We often forget that we are part of a much larger ecosystem and that our poor health so often results in a poor environment as well. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our relationship towards food. Now, more than ever, we are drowning in food, the supermarkets are never empty and we’re constantly bombarded with messages to consume more and more. However, we’re also becoming increasingly aware that portion distortion and the environmental damage caused by excess food (which equals food waste) are both pressing issues to which there is a simple solution - we need to buy and consume less.
The Problem: The Environmental Impact of Food Waste
Food waste is a huge problem, so huge that it’s the largest contributor to Greenhouse Gases after China and the US. Now think about that for a moment. It’s painful, but we need to realise that nearly a third of all global food production for human consumption ends up wasted, as each year we throw away 1.8 billion tons of food. The UN has calculated that there are 900 million people starving each year - so to put that into perspective we waste enough food to end world hunger twice over. Lots of this food is wasted through poor infrastructure and disorganisation; however, Europe is responsible for roughly half of the 88 million tons of food that is just thrown away in the home.
To help you, here are a couple of images to show you just how small a serving size really is!
The impact of food waste on the environment is so detrimental because it’s completely unnecessary. And the science-y bit behind why we’re so desperate to limit food waste is that it ultimately ends up in landfills and produces methane, a gas whose heat-trapping abilities make it even more harmful to the environment than CO2.
Food waste also contributes to the war on water as agriculture accounts for 70% of the water used globally. By throwing out a kilo of beef, you’re wasting more than 50,000 litres of water, used in its farming and production. A glass of milk gone sour equals 1,000 litres of water down the drain. Even just eating a standard takeaway Cheeseburger comes with 1-3.5kg of CO2 consumption, and that’s without the fact that 40% of all litter comes from fast food packaging.
What You Can Do To Help
There are tons of easy ways to reduce food waste all the way from production to disposal! Foodcloud in Ireland is an amazing resource that we should all be recommending to shops as they can donate food that is no longer able to be sold in supermarkets (but is still perfectly edible) to homeless charities. So many places are so receptive to people actually going up and asking them about their social initiatives and then making suggestions like these!
Otherwise, another simple but great idea is that if you’re cooking for many and are unsure of the portion sizes, do smaller pieces of meat and prepare plant-based ‘extra food’ as this uses less water in farming and is thus less harmful! Even in the final stages of a meal, you can save energy as the average household can divert over 150kg of energy through composting at home rather than putting it in the bin!
The Problem: Portion Distortion
When we think about obesity and portion distortion, we tend to think of it as something that happens all the way across the Atlantic, and with a certain sense of smugness. And whilst it’s true that fast-food drink sizes have ballooned from 207ml in the 1950s to 1.19L today, it’s not just in the US, or indeed, at cheap restaurants that the problem occurs. Even at home, the average size of an Irish dinner plate has expanded from 25cm to 28cm, and the bigger the plate equals the smaller the portion size appears!
This may seem like simple design aesthetics, but the relation between portion size and the amount of food we eat isn’t as simple as it might at first appear. Studies have shown that regardless of how hungry you are, the more food that’s served, the more you eat. Whilst that may seem fairly obvious, the stranger thing is that most people didn’t notice that they were being served larger and larger portion sizes - which explains the rapid growth of food sizes over the last 50 years. What’s even weirder is that is that most people had the same feelings of fullness or hunger after having different sized portions, and didn’t eat less at their next meal because of having a bigger lunch!
What You Can Do To Help
Smaller portions are better for both you and the environment. So when you’re eating out, either get half the meal as a take away or be that amazingly cheap date that just wants to share a main. When you’re at home it’s even easier, serve portions on individual plates to remove any desire for second or third helpings, and teach yourself to accurately judge how much food one person needs - it takes a lot of practice and we’ve all been the people drowning in too much pasta or rice but it’s still a skill worth learning.
What’s fantastic is that we can officially OK snacking - but on fruits and salads which is less yay but still…
Snacks in between meals actually stop you overeating during dinner, or at least piling your plate up with more food than you could ever actually eat.
The Bigger Picture
Now you know that essentially you’re being tricked into buying more food for more expensive prices due to clever marketing (think about ‘family sized’ chocolate bars), all is not lost!
Everything that we’ve suggested so far are individual things and they’re fantastic, but what we actually need to address is our current price structure all over the food industry, from supermarkets to takeaways and even cinemas. At the moment, with supersize offers, we’re encouraged to buy more and buy bigger, however, we need to start reversing this trend to make the smaller size more financially appealing to generate less obesity and less environmental waste.