Wasting food is unethical and harmful to nature

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As soon as Virat Kohli landed in Thiruvananthapuram for the 5th ODI against West Indies, the Indian skipper expressed his wish to try out the traditional Kerala sadya (feast). He really enjoyed the vegetarian dishes that were lavishly served on the fresh banana leaf. At the end of the feast he instructed the hotel staff not to waste whatever was leftover and that he would have the same dishes for dinner as well. The left over dishes were stored in the refrigerator and re-heated for dinner. While being absolutely impressed with Virat’s incredible respect for food, one couldn't help but think about some parties and functions where food is wasted in huge amounts.

The nature produces enough food to sustain and nourish each and every life that is born on this earth. However, the most alarming fact is that we throw away almost 1/3rd of it. As per reports, about 130 tons of food is wasted all over the world, in a year. Most of us cook more than what is needed and throw away the rest. Meanwhile half of the world population may be struggling even to have one proper meal a day. They may be hoping to find at least one ingredient or food item to fill their stomachs.

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Do Keralites waste too much food? After observing some of the recent trends, it has become quite obvious that food wastage has risen significantly in Kerala. In the olden days, when food was served on banana leafs, whatever was required was only served, which gave no chance to waste food.

However, today the ways of hosting guests have changed. From a humble meal served elegantly on a banana leaf the celebrations became centred on buffet meals where there are quite a lot of dishes to choose from. To enjoy a satisfying buffet meal, one should understand the basic etiquettes of it. Usually there would be a number of starters including various types of salads and soups. The meal should be enjoyed in courses, and the main course, too, would have a few savoury dishes, followed by the desserts.

However, most of us do not follow these courses and straight away head for the main course. Some may be busy loading up their plates with different dishes as they are reluctant to approach the stands for another helping or course. They wouldn't even bother whether they have taken the dishes that they really want to eat. Unable to finish what was taken, more than half of it is thrown. It is really an offence to waste food in such an irresponsible manner, especially since there are millions of people in our country who struggle to have a daily meal. It is very important to learn to enjoy every bite of food and respect it so that food wouldn't be wasted.

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Children should be taught the value of food and encouraged to serve themselves whatever is just required. They should be told that, in buffets, they can actually go for a second helping if they want. It is important to give up the habit of piling up food on plate only to throw it away. Huge amount of food is wasted at hotels after a party or an event is conducted. It is highly disappointing to waste an expensive plate of food which requires skill to prepare it.

This can be avoided to a certain extent by creating awareness among the diners. In an all-you-can-eat buffet which serves up to 25-30 dishes, the diners are expected to eat every dish in their right course. The meal should ideally begin on soups followed by salads of choice. Varieties of breads or flat bread, appam, and different rice dishes are served in the main course. Bread/flat bread could be eaten with curries. If the dishes are delicious, the diner can obviously go for a second or third helping. In a typical buffet 80 gm of meat is served per diner for the starter, and 200-250 gm for the main course. It would slightly vary depending upon the people. However, if food is eaten in this quantity, then one can easily finish off the buffet on a 'sweet' note by enjoying the desserts as well.

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Usually for the parties conducted at hotels around Kerala, more amount of food than what is actually required is prepared. For an event comprising of 1000 guests, food would be cooked for at least 1200 people. Cooking a giant feast takes immense effort and a lot of people work hard for hours to cook up food that is enough to feed a particular number of guests. It is high time that we adopt a unique food culture, especially in buffet meals, that expects us to taste a bit of food before loading it in our plates. This could significantly reduce the amount of food that is wasted.

We should take note of the amount of food that is wasted at our homes as well. It is, however, estimated that a Malayali household would waste food worth at least Rs 2000 per month. There are many organizations which collect leftover food from parties and functions and distribute it among the needy or at orphanages and rehabilitation centres. It would be easy for both the parties if such organizations are contacted before hand and enter into an agreement regarding the distribution of the leftovers. Wasting food isn't just unethical, but it may severely affect the environment as well. Ecological scientists say that when food decays, it produces methyl which emits 23% more heat into the environment than the carbon dioxide.

In foreign countries, the tidiness of the plate in which a person has eaten is significant. It indicates that he/she has taken just enough food and has completely eaten it. Just like the diners are given clean plates to eat food on, they, too, are obliged to return tidied plates without any leftovers on it. To imbibe such a wonderful food culture, one should give up being lazy or reluctant to go for a second helping of food. In a buffet, one can avoid wastage by understanding the dishes first. It should be noted that food wouldn't be wasted if you choose not to help yourselves to a dish. If food is mindlessly wasted after serving it on your plates, then the hosts are forced to prepare more amounts to feed every guest. There is a huge difference between throwing away huge amounts of untouched cooked food and efficiently managing the inedible remains of what you have eaten. It is a strenuous job to dump food in huge quantities in pits, the very next day after conducting a party or an event.

Earlier, when traditional sadya was served on banana leaf, much food wasn't thrown away. The dishes were served in small portions on the leaf and this significantly reduced wastage of food. Besides, in the rural neighbourhoods, the leftover curries were packed and sent off to other homes in the locality. Nowadays these are all thrown away. It would also be difficult to efficiently manage the food waste from the parties which could go past midnight. The presence of rotten, stinking food could be uncomfortable for the people of the locality and could even result in many health problems. So we are actually doing the society a favour when we reduce food wastage.

Millions of people around the globe face severe starvation due to the lack of availability of food items. Collapse of the agriculture sector, wide destruction of farmlands and over-pricing of food has further worsened the situation. If we waste whatever we have now, we are at the risk of starvation and lack of nutritious food in the near future, warn experts.

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It is important to realize that there are millions of people in the world, especially children, who can't lead a healthy life as they do not have enough food to eat. They are plagued by nutritional deficiencies and severe health problems, due to lack of good food, which in turn deny them the beauty and fun of childhood. A proper food culture where food is revered should be imbibed in our consciousness, and pledge ourselves that the amount of food waste would be significantly reduced.

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