People who grow their own fruits and vegetables waste less food and eat healthier, study finds

The rising cost of living makes it harder for people, especially those on lower incomes (who often have poorer diets), to afford to eat healthily. Despite this, British households continue to waste a shocking amount of food, including around 68kg of fruit and vegetables each year.

Food waste isn’t just bad for your wallet, it’s also bad for the environment. Globally, 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted each year, generating around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions come from unused food at all stages of the food supply chain, from production to decomposition.

However, our recent research found that those who grow their own food in gardens and allotments waste on average just 3.4kg of fruit and vegetables – 95% less than the UK average. These households have adopted various practices to minimize food waste, notably by retaining or distributing their surplus products.

There has been a resurgence of interest in growing fresh produce in gardens, community gardens and allotments in the UK and elsewhere in recent years. But the supply of available plots is not enough to meet growing demand.

Allocating more land for household fruit and vegetable production could significantly contribute to the availability of fresh produce for urban residents.

Research has shown that using just 10% of the available space in the English city of Sheffield for growing food could provide enough fruit and vegetables to meet the needs of 15% of the city’s population. And more people growing their own food could also reduce waste.

Food diaries

Our study looked at 197 UK households who grow their own food. We asked them to keep a food diary, in which they recorded the quantities of fruits and vegetables they bought each week. We received complete files from 85 separate households.

They specified whether each item was grown in their garden or allotment, purchased from stores or markets, sourced from other growers, or harvested from the wild. Households also recorded how much produce they gave to family and friends and how much they had to throw away.

Our findings suggest that people who grow their own food may be more likely to avoid food waste than the average person in the UK. This may be because they place a higher value on produce they have grown themselves.

The results are consistent with previous research conducted in Germany and Italy. This study found that the amount of food thrown away was greatest among people who shopped exclusively at large supermarkets. People who purchased items from various small stores tended to waste less food, while those who grew their own food wasted the least.

Our results also suggest that the households we studied can produce about half of all the vegetables and 20% of the fruits they consume each year. These households consumed 70% more fruit and vegetables (just over six servings per day) than the national average.

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced, nutritious diet is key to maintaining good health. This type of diet can help prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease.

Yet in the UK, less than a third of adults and only around 8% of teenagers eat “five a day”. This goal, based on advice from the World Health Organization, recommends eating at least five 80g servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

Develop your own food security

Growing your own food can improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables, promote good health and reduce food waste. However, several obstacles hinder participation in household food production. These barriers include limited access to land, skills and time to grow your own fruits and vegetables.

Around one in eight British households do not have access to a garden. And since the 1950s, the availability of allotments across the UK has declined by 60%. This decline has been particularly evident in the most deprived areas of the country, where populations could benefit most from improved availability of nutritious food.

We also found that those who grew their own food spent around four hours a week working on their plot or garden. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of time to do this.

However, increasing awareness of the benefits of domestic food production, beyond simple food security and waste reduction, to include its positive impacts on social cohesion, general well-being and biodiversity, could encourage more people to participate. Growing demand for growing space may also encourage local authorities to allocate more land for this purpose.

Whether you grow your own food or not, everyone can adopt mindful practices when buying or growing food. Planning ahead and freezing or sharing excess food with others to prevent it from going to waste are good options.

But some food waste is inevitable. Composting it instead of sending it to landfill will significantly reduce its impact on the planet.

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Boglarka Zilla Gulyas, postdoctoral research associate at SCHARR, University of Sheffield and Jill Edmondson, environmental change researcher, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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