Millennial ‘live to eat’ attitude making food waste control harder says Sainsbury’s

Millennial ‘live to eat’ attitude making food waste control harder says Sainsbury’s
Image: Sainsbury's
Younger generations are increasingly adopting a more ‘live to eat’ attitude towards food, with the cavalier approach making it harder to control levels of food waste, a Sainsbury’s report has found.

The study on food waste patterns in the UK has highlighted differences in generational attitudes to food.

The study, part of Sainsbury’s £10-million ‘Waste less, Save more’ campaign, measured the food waste patterns of 5,050 people, aged from 18 to over 65, and found that there is a clear gap between different generations’ approaches to food, with nearly 40 per cent of over 65s stating they never waste food, compared with just 17 per cent of those under 35.

Statistics from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) show that over seven million tonnes of food waste is generated by UK households every year, with the number slowly increasing. The latest statistics showed an increase of four per cent between 2012 and 2015.

According to the results of the study, 55 per cent of under 35s ‘live to eat’, that is to say that food is more about pleasure than necessity, whereas less than a third of over 55s shared this view. In contrast, the majority of the elder participants of the study said they ‘eat to live’.

Hunger for variety leading to more waste

Participants who identified as ‘live to eat’ advocates spent more on food, on average paying £74 per week, and were more likely to try unusual recipes than older demographics. They were also shown to waste more food, up to 12 per cent, in comparison with those who ‘eat to live’ who spent an average of £67 per week and wasted 10 per cent. 

As the desire to keep a varied meal plan necessitates a wider variety of ingredients, some more unusual food items can go to waste after use in one or two dishes. 58 per cent of participants aged 18-34 said that they buy odd ingredients specifically for unusual recipes, but struggle to reuse them, compared to just 32 per cent of over 55s.

Dr Polly Russell, food historian and presenter of BBC2’s Back in Time for Dinner, commented: “Most people today, particularly younger generations, demand variety when it comes to food. As a result we’ve gained a broader and more exciting diet. However, with a menu that changes often, it is more challenging to control waste and plan ahead. 

“Moreover, with increased working hours and busy lifestyles, people these days are less likely than previous generations to spend the time required to properly manage food supplies and use up leftovers, to minimise waste.”

Food familiarity

The report suggested that over 55s were more comfortable cooking, whereas over half of under 35s surveyed wished they knew more about managing and cooking food.

Planning ahead, as well as knowledge of how to store and preserve items was highlighted as a major issue, with 20 per cent of those under 35 admitting to wasting the most food after a big shop, and 17 per cent leaving leftovers three or more times a week, compared with only five per cent of over 55s leaving leftovers more than three times per week, and seven per cent of over 65s wasting food.   

Several food waste campaigners have proposed that part of the UK’s food waste problem is a lack of education, alongside a supermarket culture that creates a distance between consumers and the processes behind the food they buy. Campaigns such as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution teach children and communities about where food comes from, as well as the importance of maintaining a responsible and sustainable food system.

The report emphasises the value of passing down knowledge to younger generations. Paul Crewe, Head of Sustainability, Energy, Environmental and Engineering at Sainsbury’s said: “We’ve been serving customers for nearly 150 years and have seen a range of trends over this time. Younger generations today have so many sources of inspiration at their fingertips, so passing recipes and knowledge through generations aren’t always seen as so important.

“There’s plenty to be learned from older generations, who waste less food and save more money as a result. We need to ensure those good habits are passed down to the next generation of young people, to stop both the environmental and financial impacts of wasting food.”

In a culture where more young people are often living at home for longer, this could signal an opportunity for older generations to pass on knowledge of storing and preserving food, instilling post-war rationing values into their children in order to avoid increased food waste.

Russell concluded: “This research identifies how, in just a few decades, increased time pressures, changes in the cost of food and an expectation of variety in our diet, have all impacted on our food waste habits.  We may not want to eat like we did in the post-war period; but adopting and adapting some of the cooking skills and kitchen know-how of previous generations could help reduce food waste in our homes.”

In particular, the opportunity for social media to become a channel for older generations to pass on wisdom beyond that of their own families has never been greater. Food blogging is extremely popular and Sainsbury’s has partnered with several bloggers to share their tips while UK site Love Food Hate Waste also provides regular recipes and advice on preventing food waste. Self-labelled ‘mummy blogger’ Jo Middleton, for example, has created ‘Food Waste Hacks for Teenagers’ to help parents teach their kids some tips for making the most of food waste.

Over the past 12 months, Sainsbury’s has been trialing several different programmes in Swadlincote, Derbyshire to help cut down household food waste. The findings from the report will be used to create a plan to reduce food waste in communities across the UK.

Resource spent a day in Swadlincote to see how the initiatives are changing attitudes and helping families think more about their food waste.

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