Festival season and tables full of food. Markets are offering us throughout the whole year so many varieties of food; and it is so difficult for us to decide what we will have. At home my vegetables and fruits got bad again, since I was eating out. At the restaurant, the serving was so huge I could not eat it all.
We waste so much food. For decades, wasted food was a hidden problem – something so obvious, yet unnoticeable. We, Indians waste as much food as the whole United Kingdom consumes – a statistic that may not be so good indicator since the population of India is 18 times bigger than UK. Still, food wastage is an alarming issue in India.
Weddings, canteens, hotels, social and family functions,food storage, households spew out so much of the food. Another statistic says that up to 40% of the food produced in India or in the numbers 50,000 Crore worth food is wasted every year in the country. On the other hand, India ranks 63 among 88 countries in Global Hunger Index. On the world level, we throw away 1.3 billion tons of food each year!
Why is food wastage such a huge problem? The food industry uses ¼ of fresh water used to produce food which is ultimately wasted, even as millions of people still don’t have access to drinking water. The world produces enough food to feed twice the world′s present population, but ironically the number of hungry people has been increasing over time. Acres of land are deforested to grow food. 300 million barrels of oil are used to produce the food which is ultimately wasted. Above all, the food waste thrown to the landfills causes greenhouse gas emissions, produces toxic chemicals and adds to climate change which effects the environment drastically.
Let’s try to understand the food waste a little bit more. Food waste refers to the food that has been thrown away or that could not be used. It depends on the behaviour of consumers and retailers. There are two types of food waste, avoidable and unavoidable. Unavoidable food waste includes food which is no edible for human consumption, like fish bones, fat and skin, egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels. Yet, it can still be used for composting, converting it as a fuel or can be used for animal feeding. Avoidable food waste includes damaged/rotten/expired food that we do not use for selling or extra food which we make – in restaurants, hotels, markets or even at our homes. We can avoid these wastage by planning carefully!!
Unfortunately, we eat with our eyes. The food which we buy has to look good, even if that means that a little bit rotten apple will have to be thrown away. We need a diverse supply of our groceries and market is trying to fulfill all our wishes. When we celebrate birthday parties, weddings we try to “show off” with dozens of different dishes in the quantity which we cannot even imagine. We over buy food, even if it is clear we cannot consume all of it.
How can we solve this problem? First, we have to reduce our waste and second we have to know that waste is never a waste. It is energy, a material, which can be used for some other purpose!
At home, learn to shop and cook smarty – it will help your pocket as well. The unavoidable food waste can be composted in your garden or on your balcony. Food wastage will become a resort for new home grown food! If not, try at least to segregate it from another waste – it is the only way that food waste will be dumped in a right manner and will not affect other waste like paper and plastic which can be recycled. Instead of throwing away the uneaten food in your garbage, it can be donated to charities or NGOs in your area. One of these kind organizations is Robin Hood Army, placed in many cities across India. They will give the food to the most needed. You would not only preserve environment but also bring smiles on the unfortunate faces.
Even if you are not working in the hospitality sector, you can still minimize food waste. Ask in the restaurants where you usually eat about their food waste management. Choose the restaurants which are zero waste or they dispose food waste responsibly. If you cannot eat everything that you have order, pack it for later.
More will have to be done to meet zero-hunger and zero-waste initiative, including the consumers, food and hospitality sector as well as the government. Collectively, we have to make transition from massive “industry of food” and excessive amount of produced food in one side of the world, and use it to stop the hunger in the other parts of the world. Both – excessive food production and hunger are killing millions of people around the world and our environment. We need to realize that food waste is harmful to the environment in the same way that any other wastage which is not managed properly. We have to avoid avoidable and properly take care of the unavoidable food waste. We need to realize that food waste is useful and could be an excellent resource.
And most of all, instead of eating with eyes, we should think before we eat.
Member of Vatavaran team