January 21, 2018

Food Waste: Are Millennials more Eco-Friendly than other Generations?

Statistics seem to indicate that we millennials are more eco-friendly than other generations.

That little tidbit can tend to make us feel superior to other generations. After all, we clearly care more about the planet.

Don’t we?

I certainly think our generation is more aware of environmental issues. I think we’re also more aware of the impact that corporations have on the environment. This is likely why we prioritize shopping from brands that are sustainable.

We favor green energy. The idea of powering our homes and cars without using nonrenewable energy sources appeals to us. Although, that doesn’t mean that all of us can afford solar powered homes or fully-electric cars.

What we buy is green. How we vote is also green. The question is, does that put us in a position to look down on other generations as “destroyers of the planet that we are now left to save?” Probably not.

Because it’s never really that simple, is it?

Generations have been sneering up (or down) at one another, likely since the Pleistocene epoch. This is mostly because of a lack of understanding of the struggles and circumstances of other generations. It’s also because every generation does really bad things.

One subject that hits home for me is food waste.

It’s a trending topic right now. Many millennials like myself are concerned with this issue and its impact on both the environment and hunger. However, for me the concern isn’t anything new. It represents what I was taught all along.

As a millennial who is also born to older parents, I am in a unique position.

My parents are old enough to have been influenced by the “waste not, want not” attitude that my grandparents and great aunts and uncles carried with them from the depression. They were also very active in the environmental and antinuclear movements that were so prevalent in the 1970s.

Because of this, I grew up being taught that food waste was unacceptable.

Instead, we gardened, composted, cooked from scratch, and repurposed leftovers. My parents also froze, canned, and dehydrated. The foods in our house were largely plant based, organic, and (for awhile at least) macrobiotic.

Thanks to my parents’ and grandparents’ influence, food waste has remained important to me. It’s also interesting to see the differences in the way my generation approaches the problem, versus other generations.

Food waste isn’t just the immoral issue our parents and grandparents claimed it to be while we were being lectured about starving children. It also has a huge environmental impact.

Food waste means more vehicles on the roads and railways, taking food from point A to point B, and a large portion will simply end up in the trash.

There’s also the methane gas produced by food rotting in landfills.

The good news is, many of us millennials are working hard to do things to fix this.

Today, there are grocery stores that feature “ugly produce.” This is simply fruit and vegetables that are perfectly edible, but may not meet normal standards of appearance. Considering that up to 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted, this is a really big deal. While the looking at pictures of ugly produce may be funny, what is serious is that nearly every fruit or vegetable depicted would be rejected by most restaurants and grocery stores.

To combat this, many millennials are shopping at farmers markets so they can carefully select their groceries. Then, they are planning meals and preparing them to avoid waste. Preservation techniques such as curing, pickling, and fermenting are making a comeback beyond the homemade beer and wine trends.

They are also influencing governments. France has taken action to forbid supermarkets from wasting food. Instead of throwing food out, they must donate to food banks and charities, as long as it is safely edible.

Businesses appear to finally be getting on board as well. A grocery store chain in the United Kingdom just announced that they would begin selling some food items past their “best buy” date. If they can help dispel the myth that this food isn’t perfectly edible, they can also have a major impact on the attitudes that cause food waste.

Of course, here we are again. Millennials are making an impact here, but in many ways they are doing so by adopting attitudes and behaviors previous generations have shown for years.

One thing that millennials are spearheading that other generations did not, is that we tend to use our shopping dollars to encourage companies to support causes that include reducing food waste. However, in the end, it appears that this is one environmental issue where the generations have more in common than they realize.

Maybe Maya Angelou summed it up best: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Sure, it may be that millennials are more eco-friendly, but that’s likely due to the information that we have access to and not some moral high ground.


Author: Amanda Sparks
Image: Mike Dorner/Unsplash
Editor: Kenni Linden
Copy Editor: Travis May

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Amanda Sparks