The Psychology Behind Food Waste in Malaysia

The Psychology Behind Food Waste in Malaysia

Malaysia is a vibrant Southeast Asian country with a vastly rich cultural heritage, a lot of which is signified through food. Our food is something we take a lot of pride in, and it plays an integral role in our culture, society and families. 

So, if food means so much to us, why do we still waste such huge amounts of it? There are so many factors that contribute to our food waste habits, and in this article, we will delve into some of the psychological explanations for why we may be wasting food in Malaysia. 

Psychological Factors That Lead To Food Waste

Saving Face & Being Generous

Hospitality and generosity in Malaysia are things that are extremely important and hold incredible significance. Think of the last time you or your family hosted guests in your home. How many dishes do you recall there being? Even if there were very few guests, there were probably more than enough dishes to feed everyone several times. 

This is due to the aforementioned generosity especially when it comes to hospitality towards guests. Over-preparing food and the feeling that hosts should offer an array of dish options can (and often does) lead to food wastage.

Panic Buying & The Fear Of Running Out

Running low on food supplies like sugar and rice is not a new occurrence for Malaysians. 

For example, just two short years ago, panic buying was at an all-time high when Covid hit the nation, leading to an alarmingly low supply of food like rice, sugar and oil.

Besides panic buying, the fear of not having enough to eat often drives Malaysians to cook more than necessary. This "just in case" mentality stems from historical times of scarcity. 

Superstitions and Beliefs

Many Malaysians believe in various food-related superstitions. For instance, it is considered unlucky to finish all the rice in the pot, leading to small portions of uneaten rice. 

While these are not immense amounts of food waste occurring at a time, they pile up and create bigger amounts of food waste over time. 

Lack of Awareness

While awareness of food waste is growing in Malaysia, many people still lack information on its environmental and economic impacts. 

This is why organizations like Zero Waste Malaysia are crucial in the efforts to increase awareness of food waste and waste management in Malaysia. 

Aesthetic Preferences 

Food presentation is crucial in Malaysian culture. Even slightly imperfect dishes may be discarded, contributing to food waste. 

Especially when it comes to fresh produce like fruits and vegetables, we often see superficial imperfections as signs to discard our food instead of what they are: a testament to how organic the produce may be. External/skin-deep flaws on produce can be an indication of a lack of pesticide use, which is a positive. 

All that being said, the psychology of food waste in Malaysia is deeply rooted in culture, tradition, and societal norms. While Malaysians have an enduring love affair with food, it's essential to strike a balance between cultural practices and the need to address the pressing issue of food waste. 

Through education, awareness, and a shift in attitudes towards food, Malaysians can cherish their culinary heritage while ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come. Food is not just about filling our stomachs; it's a reflection of our values, and it's time to make waste-free dining a part of that legacy.

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