Have you ever thought about how much food we waste, especially at restaurants and those lavish dinners and weddings where there are a zillion dishes to choose from? One would think that a buffet would encourage eating wisely and not wasting food as one can pick and choose, but do we? We pile our plates with a little of everything in sight and end up with a huge mound of rich food, which we can scarcely finish. So where does it all go? Into the garbage bin, of course!
I wish we didn’t give up old customs, many of which made a lot of sense. Back when we were young, small children were fed by their mothers/aunts/grandmothers to the accompaniment of some interesting tale. The food would disappear in no time with the child staggering away with a full tummy and a happy smile. A reluctant child would be coaxed to eat one more bite with, ‘This bite for you, and this one for the crow.’ Usually the mouthful intended for the crow ended in the child’s mouth too without him realizing it! Whatever was left on the plate didn’t make it to the garbage bin, but ended up as a meal to a crow or a stray dog.
In days when refrigerators had not come into every home, limited quantities of food was cooked and consumed fresh, morning and evening. It made for healthy eating and prevented waste. When food was left over and could be preserved overnight, it was eaten the next day. Leftover rice soaked in water is still a refreshing, cooling and filling breakfast in the rural south. Far from saving food, I feel that refrigerators encourage wastage, as often we keep something for days and then finally chuck it out as being stale!
Back in our days, leftovers encouraged giving and sharing – with maids, night watchmen, beggars and even stray dogs and cattle. I remember, that around nine every night when most people had finished their dinners, beggars would make the rounds collecting food from the houses. Some were regulars and the lady of the house would sometimes keep aside some sweet or other treat made that day for them!
When food was served on plantain leaves, there would be some leftover at the end, not as a social grace, but for the animals that ate them – cows, dogs and crows. Today even if we serve food on plantain leaves, they are thrown in the bin, so there is no logic in leaving food behind. OK, so we don’t have night beggars, stray dogs or crows to eat leftover food, but what prevents us from buying carefully, cooking in limited quantities and avoiding piling our plates at buffets?
Here I am reminded of the time when my son complained that he didn’t want to eat a particular dish. I told him about all the hungry children in Somalia who would give anything for the food he was refusing to eat. ‘Ma, why don’t you give the food to those children? I really don’t want to eat it.’
He was too young to understand that the entire world is one inter-connected whole. What each one of us does, affects someone else across the globe — even the leftover food from one plate. Multiply it with all the food, cooked and raw, wasted around the world and it makes for a staggering figure. I found a bit of statistic that made my head spin: Every year, consumers in developed countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa — nearly 225 million tons!
Our elders were right: Waste not, want not!
The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard!