Stop wasting food, share the plate!

At a time when India is fighting malnutrition and poverty, it’s sad to see people wasting food during social gatherings. But there are few who bear the torch on awareness, writes Vibha Singh

 After the big fat wedding is done with, and the guests have gone home, what remains is the litter, dirty dishes and piles of excess high-calorie food. Similar is the case in many hotels and restaurants after the lavish buffet. In a country where lakhs of people go to bed without a meal, it’s ironical that such a ridiculous amount of food is wasted every day.

Subhash Talekar, spokesperson and president of the Dabbawala Association and founder of Roti Bank says, “On an average, 1,000 people attend a wedding where two meals are served – lunch at the wedding and dinner for reception besides breakfast. And at least 20 different items are served at any wedding ceremony. The maximum items served include soup, juice, followed by vegetables, bhakri, puri and pulao. The food wasted at these functions is enough to feed hundreds of poor children in the city.”

Food is precious. It is the most powerful basic necessity for human beings. It is what keeps us going. It is what is keeping us alive. But wastage of food is a clear indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with our civilisation. Vishvanath Mahadeshwar, mayor of Mumbai recently said while taking up the issue, “Food wastage is fast assuming serious dimensions. So it should be our first priority.”

A huge wastage no doubt takes place at weddings and restaurants, though the awareness around this has grown in the last five years. While some restaurants in India employ food controllers to check food spoilage, others donate it to their staff and other personnel, and smaller standalone restaurants, donate it to orphanages. Few also reuse non-perishable food. Dattu Baban Bhoknal, India’s Olympic Rowing Event participant, says, “I request each and every citizen, not to waste any food because 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night.”

  Rotten truth!

There is no food waste in nature whatsoever. Everything is used and recycled. Every resource is used intelligently. The only species on this planet unable to cut down on food waste is us humans.  It is a universal problem, but India as country can afford it a whole lot less than many others. According to a report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, every third malnourished child is Indian. “Yet, tons of food is wasted every day. By 2050, the earth’s population will reach nine billion. By then, food production must be increased by 70 per cent to meet demand. Today we already produce enough food waste to feed three billion humans. Reducing food waste should number among our key focal areas,” says Jaya Goyal, a city-based sociologist.

The UN estimates that in just 20 years, the earth’s population will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water. The increasing changes to our climate affect the world’s agriculture and thus, the production of food. Floods, droughts and other increasingly irregular climate patterns will only worsen in future. More and more farmers are being forced to use GMOs and pesticides to ensure the survival of their harvest due to a changing climate, which in turn affects the loss of biodiversity.

Initiative taken to stop food wastage

The food wastage became a major issue in 1960s when guest control was introduced to regulate the number of guests at a wedding or a social gathering in the aftermath of Chinese aggression and Bengal famine. Recently, the government of Jammu and Kashmir had taken up a similar initiative.

Scotland was able to reduce food wastage in restaurants through a simple solution — offering customers branded doggy bags so they could get leftover food packed. The ‘Good to Go’ scheme was piloted by Zero Waste Scotland, a government-funded organisation that aims to reduce waste, and within two years, more than 100 restaurants signed up for the programme.

The UK has a food waste supermarket, which sells food discarded by supermarkets and food businesses, on a pay-as-you-feel basis.  In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call against wastage of food prompted the government to consider asking high-end restaurants and hotels to specify the portion size of a meal to enable customers order the right amount. Keeping this wastage at hotels Dabbawala Association started a Roti Bank that helps provide leftover food to hungry residents across the city. “Every day, we feed at least 150 to 200 people,” says Talekar adding, “Most of the parties happen at night. So we do the collection and then distribute it among poor people.”

Similar kinds of efforts are made by Rishikesh Kadam, matrimony consultant who has come out with a portal, Food for All. If you have surplus edible food, click a photo and upload it as a free advert on the website with location details. You will be contacted by those in your vicinity, in need of food. Robin Hood Army, is another NGO that, operates not only in India but also in Pakistan, they collect leftover food and distribute it to people.

 How you can help!

Buy only what you actually need. Selina Juul, founder of Stop Wasting Food movement Denmark advises, “Cook leftovers. Share food with your neighbours. Use it up. It is the simple wisdom of our grandmas, the very same grandmas who admonished us as children not to waste food and to think of all the hungry children in Africa.”

Sharing her views Amit Jathar, president, Morpheus Creations India and Organiser of ‘Indo Torch Run to promote the cause of Food Wastage’ says, “What is needed at present is to create awareness on the issue. We have been conducting a torch march every year to spread awareness among masses on ‘Zero Waste of Food’ and many school students, corporates have come forward to support the cause.”

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