Food Policy

New Study Blames Instagram for Food Waste. Seriously.

New studies blame Instagram and gluttony as causes of food waste.

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food waste
jbloom via Foter.com / CC BY

Food waste is an enormous problem. But if two recent studies on the causes of food waste are to be believed, then a solution to that problem is likely at hand.

The respective studies, both British, suggest that Instagram and overeating are culprits behind food waste.

Before I delve into those studies, it might be helpful for me to explain what food waste is, and why it's a problem. Food waste is defined generally as quality, edible "food that completes the food supply chain up to a final product… but still does not get consumed because it is discarded, whether or not after it is left to spoil."

As I discuss at length in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, food waste has tremendous economic and environmental costs. Consider, for example, the water, land, pesticides, fuel, and labor that were used to produce and dispose of food that wasn't eaten. The uneaten food typically ends up belching methane—a potent greenhouse gas—in fields or landfills. Food that goes to waste also can't be used to combat hunger.

The causes of food waste are myriad. Some of those causes include laws and regulations—many of which I condemn in my book—that promote food waste by, for example, encouraging the overproduction of food.

We've long known that there's no one cause of or solution to the problem of food waste. But as more research becomes available, and more efforts to combat food waste take hold, there's hope we can begin to address the problem.

But—as the British studies suggest—are Instagram and gluttony the real culprits?

Take the idea that Instagram is the cause of food waste. The suggestion comes from a report promoted by Sainsbury's, the British grocery chain.

Today's younger generation in particular wastes food at a higher rate because, says a Guardian article that highlights the study's conclusions, they're "the most likely to try unusual recipes to create Instagram-friendly dishes, involving exotic ingredients that are harder to reuse." And that, the study claims, leads to waste.

I'm skeptical. While I've no doubt that today's seventeen-year-old Brit prepares food at home from time to time, both from my personal experience and from time spent teaching a college course on food and social media, the phenomenon of Instagramming food—and I'm as guilty as anyone—is largely something that happens outside the home, at restaurants.

Given that, then the Sainsbury's study becomes less about what some people are buying and more about where they're often buying it—at restaurants instead of grocers… like Sainsbury's.

The study's blaming of today's younger generation and Instagram rings hollow to Millennial Guardian columnist Nell Frizzell, too.

"But to lay the blame at the feet of Instagram, young professionals, social media, exotic flavours and an interest in aesthetics seems partial, if not actual nonsense," she writes.

The other recent British study—by University of Edinburgh researchers—takes a far more expansive look at food waste, and concludes gluttony is behind ten percent of food waste worldwide.

Rather than using some version of the definition of food waste I cited above—food that goes to waste—the Scottish researchers looked at "food system losses" and include food that's actually eaten, but which in the eyes of the study authors exceeded the amount of food a person needs to eat to survive. Their study refers to this source of waste as "over-consumption."

Cleaning one's plate used to be a way to ensure food didn't go to waste. This study appears to redefine that approach as, instead, encouraging food waste. It turns we produce more food than we eat into we produce more food than we need to eat. I'm not sure how useful that approach really is.

Surveys have found many consumers care very little about food waste. Blaming Instagram photos of food or over-consumption of food as root causes is unlikely to make consumers care any more about the issue, or to begin solve what is a very real problem.

NEXT: A Professor Who Attended Charles Murray's Middlebury Talk Is Now Wearing a Neck Brace. Protesters Attacked Her.

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  1. The uneaten food typically ends up belching methane?a potent greenhouse gas

    Uh oh.

  2. OT. It’s good to be queen.

    “Most people have a strategy for getting out of boring conversations at parties ? but Queen Elizabeth II has a whole secret code and trained staff to help her escape from sticky social situations, according to reports.

    When Her Majesty is done talking to a guest, she simply moves her iconic Launer London handbag from one arm to another, and her aides swoop in to end the conversation.

    If the company is really dire, she puts the bag on the ground or spins her wedding ring around to summon an emergency intervention.”

    http://nypost.com/2017/03/03/t…..ituations/

    1. Rufus: So then I grabbed her pussy….
      Queen: Yes…go on….
      Rufus: HEY! Where you goin’ babe? I didn’t get to the best part!

  3. I thought for sure this was going to be about markets tossing food that’s past its sell-by date but not necessarily unusable. My leftovers at home always went to good use: my dog. But since he died two years ago from unexplained obesity-related issues (just kidding, he was old) the chickens are getting all my scraps. That’s called sustainable living, cosmos.

    1. That touches on my hunch. I think eating out at a restaurant results in more food waste because the uneaten (and cooked!) food is more likely to get tossed because it’s inconvenient to box up and take home.

      1. And, TL;DR, but a libertarian slant to this subject would be waste of food in public schools. I have a friend who used to work in a public school and she said the waste of food was tremendous. It included *unopened” packages of pretzels, for instance, the were just left on the tables after (the free) lunches.

        1. He covers that in his book. Good book, if you’re so inclined. The subject isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it’s well written and filling, if not a page turner. A lot of surprisingly inane food rules, which, while expected in general when dealing with bureaucrats, is still surprising in detail.

      2. In some states, that food is tossed because it is illegal to donate it.

        But the legislators are far too concerned about who’s using which set of bathrooms to let a little thing like hunger and ‘waste’ food get any attention.

        1. That’s what I was expecting this article to be about, the laws that prohibit donation of food past the sell-by date but otherwise good.

      3. I dunno, back in, I’d say the 90s? When restaurant portions started getting out of control I pretty much started justiying restaurant choices on how many meals I could get out of it. Instead of charging a reasonable amount for a reasonable portion, they wanted to be able to increase prices and I guess throw more food at you so you feel it’s justified. Fine, but *I* am taking that shit home. The idea that it’s somehow gauche to ask for a “doggy bag” is something that thankfully died with my grandmother’s generation.

        1. Sure. But when you’re traveling, or on your way to a movie, etc. doggie bags become less of an option.

          Portion size is a whole other issue, though I imagine current gargantuan sizes do contribute to waste. Like many things in our relatively well-off society, I think the big portions are what consumers want. I think the average person will (whether they admit it or not) look at a $10 plate that they’ll finish and compare it to a huge $12 plate that they’ll think is special, and order the $12 plate. Not to mention the fact that eating out (for me, anyway) is an “occasion”, not just a way to ingest needed calories.

          1. But when you’re traveling, or on your way to a movie, etc.
            Not to mention the fact that eating out (for me, anyway) is an “occasion”, not just a way to ingest needed calories.

            You’re right I forgot about that, probably because for me it’s kinda the opposite. And with portions nowadays I can justify it- if I can get 2 or 3 meals out of a $10 lunch, that’s cheaper than having a quality piece of meat and half a bag of spinach at home.

            Of course, one can always eat cheaper at home if one eats mostly staples like rice and beans and shit like Oscar Meyer Bologna. But I need my salmon.

    2. That’s how Mad Chicken Disease starts.

      1. The chickens get mad when I don’t toss them scraps.

        1. Do their scraps taste like…chicken?

    3. Did you eat the dog, or did you let him go to waste?

    4. …the chickens…

      That’s a good way to describe Penguins.

      1. WHO BEAT THE LIGHTNING LAST NIGHT.

    5. Cosmo should also know that markets will give scraps of waste greens like celery leaves etc away for free. They are not wasted on rabbits.

  4. I have an intuitive dislike of food waste, but is it really rational? If we waste resources (labor, material, etc.) on food production, is it any different than wasting resources on other things, e.g. furniture? I suppose the answer could be “yes” in a subsistence culture, but in a modern culture?

    1. It’s funny because I have the opposite aversion. I try not to eat everything on my plate. And I never force my son to “finish his food”. He eats until he’s full and that’s that. There’s no pressure to finish the plate for the sake of “using the food”. Conscious of the waste issue though, I do limit the portions to avoid gratuitous waste. It’s the same when we eat out. I bring food home sometimes but I’m also averse to “old food”. I’m sure I would take a different approach if there was food scarcity.

      1. Forcing kids to clean their plate is one reason they lose their innate ability to sense when they are full; it leads to obesity. You are doing exactly the right thing.

    2. Considering how much most products are actually used, food waste seems paltry. Your bedroom is only used for 1/3 of its existence. The kitchen a couple of hours a day. How much of your car’s life is actually spent driving? Clothes are only worn 2/3 of a day, and then only every tenth or hundredth day.

      Food, once cooked into a consumable form, has a far higher duty cycle, so to speak.

      1. And a far shorter shelf life.

        1. Yes, hadn’t thought of that. Interesting! We should start a new natural law, that the shorter the shelf life, the higher the duty cycle. Or is it the other way round? Grants! We need grants!

  5. Speaking of wasting well-done steaks with ketchup, who knew that General Cheeto, along with his malignant narcissism, was also a delusional paranoiac?

    Trump accuses Obama of ‘Nixon/Watergate’ plot to wire tap Trump Tower
    https://tinyurl.com/jzvrqeg

  6. Surveys have found many consumers care very little about food waste.

    Exactly. People are much more concerned about Medicare fraud and the National DeHAHAHAHAHAAA!! Damn, couldn’t quite get it out!

  7. food waste has tremendous economic and environmental costs. Consider, for example, the water, land, pesticides, fuel, and labor that were used to produce and dispose of food that wasn’t eaten.

    Consider also all the resources still going into writing and publishing articles for Reason that are now being read by fewer people. That is an enormous problem and something must be done about it.

    The uneaten food typically ends up belching methane?a potent greenhouse gas?in fields or landfills.

    Clean your plates, kids, or the bogeyman greenhouse gases will get you.

    Food that goes to waste also can’t be used to combat hunger.

    “How can you leave food on your plate when their are starving children in Africa?”

    Absolute nonsense.

    1. There’s a place for you,
      Somewhere a place for you.
      Somewhere.

  8. OT: You’re really going to hate Jeff Sessions after reading this:

    http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/…..spartandhp

  9. You know there are a group of people who consider the worst waste of food is feeding food to our food. Fortunately, the vegans can’t force anybody to adopt their lifestyle because they’re so weak and scrawny from not eating meat the way nature intended apex predators to do.

  10. Politicians are wastes.

  11. U.S. Airport Pat-Downs Are About to Get More Invasive

    “for the person who gets the pat down, it will slow them down”

    Probably for days afterwards.

  12. What you need to know about Michelle Obama! First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017

    read more at http://www.lawsonjamesblog.com…..helle.html

    1. I don’t get it.

  13. The amount of food waste we generate does disgust me kind of viscerally, but its worth more thought than that, I think. Like what is the alternative? So far all weve seen in the post-malthusian world is generally enough food, and some waste, or nobody has enough food. Rose wilder lane says the old world doesn’t waste anything physical, what they waste is time energy and human life, which tend to fall into the “things you don’t see” category. I think thats probably part of why socialism is so pernicious.

    1. That’s kinda what I was trying to say above. Back when we spent a huge percentage (80%) of our labor and effort to grow and raise food, it made sense to treat it as a precious commodity. But today, in modern, successful societies, food is, thanks to capitalism/technology, taken for granted and the efficiencies allow us to direct our efforts to improvements in other areas. Yet we still hold the “food is sacred” belief that, understandably, is passed down from parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. I want to live in a society that takes food for granted rather than wonder where my next meal is coming from.

      1. “Food is sacred” will return, but for a different (and good) reason.

        Right now, we have industrialized, heavily-subsidized farming, which involves pumping livestock full of chemicals in order to boost production to levels where we can take food for granted.

        But the health problems that will accumulate over time, such as diabetes and cancer, will make it clear that we need to consider quality over quantity and go back to treating food as sacred. Not because it is scarce but because it matters what we put into our bodies.

  14. Food waste is defined generally as quality, edible “food that completes the food supply chain up to a final product… but still does not get consumed because it is discarded, whether or not after it is left to spoil.”

    You don’t say…

  15. So if instagram causes people to eat less of the food on their plate, why isn’t “The Instagram Diet” a thing?

  16. To combat food waste, we should look no further than the great countries of North Korea and Cuba. Almost no food waste at all!

    1. And now, Venezuela and Brazil’s cannibalistic prisons!

  17. Rather than using some version of the definition of food waste I cited above?food that goes to waste?the Scottish researchers looked at “food system losses” and include food that’s actually eaten, but which in the eyes of the study authors exceeded the amount of food a person needs to eat to survive.

    To be fair, the overeaten food does go to waist.

  18. It is wasteful to try new things?

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  20. There’s a lot more Instagram traffic than most older people are aware of, and a lot more of that is food than people might think.

  21. People tend not to give much thought to wasting things that are in abundance. Make food a scarce commodity and people will waste less of it. Baylen proposes a solution that is in search of a problem.

    …food waste has tremendous economic and environmental costs. Consider, for example, the water, land, pesticides, fuel, and labor that were used to produce and dispose of food that wasn’t eaten.

    Again, it’s easy to waste those things that are in abundance. Should we analyze and rank the social impact of every last personal expenditure? ‘That Mercedes is a waste. Look at all the water, land, fuel and labor that went into it’s production. There are less resource intensive ways to produce a vehicle to get you from point A to point B. Who needs 1000’s of vehicle models to choose from when there are hungry people in the world?’

    Perhaps Baylen should join Bittman over at the NYTs, calling for social justice to guide food policy.

  22. Rather than using some version of the definition of food waste I cited above?food that goes to waste?the Scottish researchers looked at “food system losses” and include food that’s actually eaten, but which in the eyes of the study authors exceeded the amount of food a person needs to eat to survive. Their study refers to this source of waste as “over-consumption.”

    Cleaning one’s plate used to be a way to ensure food didn’t go to waste ????? ?? ?? ????? ???? . This study appears to redefine that approach as, instead, encouraging food waste. It turns we produce more food than we eat into we produce more food than we need to eat. I’m not sure how useful that approach really is.

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