Does Religion Influence Food Waste Habits?

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A new study explores food waste behaviors in various religious sects, building on further research exploring thoughts about climate change.

The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, looked at dining habits of nearly 1,000 restaurant patrons across Greater Beirut. The patrons were interviewed about their dining habits and leftovers at each table were collected and weighed.

The findings

According to the findings, Christian diners wasted the least amount of food compared with Druze and Muslim diners, whether or not the food was Lebanese. The researchers noted that the higher religiosity scores corresponded with lower food waste.

“Based on these findings, including religious cues in consumer-based interventions to reduce food waste can be more effective,” the researchers note. “This can be achieved through marketing campaigns that communicate religious-based messages to trigger religious beliefs that reduce food waste, using physical spaces and rituals of mosques and churches.”

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Food waste is a global crisis. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the global volume of food waste is estimated at 1.6 billion tons, with edible waste making up the vast majority. Food waste is also a leading producer of greenhouse gas emissions, producing 3.3 billion tons of CO2e per year. Wasted food puts pressure on resources including water and land. It also threatens biodiversity and the consequences of uneaten food are estimated to have a $750 billion economic impact each year.

Religion and climate change

The findings support other research on religion and environmental behaviors. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center earlier this year found that nearly 75 percent of religious-affiliated Americans say the earth is “sacred.” Eighty percent said they felt a sense of stewardship for the planet, agreeing with the idea that “God gave humans a duty to protect and care for the Earth, including the plants and animals.” More than 60 percent of religious U.S. adults said their faith’s holy scriptures contain lessons about the environment, and more than 40 percent said they have prayed for the environment in the past year.

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

Seventy-five percent of evangelical Protestants and members of historically Black Protestant both claim the Bible contains lessons about the environment and 80 percent of both groups say God tasked humans with protecting and caring for the earth. Similar views were expressed by Catholics and mainline Protestants as well as 77 percent of non-Christian religions.

But Christians, and religiously affiliated Americans more broadly, are not as united in their views about climate change, Pew says: “While majorities of all the large U.S. Christian subgroups say they think global climate change is at least a somewhat serious problem, there are substantial differences in the shares who consider it an extremely or very serious problem – ranging from 68 percent of adults who identify with the historically Black Protestant tradition to 34 percent of evangelical Protestants. And half or fewer people surveyed in all major Protestant traditions say the Earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity, including 32 percent of evangelicals.”

Despite these widespread views about the sacredness of earth, the Pew Researchers say climate change is not often discussed by congregations. It also found people who are less religious tend to be the ones more concerned about the consequences of climate change. Seventy percent of unaffiliated adults identifying as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular,” were more likely to say climate change is a very serious problem compared to just 52 percent of religiously affiliated adults.


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