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Higher Education, Higher Food Waste

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College students yet to learn skills

Going away to college is a time of various new beginnings, including living away from home, managing a full course load, making new friends and developing a new routine which includes making and preparing healthy food choices.  What you may not associate with this time of transition is food waste.   Results from a study published in Appetite, identifies college students as a group that has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to food waste.

Researchers conducted focus groups with 58 college students to learn more about their personal food behaviors and perception of food waste.  Participants were between 18-24 years old and had at least some control over food purchases while those who lived at home or within communal housing were excluded.  Upon analysis, investigators picked up on a common theme:  “It’s not me, it’s them.”   Participants felt this way because as young adults, they hadn’t learned food management skills such as grocery shopping, meal planning, portion control or storing leftovers and as a result, felt removed from the issue!  This is magnified at the university level because most students get meals at the dining hall where food appears on a buffet and disappears on a conveyer belt where leftovers are scraped into the trash.   Most are unaware of how food arrives to the cafeteria, or what happens to it afterwards.  On the flip side, researchers noted that students who were aware of food waste commented that they wasted a lot more before they started doing their own grocery shopping.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, a holiday known for a bounty of food, it’s an opportune time to get co-eds involved in the planning, cooking and cleanup – even handling the leftovers!  Pointing out that left-over turkey is usually enjoyed days after can help make the connection between foods prepared, consumed and thrown away driving awareness of food waste to this age group.  Food waste is an unfortunate issue, in the U.S. alone, 40% of our food annually goes unused.  Let’s try to decrease that amount this year by teaching our undergrads the benefits of saving leftovers and taking other precautions to waste not, want not.

Published November 1, 2018

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