greater amounts of fruits and vegetables, which are being wasted in greater quantities than other food,” study co-author and University of Vermont, Meredith Niles said in a press release.
Although the study did not present explicit public opinion data on why people waste food, for fruits and vegetables in particular it is often the perception that they are flawed, or have gone bad. For other types of food, Niles cited issues ranging from large portion sizes to confusion about expiration dates.
Emphasizing the importance of being conscious about food waste, the authors suggested possible solutions to curb the problem which includes educating the public on preparing and storing fresh fruits and vegetables, and knowing the difference between abrasion and spoilage. Niles mentioned other known efforts to reduce food waste, including French grocery Intermarché’s “inglorious fruits and vegetables” campaign, which promotes the cooking of “the disfigured eggplant,” “the ugly carrot,” and other healthy, but otherwise superficially damaged produce.
“We think it’s really important to pursue efforts for nutrition and improving environmental outcomes simultaneously,” Niles said. “As we improve our diet quality we should be thinking about the multiple strategies we have to make sure food isn’t getting wasted at the same time.”