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Food Wastage In India, And What You Can Do About It

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INDIANS waste as much food as the whole of United Kingdom consumes – a statistic that may not so much indicative of our love of surfeit, as it is of our population. Still, food wastage is an alarming issue in India. Our street and garbage bins, landfills have sufficient proof to prove it.

Weddings, canteens, hotels, social and family functions, households spew out so much food. According to the United Nations Development Programme, up to 40% of the food produced in India is wasted. About 21 million tonnes of wheat are wasted in India and 50% of all food across the world meets the same fate and never reaches the needy. In fact, according to the agriculture ministry, INR 50,000 crores worth of food produced is wasted every year in the country.

In India, the bigger the wedding, the larger the party and the more colossal the waste. No doubt weddings and banquets are a huge source of food wastage, but restaurants and hotels also contribute to food wastage, though the awareness around this has grown in the last five years. While some restaurants in India employ food controllers to check food spoilage, others donate it to their staff and other personnel, and smaller standalone restaurants, donate it to orphanages. Few also reuse non-perishable food.

The Charaka Samhita, which was formulated 3000 years ago lays down the fundamental principles of food as medicine.

Why is food wastage a problem?

  • 25% of fresh water used to produce food is ultimately wasted, even as millions of people still don’t have access to drinking water. When you calculate the figures in cubic kilometers, this is a bit more than an average river.
  • Even though the world produces enough food to feed twice the world’s present population, food wastage is ironically behind the billions of people who are malnourished. The number of hungry people in India has increased by 65 million more than the population of France. According to a survey by Bhook (an organization working towards reducing hunger) in 2013, 20 crore Indians sleep hungry on any given night. About 7 million children died in 2012 because of hunger/malnutrition.
  • Acres of land are deforested to grow food. Approximately 45% of India’s land is degraded primarily due to deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, and excessive groundwater extraction to meet the food demand.
  • 300 million barrels of oil are used to produce food that is ultimately wasted.

The Minister of Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal seems to have chalked out a roadmap. Yes, a map literally, which shows exactly what fruits and vegetables are grown and where.

She says, “My ministry works as a catalyst. It has the potential for doing a couple of thingswhich are the need of the hour. Firstly, bring down food wastage. Food is being wasted at the harvest point and during transportation. If the same food which is wasted can be processed, it would mean it could either be available in raw form or in bottled form at a price which is affordable to the aam aadmi.”

Food wastage cripples a country’s economy to an extent that most of us are unaware. Some measures that the government needs to take include containing wastage in transportation, improve storage facilities (the cold storage chain is 50% less than required and that too needs to be brought up to world standards), food processing also needs to be sped up so food is saved and wasted less to feed more.

While you may not be able to reduce food lost during production, you can certainly reduce food at your personal level of food waste. Every step taken in the right direction counts.

Here’s what one can do on a more personal level to contain the food wastage:

  • Plan out your meal and make your shopping list to determine what you actually need for the week. About 20% of what we buy in urban India ends up being thrown away.  You could in the week after cut down on the surplus and soon in two or three weeks you will have a precise list of your family’s weekly consumption. You have no idea how amazed you will be at how much you buy and what you actually consume. Needless to say that the difference is but naturally wasted.
  • Buy in quantities you can realistically use. Avoid impulse buys. It will more or less find the bin.
  • If you cook at home, make sure you cook keeping in mind there is no excess. You can always complete your meals with a few fruits rather than keep some extra food in the refrigerator. It’s a lot better and a healthier practice too.
  • Select according to their shelf life. Use the green vegetables first. Don’t throw out fruits and veggies with ‘aesthetic only’ blemishes. Use canned and bottled food before expiry dates.
  • Reuse the refrigerated left-overs (if any) for the very next meal.
  • Even if food gets spoilt then compost it.
  • If you work in an office that has a canteen, check with them on how they manage excess food. Cooked food, especially since it has a low shelf life needs to be managed better and faster. Check with NGOs who offer to transport excess food to the needy.
  • If you host a family get together either at home, a marriage hall or throw a party at a hotel, make sure you plan for the food to be transported to a place like an orphanage or an old age shelter.
  • Make finishing your plate a habit. Try to inculcate it further to as many possible.

How You Can Help

Feeding India, which was founded with the object of eliminating hunger, aims to connect hunger and food waste as solutions for each other. Started in 2014, it now operates in more than 30 cities across India. It believes in feeding mouths, not bins. They collect the food waste from individuals, weddings, canteens, and other events and redistribute it to the needy, free of cost. Anyone can get involved to donate and become a volunteer.

Robin Hood Army, a similar organisation, operates not only in India but also in Pakistan. Annamrita (formerly ISKCON Food Relief Foundation) provides mid day meals to school children.

Last but not the least, make sure you don’t waste food (even a morsel).