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End of Week Reflections

In this week, we discussed food sustainability from the perspective of the consumer.
Group of happy young people sitting and roasting marshmallows on campfire outdoors
© Aarhus University

In this week, we discussed food sustainability from the perspective of the consumer.

Consumers play a crucial role in the food supply chain. Their purchasing behavior influences what the food industry will produce. However, the industry tries to convince consumers to purchase their products by using professional marketing campaigns. It is therefore important that consumers understand their role in the food supply chain, and that they receive sufficient information to be able to make responsible food choices.

We have learned that different food products have varying environmental impacts. Especially meat products contribute considerably to greenhouse gas emissions. It is, however, not necessary to remove meat entirely from one’s diet. A significant reduction of meat consumption would already contribute greatly to decrease the environmental impact associated to the food system. To foster a reduced meat consumption, it will be necessary to offer attractive alternatives for protein sources.

Many plant protein-based food products are already widely accepted, but other protein sources are currently explored as well. For instance, in vitro meat are muscle cells that are cultivated in bioreactors. Once fully developed and economically feasible, these products have the potential to be excellent alternatives to meat products obtained from animals. However, the acceptance of in vitro meat among consumers is currently low and could possibly be improved through information and education. This holds also true for other alternative protein sources, such as algae, insects or fungi.

Another consumer-related issue with regard to sustainability is food waste. In developed countries, food waste is predominantly generated on the retail and consumer levels and is often related to consumer attitudes, perception of food quality and overconsumption. Therefore, the awareness of consumers not to waste food must be raised on different levels. It is important to buy only the quantities of food that are needed, and to reuse cooking leftovers on the next day. Overconsumption is obviously fostered by the marketing campaigns of the food industry and the great availability of so-called “ultra-processed foods”. Although not all “ultra-processed foods” are as bad as the reputation of this group, many convenience products are tempting for consumers. However, their nutrient content in relation to energy density is often unbalanced, which can promote unreasonably high energy intakes. Overconsumption in terms of calories is also considered as food waste by some researchers. Therefore, a balanced, healthy diet is already one step towards a more sustainable food system.

© Aarhus University
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