Mind the Waste: Some Remedies for Overconsumption and Waste of FoodBy Dr. Sumesh Nair
Australian Institute of Business
E-mail: [email protected]
“Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.”
There are no better expressions than the above quotation from Pope Francis. The magnitude of food waste is underlined by the alarming statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, which estimates that one-third of the world’s food production is wasted or lost. This scenario is further aggravated in recent times by the onset Covid-19 pandemic. The situation made many people unemployed and pushed many of them to poverty. As many nations worldwide grapple with the second and the third waves of the pandemic, the problem worsened.
To put the food waste scenario into perspective, on average, nine million people die every year due to hunger and hunger-related diseases. One in every nine people in the world goes to bed every night hungry. These data highlight the criticalness of the issue and warrant urgent evaluation and intervention. The truth is that most of us seldom mind wasting food without no understanding of its consequences. Therefore, the pertinent questions for us are:
Are we doing enough in term of saving food for others? What could we do to help the situation improve? One of the solutions lies in adopting a responsible food consumption behaviour, supported by environmental conscious marketing best practice of organisations. However, the good news is that ethical marketing and responsible consumption behaviours are gradually becoming the focus of many industries’ marketing practices in Australia and elsewhere in the world.
The essay will, therefore, focus on advocating relevance of mindful consumption habits in the context of food waste management. Secondly, the essay will discuss the possible steps that an organisation’s marketing department could develop and implement to spread consciousness for mindful-consumption behaviours, and thereby to avoid unnecessary overconsumption.
The menace of overconsumption
Overconsumption is a social evil. The celebrated Pareto principle of the 80:20 rule is true in the consumption context as well that is:-
According to one estimate, we will need two planets by 2030 to sustain current growth and consumption rates because we will consume twice the resources the earth can generate by that time. Most of these should be described as conspicuous consumption that could very well be restricted, better still wholly avoided. Food overconsumption of a ‘conspicuous’ nature is the primary reason for wastage and loss and one of the /key causes off the lifestyle diseases and high carbon footprints of individuals and families. For example, the health issues of overeating fast food and the pollution issues of eating meat and dairy products are well documented.
Coming back to our focal issue, the social impacts of overconsumption are unparalleled. Overconsumption is the result of affluence in society. Two aspects would help control this social menace: a) the self-discipline of consumer; b) interventions by external agencies that is the way we market our goods and services and this factor also partly responsible for overconsumption. This article, therefore, focuses on what the consumers can do in checking on their food consumption habits and follow a mindful consumption practice. Lastly, what marketing as a business discipline can do or how businesses can reorientate their marketing activities again waste or practice de-marketing as an self-enlightened business organisation.
Mindful consumption is “a consumer mindset of caring for the self, for the community, and for nature, that translates behaviourally into a tempering of the self-defeating excesses associated with acquisitive, repetitive and aspirational consumption.” (Sheth, Sethia, & Srinivas, 2011, p27). Further elaborating the idea, Sheth, Sethia, & Srinivas (2011, p27) indicated that “Consumption has a tangible facet: the behaviour of engaging in consumption, and in practice that is what appears to matter. There is also an intangible facet of consumption: the mindset pertaining to attitudes, values and expectations surrounding the consumption behaviour. A conglomeration of mindful behaviours and mindful mindsets gives rise to the concept of mindful consumption. A mindful mindset induces people to be “caring toward self, community, and nature”, whilst mindful behaviour, is a watchful control over one’s consumption behaviours consistent with personal values and norms. Mindful consumption behaviour prevents people from becoming involved in overconsumption and encourages them to become consciously aware of the needs of fellow consumers and citizens. When it comes to food consumption, buy what do you need and donate if you happen to buy more than your family’s requirements. Mindful consumption has its roots in eastern philosophy, which generally promotes behaving wisely and non-judgementally. In this context, mindful consumption promotes kind and wise acts of control over food consumption and use. In a broader sense, mindfulness is not wasting and losing valuable things to support human survival on this planet.
Mindful consumption is a mighty weapon to fight against the scarcity and unavailability of many needed products and services. For example, the shortage of cleaning products, toilet rolls, and pasta during the pandemic’s initial lockdown months resulted from panic and selfish buying rather than production and distribution issues. These issues can be managed effectively by individual sensible and mindful behaviours of consumers.
Marketing as a business function is responsible for influencing demand for products and services. This influence leads to an increased demand and supply situation, a fundamental reason for consumption. The creative use of branding and marketing communication methods is critical in creating product awareness, brand loyalty, repeat purchases, and overconsumption. It is counterintuitive to think that marketing could be the solution to overconsumption. However, the idea of demarketing is neither new nor contradictory to common sense. The idea of demarketing is first floated by Philip Kotler and Sidney Levy in their 1971 article that defined the concept as
“. . . that aspect of marketing that deals with discouraging customers in general or a certain class of customers in particular on a temporary or permanent basis.”
The concept of de-marketing would advocate people to buy only the food necessary to prevent food waste by reminding consumers of stories of people around the world who are hungry and/or dying of hunger. This way, demarketing in the form of a social marketing drive can influence people to change their behaviour to avoid overconsumption of food and practice mindful consumption.
In conclusion, I like to recommend that we need to make a concerted effort to change our habits and behaviours towards responsible consumption and to reduce wastage of food. Thereby, we can save food for the poor and needy.
Internalising mindful consumption will help, however changing marketing practice can foster good habits. Hence, the concluding statement in the words of famous chef Thomas Keller: “Respect for food is a respect for life, for who we are and what we do.”