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thrown in the trash

On the religious and cultural factors that lead to food waste in households

Throwing food in the trash. Illustration:
Throwing food in the trash. Illustration:

About a third of the food produced in the world, about 1.3 billion tons, is thrown into the trash every year. An estimated 50% of this food is thrown away by households. In a world where resources are dwindling, food waste is not only a serious environmental problem but also a threat to food security.

A study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Haifa and the Shamir Research Institute examined how cultural and religious factors, including the culture of consumption and hospitality, lead to food waste in Israeli households. It was carried out by Prof. Ofira Elon from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Management (which also belongs to the Shmuel Na'eman Institute at the Technion), Prof. Tali Katz-Gro from the Department of Sociology and Dr. Keren Kaplan Mintz from the Department of Learning and Teaching Sciences (which also belongs to the Shamir Research Institute), and in collaboration with Dr. Efrat Elimelech, a postdoctoral student in the Department of Sociology, and the doctoral research assistant Hila Segal-Klein from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management and Lana Hussein from the Department of Sociology.

What is the question?

How do religion, culture, feelings of lack and the culture of consumption and hospitality affect throwing food in the trash?

"Food waste is one of the main factors that affect the environment, environmental sustainability, food security and hunger, and therefore frequently concerns governments and international organizations. Many studies have examined the amount of food that is thrown away and the causes of this, but cultural and religious factors that lead to food waste in households have hardly been studied, and this is the novelty of our study. Israel is a multicultural and religious society and is therefore ideal for examining these factors," explains Prof. Katz-Gro.

With the help of a research grant from the National Science Foundation, the researchers examined secular Jews, religious Jews and Muslim Arabs. In the first stage, interviews were conducted with opinion leaders and those with positions and influence in the community (for example, chefs, nutritionists, rabbis, imams, mayors and managers in community centers). In the second phase, they conducted a survey among about 1,200 secular and religious Jews (later it will also be conducted among the Arab sector).

In the interviews, the subjects were asked what food waste is for them, what instructions and commandments from religious books they can cite about food waste, to what extent their attachment to religion shapes their feelings about food waste, how they deal with food on a daily basis and in hospitality (for example on holidays, festivals, events and weekends), whether They cook a variety of dishes at the shared meals, how important it is for them to show generosity when serving food to guests, and more. In the surveys, the subjects were asked about their daily approaches to food - for example, if their pantry or refrigerator is regularly full of different types of food, how important it is to them to vary the dishes every day, do they finish eating existing foods before preparing new ones, do they eat food even a day or two after it is prepared, Do they use leftovers to make new dishes, do they feel guilty about throwing food away, and more.

From the responses of the subjects, a gap emerged between a world view of values ​​centered on the desire to avoid wasting food and the actual behavior. For example, subjects cited commandments from the Torah, the Halacha, the Koran and the Sunnah that call to avoid wasting and throwing away food, but declared thoughts and behaviors of wasting and throwing away. Among them: the ability to "host a battalion" at any given moment, seeing a missing refrigerator as a failure, seeing a full refrigerator as a source of pride that indicates a good livelihood, and the desire to be portrayed as good and generous hosts, especially on holidays and festivals (as one of the subjects explained: "A person's worth is measured by the amount of food he offers go to eat"). In addition, both the Jews and the Muslims talked about the lack that they or their family members experienced as a minority during the wars, during the establishment of the state, and during the austerity period, which affects their perception and behavior to this day ("We always have a fear and worry that soon we will run out of food or that we will not be given another opportunity to buy products food").

People take edible food, which has nutritional value, and turn it into food waste, the formation of which must first be prevented. They reached a point where they had nothing to do with the quantities of food and found creative ways to spread them.

In addition, it was found that the subjects throw away food and to bridge the value gap they perform actions that will make them feel better about themselves. For example, they reported that when they have excess food, they feed it to animals (such as birds), give it to others (for example, the housekeeper and guests) or throw it in the garbage disposal. "People take edible food, which has nutritional value, and turn it into food waste, the formation of which should first be prevented. They reached a point where they had nothing to do with the quantities of food and found creative ways to spread them. With the culture of abundance and opulence and a variety of temptations, and at the same time a collective experience of scarcity, it's hard not to buy, serve and spend more," explains Dr. Elimelech.

The research makes it possible to understand the religious and cultural factors that lead to food waste in households - including the feeling of scarcity, the culture of consumption and the culture of hospitality. In the future, the researchers plan to translate these insights into policy recommendations for reducing food that will take into account lifestyles and values ​​that make up different populations in Israel.

for the scientific article

Life itself:

  • Prof. Tali Katz-Gro, lives in Haifa. In her spare time she works against the coup d'état. Ofira Elon
  • Prof. Ofira Elon, 63, lives in Binyamina ("grandmother of four adorable grandchildren who often eat a pie I made from pasta cooked the day before and expired cottage cheese").
  • Dr. Keren Kaplan Mintz, educational psychologist and researcher of environmental education and psychology. Lives in the Upper Galilee and in her free time is engaged in creating, gardening and traveling.

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