Asparagus in winter, pears from Argentina, Peruvian blueberries and Californian almonds — these are just a few of the several thousand products shoppers can buy when they enter a supermarket.
It's something our ancestors a century ago likely never imagined, but we've become used to this bounty of choice when we select our food.
"It is truly peculiar to walk into a Carrefour Marche in France or Wal Mart here in the United States and see what's on offer," says Janet Chrzan, a nutritional anthropologist from the University of Pennsylvania. "We are living in a food environment which is unlike anything our species has ever encountered."
German supermarkets carry more than 10,000 products on their shelves. In the US, it is more than 30,000. Climate scientists say change, including moderating our diets, is exactly what's needed to bring down greenhouse gas emissions from food. That means eating less red meat and more plant-based foods. Opting for seasonal produce rather than buying, say, strawberries in winter can also make a difference.
Food production accounts for around a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Most of that comes from meat and dairy, which contribute almost 15% of global emissions. Producing food also causes other problems, such as pollution, biodiversity loss, contamination of soils and water shortages.
Food consumption has been increasing worldwide for decades. High-income countries, including the US and Germany, take in the most calories per capita. At the same time, the UN estimates that households globally throw away 11% of the total food available for consumption, although this statistic does not include low-income countries.
When faced with an abundance of choice in the grocery store, consumers tend to make decisions that are quick and based on habit. Our consumer behavior is notoriously difficult to change because food choices and eating patterns are so embedded in the way we live.
Stefan Wahlen, a food sociologist at the University of Giessen in Germany, says despite small blips, people tend to eat the same food 95% of the time.
"You live in your routines, and even though you might be trying some new foodstuff, there's little variation in what we actually eat," he says, adding that these routines help us in "coping with the complexity of our daily lives."
Two-thirds of consumers in the study by the Brussels-based European Consumer Organization said they were open to changing their eating habits for environmental reasons, with many willing to reduce food waste at home, buy more seasonal fruit and veggies and eat more plant-based foods. But only one in five were willing to spend more money for sustainable food.
It can also be complicated for consumers to know which foods are ecologically sustainable, given that most products don't display their carbon footprints or how much land and water went into producing them.
Food consumerism: What′s stopping the switch to a climate-friendly diet? | Environment | All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 29.06.2022
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