Awareness of Food Waste Can Help Us Appreciate Holiday Meals
By Bryce Hannibal
Americans celebrate the winter holidays in many ways, which typically include an abundance of food, drinks, desserts—and waste. Food waste is receiving increasing attention from managers, activists, policymakers and scholars, who call it a global social problem. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, wealthy nations waste nearly as much food every year as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.
Efforts to reduce food waste tend to focus on consumption practices, with less attention to the production and distribution side. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a large proportion of food loss and waste in the U.S. occurs at the farm-to-retail level, with about 133 billion pounds of food available at retailers going uneaten.
In a recent study, my colleague Arnold Vedlitz and I surveyed nearly 1,400 Americans about their views on food waste. We wanted to know what the public understood about the role that intermediary organizations such as grocery stores, cafeterias and restaurants play in this problem. We also wanted to see whether concern about food waste reflected awareness of the water-energy-food nexus—the interconnections between food production, energy and water.
Organizational Food Waste
Organizations lose or waste food for many reasons. Grocery stores seek to keep shelves full and offer visually appealing produce, which can lead to over-ordering and throwing out items with cosmetic flaws. The Agriculture Department estimates that between 11 and 12 percent of fresh foods and meats are discarded or lost from U.S. retail outlets and supermarkets.
Restaurants and cafeterias also contribute significantly through inventory losses, food preparation waste, food scraps not suitable for serving, foods prepared but not served, and foods consumers purchase but do not finish.
We used a nationally representative survey to see whether individuals were concerned about organizational food waste, and would support policies intended to reduce it. In response to the question "How concerned are you about the amount of food wasted by grocery stores, restaurants and cafeterias?" approximately 75 percent of respondents said they were concerned, very concerned or extremely concerned.
Our results also showed that women, older people, members of lower-income households and those who leaned politically liberal all expressed higher levels of concern about food wasted by organizations.
Interconnections Between Food, Energy and Water
Next we examined whether concern about food waste was tied to use of other natural resources. Growing, producing, transporting, treating and disposing of food consumes significant quantities of energy and water.
Producing a typical Thanksgiving meal, for example, requires corn and wheat to feed turkeys; acres of farmland to grow vegetables such as beans and potatoes; water to irrigate the produce and hydrate the turkeys; and energy to pump water, harvest crops and transport the food to consumers.
When food is wasted, these resources are also wasted when they could have been put to better use elsewhere. In a previous study, we examined the extent to which individuals understand or recognize the interconnections between water, energy and food, and created a "nexus awareness index." Awareness of these interconnections means that people recognize that food, energy and water are all intertwined at some level.
We used this awareness index in our new study to determine whether recognizing food-water and food-energy connections influenced respondents' concern about food waste. Our results showed with very high confidence that higher awareness of these linkages was correlated with higher concern about food waste.
To explore what actions people would take or support to reduce food waste, we focused on two policy options: building compost facilities for large-scale commercial and private residential use, and increasing state or municipal licensing fees for organizations that do not develop and follow approved food waste reduction plans. Respondents who reported high concern about food waste were willing to support waste reduction policies, and those with higher awareness of food-water and food-energy links showed the strongest support for both policies.
Avoiding Holiday Food Waste
We draw two primary conclusions from this study. First, highlighting the amounts of wasted water, energy and money embedded in food waste may help food waste issues reach a wider audience and build support for action.
Second, increasing awareness and concern about food waste may increase action and behavioral changes that reduce waste. Researchers have long been concerned about findings that show a disconnect between people's intentions and their corresponding actions. Some food waste research examining this issue shows that intentions to reduce food waste have a mixed and generally weak impact on actual consumer practices.
Reducing food waste on a broad scale is a significant challenge. Our results suggest that increasing concern about food waste may motivate people to be more willing to act on this problem. Others suggest that regular reminders and nudges for consumers may be effective. Intentional, or purposeful, consumption with waste in mind—for example, showing people how to take waste into account as they shop for food—may also help. Best practices will likely differ among various groups of people and geographic regions.
Holiday meals are a good time to be mindful of food waste. Many are served in people's homes, and most hosts wouldn't dream of throwing away perfectly good leftovers instead of using them the next day. Although restaurants typically throw away leftovers that consumers purchase but don't finish, many customers will take theirs home with a little encouragement. Especially once they know how much energy and water it took to grow those cranberries and fatten the turkey.
Bryce Hannibal is a research scientist and lecturer at Texas A&M University.
Disclosure statement: Bryce Hannibal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.
Austin Bans Restaurants From Throwing Food Waste Into #Landfills https://t.co/n4Y9DGcZAz— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1538733311.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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