Friday, July 5, 2013

The Sin of Wastage

(The following post was written for Scroll 360 on the occasion of World Environment Day, celebrated each year on June 5th. I wanted to share it with the readers of my blog here because of the issues it raises and the awareness it attempts to create)

Ouch! That much of waste is sure to hurt. It does. No, it does not hurt you. It did not hurt me till sometime back, but now, each time I see a morsel of food being fed to the bin, my heart screams out in protest. Do you know whom all that perfectly-eatable-passed-of-as-trash food hurt? Those significant millions languishing in Asia, Sub-Sahara Africa, and even in otherwise prosperous nations, whose skin is just clinging desperately to the bones as a last ditch attempt to stay alive. They have nothing called flesh on their body. All they have is an ignominious stripping off of basic human rights of living. Even as someone begins broaching the topic of food scarcity and food security, it is impossible to not recall to mind the simple words of the Mahatma – Nature has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.  

            I am a foodie – a big one, mind you! There is a favourite anecdote my mother often relates in front of family gatherings, much to my absolute mortification. As a child, a really small one, I had once gone for a wedding where I was too short to be able to reach the extravagant culinary displays. What was in my reach, was however, a bin, where people were dumping their food-laden plates. Next thing my parents discover, I am not just eating out of it, but relishing the food too! I was rescued, mildly rebuked for a minute, and then I found myself amid loud guffaws. What was amusing, however, for a gathering with no crease of remorse on their faces for wasting criminal quantities of food is actually a way of life for an unreal number of people out there in the world. We all have that one moment where we see a significant change in the way we perceive the world, that makes us look within, that moment when something breaks inside us only to give way to something better. My moment came while reading an old case study, where acute food scarcity in southern India had driven a man to consume his own faeces. Try as hard as I might, I can never shake off that image – and I would love to impose it on the minds of those who throw away eatables as a routine.

            Why is today a good day to talk about food wastage and the need to put curbs on it? Well, that is because today is the World Environment Day, as declared and observed by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The WED was conceptualized in 1970s. Besides carrying the intrinsic message of saving the environment, it also observes distinct themes each year to address agendas of pressing concern. This year, UNEP has declared ‘Think. Eat. Save.’ as the theme to be followed for WED across the globe. Ian Somerhalder, the hot and irresistible Damon Salvatore of Vampire Diaries fame, is the celebrity face of the ‘Think. Eat. Save’ campaign. He also runs a foundation the aims of which, as he puts it, are as diverse as the plants, humans and creatures of earth face. In a UNEP release, Somerhalder quotes, “It is absolutely nuts that 30 per cent of all food is thrown away. That translates into $48.3 billion. Can you imagine what we could do with $48 billion. Can you imagine the decrease in pesticides, water and land use if we no longer needed to produce that 30 per cent that is just ending up in the bin?

            Now, do not take these statistics lightly. What is being implied above is that almost one third of the food production of the world goes waste. Waste! And in measures big and small, we all contribute to it. Now, try reading the last few lines of the second paragraph of this article all over again, and think how criminal it is to be a party to something which is avoidable by little, conscious efforts on our part. Especially being inhabitants of India, that instance could not have dwindled in our memory where large-scale rotting of grains in India was reported against a backdrop of repeated dismal performances on indices of child health, nutrition and mortality.

Blame it all on the government if you please, but check the next time you head out to splurge money on junk, part of which contributes to unhealthy fats in your body, and the other part of which contributes to overflowing trash cans. Go out to buy fresh veggies every once in a few days – make sure you buy only as much as you can guarantee will not rot in your latest refrigerators. You could also call up your mother or grandmother for interesting recipes on how to use leftover food from fridge to make interesting delicacies. I was glad to see an entire episode of MasterChef India dedicated to reusing leftover food in unimaginable ways, a method even Sanjeev Kapoor endorses in the many recipes he prescribes for his followers. If there is no one else to guide you, contact me. My mother, recently, churned up yummy masala fritters made with nothing more than boiled rice and vegetables which were left from a day earlier. Interestingly, there is a day observed by my grandmother, called ‘Basoda’, where she eats only food from a day before. I might not know the myth, but the thought behind observing the day is both, cool and rational.          

In my understanding, even waste is not waste. What is the most common image of waste in our heads is the best source of nutrients for soil when used as manure. I hope everyone understands that technically, you cannot throw waste ‘out’, because there is no ‘out’, unless you know some technique of launching it in space, that too, not without consequences. Using kitchen waste to make compost is an age-old technique – only we’re too busy to follow it. May I ask why? Is it because you are sure that a cataclysm will skip your generation and strike the next, from which you snap all ties of kinship?

This is what UNEP website says – ‘According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted. This is equivalent to the same amount produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger.

I wish you all a very happy World Environment Day, and exhort you all to take some decisions which is retrospect, you are all very proud of. Days like this remind us that time to act cannot be postponed indefinitely. Perhaps time to act is now.


  1. I cannot even begin to tell you how angry i get when I see people stuffing their plates at buffet parties just because it is free food and then completely waste it....

  2. I am proud of the fact that I am never one of them. We've been taught since childhood to serve little, and many times if needed. Not respecting the grains we get to consume is no option.

  3. I'm guilty of wasting food as a youngster. As an adult, it's healthy for my body and my environment to take what I can eat, so I don't stuff myself or waste.
    At home, we have a nice way of dealing with leftovers- we feed it to the hungry birds and animals.

    1. It is very nice to know. I do it myself, and it leaves me with a sense of little pride for having acted in the right direction.

  4. Food wastage is indeed a really big concern. Good to see a nice article on this topic on the world environment day. Even in the western world, the wastage is enormous. Big companies like Kroger, Walmart buy all the tomatoes, and then then put only the perfect, shiny, round ones on their shelves (coz that only sells), the rest ~60% is just dumped in garbage. This is just an example. People show concern about how to save that massive wastage which could potentially feed almost all the hungry kids, but no one is keenly interested in the solution. Hope we wake up asap.

    1. It is nice to know your perspective on this issue, which is in sync with mine. What is even better is that your have shared a piece of information which substantiates what I was trying to talk about in the above article.

      I hope and pray people see sense and stop causing wastage which is hurtful to others.