Thursday, May 15, 2008

Famine and Plenty II

How many of us here were told to eat up our food because “there are so many poor people who do not get food!” I guess all of us have grown up to that refrain! It was not just prudence but empathy for the poor and an effort to avoid wastage!

Mr Bush recently accused Indians and the Chinese of depleting world food reserves due to the increase in purchasing power of the average citizen of these countries. Indians were incensed at what they think is Bush trying to tell Indians to eat less so that the US can eat more. Without delving on the merits and demerits of his statement, I decided to take a critical look at something I had blogged about earlier too.

Ten years ago when we attended weddings, the left over food was usually packed and taken home and distributed to relations and neighbors. Wastage was unheard of! Today if you were to visit a Kalyana Mantapa or Wedding Hall in Bangalore, the amount of food thrown in the dust bin will leave you sick in the stomach! Except for the lower middle classes no one thinks of taking leftovers home because it is passé besides leftovers are in such large quantities and also spoil easily! What is ironic is that at such functions people have to pay per plate consumed and then the leftover is thrown away!!

There is a Kalyana Mantapa near my home and I have seen the changes in food habits of people over the years by just observing its dustbin! Ten years ago the dustbins here were a repository of used banana leaves! Today those very same dustbins are overflowing with mounds of food and plastic ware and attract dozens of stray dogs and giant rats!

Go to any hotel kitchen and you will see the afternoon buffet spread in the dustbin by evening! Some years ago, buffets were confined to star hotels and smaller hotels and restaurants cooked against orders. The demand for faster service and increase in customer’s has made many hotels adopt wasteful tactics like pre cooked food which is thrown away if a particular dish is not ordered by customers! The high returns in the food business offsets wastages!

Smaller hotels attract customers during weekdays with Buffet spreads and these also lead to a lot of wastage as the number of customers is not predictable and subsequently the left over food has to be thrown away if the patronage was low! Indian cuisine, especially the type that is sold in hotels is resource intensive unlike Continental cuisine. This affects other commodities like Gas, Edible Oil and water and the vicious chain is complete.

There is an order of Nuns in Bangalore who collect left over food from Hotels and Wedding Halls and feed the poor. But what they collect is just a drop in the ocean of waste! It is humanly impossible to collect the entire amount of leftover food from eateries in a given day!

Whatever the US may do and no matter how much they waste food, we Indians should not use that to justify ourselves! We have a large section of the society that lives hand to mouth! While I am not advocating that we live frugal lives because of that, a little bit of thought to the poor like in “not wasting food because there are so many poor people who do not get food” would be immensely helpful!


Deepti said...

Nice thought..if only we had some way of getting the point across to more people. :)

Jiby said...

i am not ashamed to say that the leftovers from my sister's engagement fed us for close to a week...our relatives also took away some hell with those who say refrigerated food ain't no good for your health.

as for what bush said, i was appalled to find the immature reactions from indian politicians to what i felt was a tribute to india's burgeoning middle just shows that these buggers are yet to overcome their inferiority complexes. you now raise the question of how much food this 300 million or so middle class is wasting. we, the middle class will not change because civic responsibility and sensitivity to the earth is lost amidst trenchant affluence.

Dhanya said...

Can't agree with you more.. I also grew up hearing this and wasting food is a taboo for me..But many of my friends tease me for this.. Their argument is that "how can you feed the hungry in somalia by eating up all the left over food here" How I wish they realised the point..

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Wohno! For some reason the link didn't come through fully. I'm deleting that and pasting again:

To summarise the above article in a true mallu's accent:

'The Americans waist(waste) more than the Indians.'

While I hanker for food for thought, you seem to be giving thought for food :p

Karthik said...

@jiby: I also agree that we waste a lot of food. But bush's statement was unwarranted. Do you know the U.S produces 300 mn tonnes of food grain for their population whereas India produces 200 mn tonnes for 1 bn population.

U.S feeds the excess corn grains to cattle to make them fat and thus get excess meat. Is that justified????

Silverine, many of the catering services at trivandrum send the excess food at functions to orphanages and such institutions. But you are right. There is no justification in wasting food.

Jiby said...

@karthik, can't blame the US for being over-productive! the moment US decides to export their food to developing nations, the developing nations cry foul that this harms indegenious farmers by lowering food prices as US agriculture sector is subsidized and none else can compete. so the US is left with an excess. and they feed it to their cattle. and now they are using it to generate ethanol which has worser implications. And yes, anything coming from george bush's mouth is unwarranted...let's just blame his speechwriter! :)

Pradeep said...

No one is bothered. At weddings I have seen people getting served items which they don't even taste. Why don't they say, no thanks. Lack of sensititivity. Good post.

Philip said...

Wasted food is part of a larger problem of declining of our culture of recycling (I think you had posted something about this some time back..the one about collecting junk as a hobby). It's unfashionable and uncool to reuse stuff now. Greater affluence leads to more wasteful lifestyles - this is applicable to individuals and society as a whole.

naan said...

An interesting story of someone who's making a business out of leftover food here.

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Haha, now the stance of all those Indians in the previous article is backed by research:

Yay!! :p

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Thank you@naan

silverine said...

Deepti: The govt will have to make public service ads to get the point across! :)

Jiby: "we, the middle class will not change because civic responsibility and sensitivity to the earth is lost amidst trenchant affluence." Spot on!

Dhanya: How I wish too! :(

Karthik S: Thank you and thanks for the links!

Karthik: That is a very big initiative indeed! Do check out the link given by Naan!

Pradeep: People who are prudent while ordering A la carte can be seen going berserk at buffets! So thats the mentality. If it’s free then you can waste!

Philip: That’s a valid point you have raised that of the declining culture of recycling!

Naan: That was a very interesting read! Felt really nice reading it! Thank you!

Karthik: It’s in today’s papers too! :p But you know what! Apparently the reason for obesity is not just over consumption but certain diseases, genetic predisposition
etc too!

mathew said...

Compared to the heart wrenching scenes in parts of Africa..we are living in paradise...I remember getting scolded by dad whenever I used to waste food as a kid..I never looked at it from the greater presepctive. But thanks that he ingrained those values much earlier on.It is not just the restuarants, each one of us are also partly to blame for wastage.It is true that there is enough food in the world, it is the distribution that is flawed!

Flavia Watch said...

I thought this blog would be about thinkpads...

I've had an Indian friend at this camp several years ago whose dad asked us to eat everything that we had bought for our dinner at an Indian restaurant.

the food was really good, so I didn't have hard time making a clean plate.

I think the Israeli & Koreans et al ppl maybe a 10 yrs ago kept strict about making clean plate (literally, to make your dishes shine just by finishing it clean) but now they've loosened up or something.

saphire said...

extravagant weddings are my pet peeve too.... More coz Ive seen families of close friends go thru hell and beyond just to make them happen.And the food wastage, really, what ARE they thinkin!!

Krishna Vattam said...

krishna vattam
I find your posts thought provoking.I am editore in chief of two regional newspapers being published from mysore.Can i make use of these posts for publication.Regards Krishna vattam,

Jackfruit said...

We Indians seem to take Mr Bush too seriously :D:P

Donating food is really not as easy as it appears. If a hotel starts donating food without blessings of local politicians and goons it will not be long before they get into fake cases of food poisoning :D:D.
I have heard of a star hotel that stopped donating food after getting into trouble.