In times of scarcity we waste more food than ever. Says our rubbish bin

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“Logic is good in reasoning, but in life it is useless.” The phrase It is from the French writer Remy de Gourmont and although it sounds a bit lapidary, the truth is that it hits the spot. For example, think about the situation that we are finding now in some supermarkets with the empty shelves. Given that we have been dragging a transport strike for days and there is the fear that the war in Ukraine complicate supply of certain products, the logical thing would be for us to buy what we need, wasting as little as possible. No?

That would be reasonable. Archeology shows us, however, that we do the opposite: buy and throw away more than ever. Sociologists know this well because that is how our worst informer, the one who best knows our habits as consumers, has “snitched” on it: the rubbish bin.

What your garbage says about you

Carl Campbell Lv3anztdbxg Unsplash 1

Some time ago, in the 1970s, anthropologist William Rathjefrom the University of Arizona, decided to get his hands dirty—in the literal sense of the expression—with a curious experiment. Along with a group of students, he dedicated himself to rummaging through the garbage of the inhabitants of Tucson, the second largest city in Arizona. They did not do it to snoop or a strange affiliation, but to hunt for data. they wanted to know what did he say about the residents in the municipality and whether or not it matched what people said about themselves in surveys or other academic studies.

The conclusion—surprise!—was no. Tucson Garbage Project, as the initiative is known, and which over time has spread to other regions, left us with some curious data about how we behave. One of his conclusions was that alcohol consumption was higher than previously thought and recognized the people. Others, however, stand out for how “anti-intuitive” they are. For example, Rathje’s team found that, contrary to what one might think, middle-class households waste more than the rich. At least in crises.

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Perhaps the most surprising lesson, however, was how we act in the most difficult times, when, like now, we face the risk of shortages of certain products. Contrary to what is expected, to what dictates the logic against which Gourmont warned, it is in those stages of crisis that we waste the most. Why? As the University of Arizona itself explains, facing periods of economic stress and the possibility of rising prices, people rushed to buy perishable products in large quantities. so many, that they exceeded what they could consume before they spoiled and then they were forced to throw them away.

For its analysis, the team took into account some of the crises that had affected the area. “During the spring of 1973, there was a meat shortage in the US and finding a good meat was difficult and expensive. So the garbage collectors decided to investigate and searched the garbage for 15 months between the spring of 1973 and 1974, collecting the meat (but not counting the fat or the bone), and they noticed that a strange pattern appeared. Indeed, the study revealed that people had discarded more meat during the shortage than after it, “says Daniel García -satin on a study published in 2009 in Arqueoweb.

“The explanation boils down to the practice of crisis buying. When the media and the population start talking about crisis, this leads to the behavior of buying everything you can, even if you don’t even think about eating it —Garcia-Raso abounds—. The result: more waste.” At War in the University They go a little further and break down the figures of the study. During the 1974 US beef shortage, the Garbage Project concluded that three times as much meat was wasted that in times of abundance and when the price of sugar doubled due to the 1975 shortage, consumption, far from suffering, ended up tripling.

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Curiously, in times of scarcity we buy products that we would not normally take from the supermarket, which contributes to the fact that part of our purchase ends up in the garbage. The project initiated by Rathje lasted for years and has inspired other researchers since the 1970s. Now, it leaves us with a valuable lesson about how we usually act when we are afraid of shortages, an experience with which —everything is said— we already familiarized in 2020when the first state of alarm for the pandemic was decreed.

Images | Carl Campbell (Unsplash) and Richard Burlton (Unsplash)

Via | War at the University

“Logic is good in reasoning, but in life it is useless.” The phrase It is from the French writer Remy…

“Logic is good in reasoning, but in life it is useless.” The phrase It is from the French writer Remy…

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