Meal Delivery Kits: Convenience, Conservation, or Both?
We live in an age of time deprivation. With the demands of work, family, and life obligations it can be challenging to find the time to shop and prepare 7 unique dinners every week. The food industry has noticed this void and created a modern day solution: meal-kit delivery services. Meal delivery services can be a convenient solution for individuals and families who struggle to get a healthy dinner on the table and who can afford the greater cost margin. Current research suggests that despite packaging waste and delivery emissions, meal delivery kits may still be an environmentally friendly option due to reduced food waste and a streamlined supply chain.
Prevents Food Waste
One of the greatest sources of emissions within the food system is food waste. US consumers waste on average 30% of daily calories available for consumption. This adds up to 30 million acres of cropland used to produce this food wasted every year, a total of 7% of total cropland. Food waste has such an expansive environmental impact because of the immense amount of resources and energy that goes into the food wasted including cropland, fertilizers, irrigation water, transportation, processing, and procurement.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Researchers at the University of Michigan compared environmental impacts from meal kits and grocery store meals and found greater greenhouse gas emissions from standard grocery store meals. On average grocery store meals had greenhouse gas emissions that were 33% higher than meal kits. The reduction in food waste and transportation were reported to offset the increased emissions from packaging.
What's the Most Sustainable Option?
Meal kits may be less environmentally harmful than standard grocery store meals but they are not necessarily the most sustainable option. The gold standard for environmentally friendly food purchasing would be purchasing produce in reusable bags, buying nuts, seeds, and grains, in bulk, purchasing minimal pre-packaged foods, shopping primarily at farmers markets, and limiting meat and animal product consumption. All of these practices would allow your environmental footprint to be substantially less than if you purchased your food via meal delivery kits.
Meal kits are a luxury that not everyone can afford. It is not surprising that when compared dollar to dollar, meal delivery kits come out more expensive than store bought groceries. The meals served from meal delivery kits can be elaborate and contain expensive, exotic ingredients you wouldn’t normally purchase. Shopping for bulk goods and seasonal produce deals would allow you to reduce your carbon footprint and save money.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
The popularity of meal delivery services has skyrocketed, filling kitchens with preselected and delivered ingredients to prepare a simple recipe at home. Meal kits provide a convenient meal option that is portioned to limit food and time wasted, however they can be more expensive than buying your own food. The reduction of food wasted and the streamlined nature of meal delivery kits, make some of them an environmentally friendly solution for individuals looking for a time saving alternative to standard grocery meals.
Interested in trying out a meal kit service? Try the following environmentally conscientious services:
- Acme: A Washington based meal delivery kit that includes locally sourced ingredients and healthy recipes. https://theacmebox.com
- Purple Carrot: A plant-based meal kit service with fresh ingredients and balanced meal offerings. https://www.purplecarrot.com
Conrad Z, Niles MT, Neher DA, Roy ED, Tichenor NE, Jahns L. Relationship between food waste, diet quality, and environmental sustainability. Plos One. 2018;13(4). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0195405.
Heard BR, Bandekar M, Vassar B, Miller SA. Comparison of life cycle environmental impacts from meal kits and grocery store meals. Resources, Conservation and Recycling. 2019;147:189-200. doi:10.1016/j.resconrec.2019.04.008.
About the Author
Sophia Weiss is a passionate plant-based Dietetic Intern at Bastyr University who aspires to reverse the chronic disease epidemic through innovative and nutrition centric public health initiatives.