AMERICAN celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain tragically passed away earlier this month. His legacy is not just his culinary achievements, published works, or TV food and travel documentaries, but also his outspoken advocacy against food wastage.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, “1/3 of the food produced for human consumption every year – approximately 1.3 billion tonnes – is lost or wasted, and if we could save just 1/4 of this, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people”.
Bourdain was more aware of this issue as anyone with his work in kitchens and restaurants globally. In 2017 he released the documentary, “WASTED! The Story of Food Waste” which features renowned chefs addressing food wastage in the United States, how it contributes to global issues such as hunger and climate change, and innovative solutions from around the world that aim to resolve the problem.
Never the one to be discreet, in a rare advocacy move, he employed shame and public humiliation to change the way “inefficient home cooks, people who solely rely on restaurant food, those who don’t compost, and grocery stores” operate.
He also promoted whole animal cooking, supporting local chefs who allow for “off-cuts” of meat, mainstreaming consumption of unfamiliar foods, amongst other systemic changes and laws to reduce food waste.
This story is not just one of western consumption and excess though. India’s food wastage is also a serious concern.
Despite producing a surplus of 117% of the total amount of food needed to feed India’s population, nearly 40% of the yield is wasted annually.
While Bourdain’s documentary addressed the issues plaguing developed countries, reports show that “in developing countries food waste and loss occurs at the early stages of the food value chain, [due to issues] associated with lack of support to farmers, poor/non-scientific harvesting techniques, weak infrastructure, storage, cooling, and transport facilities”.
However, we’re happy to report that there are government officials, charitable organisations, and individuals working to combat this issue and funnel excess food to the 194 million Indians who go hungry daily and 14.5% of the population who are chronically undernourished.
Ban on extravagance
For 20 years, Parliament has tried to pass a bill to cap waste at weddings, to no avail. There are currently two bills pending in Lok Sabha, The Prevention of Extravagance and Unlimited Expenditure on Marriages Bill, 2017 and The Marriages (Compulsory Registration and Prevention of Wasteful Expenditure) Bill, 2016 that are attempting to prohibit extravagant, unlimited, and wasteful expenditures on marriages, with the 2016 bill specifically calling for the “prevention of wastage of food items during marriage functions”.
In April 2017, Jammu and Kashmir’s government put restrictions on wedding culture in an attempt to cut down on food wastage. The order limited wazwan meals from the traditional 20 – 40 courses to no more than seven, guest lists to 400 – 500, and banned the sending of sweets and dry fruits with invitations.
Collective fight against excess
The Robin Hood Army, modelled on Portuguese organisation REFOOD, was established in Delhi in 2014. What started as a simple operation, six friends reaching out to caterers and restaurants to redistribute unused food to about 150 people in need, now oversees volunteer-run chapters in 66 cities (57 of which are scattered across India) in 13 countries and has served more than 5.6million people.
Mumbai’s famous dabbawallas, innovators of the food delivery system that ensures on-time delivery of 80million lunches annually, implemented a “Roti Bank” in December 2015 to prevent leftover food from ending up in landfills. Several hundred of their employees are solely dedicated to the collection of excess food and distribution to the poor. In just two years, they saved ₹40 lakh of food from the trash.
Just a few months ago, in March, a Ludhiana NGO, Ek Noor Sewa Kendra, launched Neki ki gaddi initiative “vehicle of humanity” after realising the magnitude of food wastage in their city from weddings and parties. They collect and inspect the leftovers and then distribute to the less fortunate.
One restaurateur in Bengaluru, effectively reduced 50,000 kilos of food waste daily to zero by implementing a waste segregation policy in 2013. They replaced plastic cutlery and disposable crockery with steel, give dry waste to rag pickers which is free to sell and generate revenue, send fruit and vegetable peels to a local piggery as feed, remit coconut husks to rope and mat manufacturers, compost tea and coffee residue for use by the local park, and harvest rainwater.
Residents in Gurgaon installed a 24/7 fridge to share food that would otherwise spoil or go to waste with those less fortunate in and around their society. Anyone can collect a variety of foodstuffs from the fridge that change based on the donations, from packaged sweets and leftovers to regular groceries, staples, and other essentials.
We all see food waste, be it the extra food you just can’t finish on your plate, leftovers that go to waste in the fridge or veggies that didn’t get cooked before going bad. While we don’t all have to go to the extreme changes of these philanthropists if we cut back personal waste we can be a small part of the solution.
So, next time you’re at the grocery store, only buy what you can consume during the week to avoid wasting fresh food. If you make extra food that isn’t consumed completely at dinner, then save it for lunch the next day or package it and give it to someone in need. Also, consider composting – it’s surprisingly simple and also provides you healthy mulch for your garden.
If you’d like to help Udayan Care fund healthy meals for 179 orphaned and abandoned children, you can donate here.