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Food waste paradox: antecedents of food disposal in low income households

Porpino, Gustavo, Juracy Parente, and Brian Wansink, (2015). Food Waste Paradox: Antecedents of food disposal in low income households. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(6), 619-629. doi: 10.1111/ijcs.12207

Gustavo Porpino , PhD, Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, Brasília, Brazil (EMBRAPA)

The food waste paradox describes the juxtaposition between low-income families that face scarcity of natural resources and their high prevalence of household food waste. Due to its high-income inequality, most Brazilian households are classified as low-income. In Brazil, more food is wasted at the consumer and retail level than is needed to feed those who still face hunger. Why does this happen? There is a lack of empirical studies aimed at exploring the food waste paradox. Thus, this research contributes to this field by identifying antecedents of food waste among lower-middle class families in Brazil.

Fourteen lower-middle income Brazilian households were observed through in-depth interviews, photographs, and a focus group. The itinerary method was used to examine the entire consumer decision process: (1) the decision at the household, (2) the shopping trip, (3) the purchase moment, (4) organizing purchases at home, (5) the preparation for use, (6) the consumption itself and (7) the disposal.

We found that there are five major categories of food waste antecedents: excessive purchasing, over-preparation, caring for a pet, avoidance of leftovers and inappropriate food conservation. Subcategories such as impulse buying, lack of planning and preference for large packages were also identified. Moreover, it was found that more food waste is generated from strategies used to save money, such as, buying groceries in bulk, monthly shopping trips, and preference for supermarkets and cooking from scratch.

Our findings suggest that low income families should receive more education on meal planning and food storage techniques.  Furthermore, national food stamp programs could benefit more people by increasing the involvement of nutritional educators. Awareness of food waste also needs to increase in order for further research to provide a deeper understanding of this paradox. Given that most of the world is low income, a small change in the behavior of this segment has a considerable impact on society as a whole.