Overflowing plates and empty stomachs

Variety of healthy fresh vegetables in boxes displayed on a wooden table wooden table at an organic farmers market viewed top down with copy space

When I was a child in India, I never experienced the hunger pangs that gnaw at the innards of children from very poor families as they fall asleep on empty stomachs. But I have some idea of what it must feel like. The growling stomach keeps them awake; after a long time they fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion. What will they dream of?
Some time ago, I attended a party. The laughter, gaiety, and intelligent conversation made the evening pleasant. Then came the food. Colourful, artistically arranged, mouth-watering dishes covered the table. I began to wonder how we could ever eat it all. When the party was over, I noticed that we had eaten only about half of the food.
That night I lay awake thinking of wasted food. I tried to figure out how many hungry children could have been fed with the food that was left over. The thought made me sad. The pictures of hungry children loomed large in front of me. The kind that we see on TV screens during commercials asking for donations to help children in the developing world.
The pictures are disturbing, but they don’t melt hearts any more. Maybe because we see them so often, and our empathy is depleted. We don’t seem to feel deeply about anything any more, and we suffer from compassion fatigue.
Statistics are mind boggling. According to the Global Nutrition Report, 2015, 800 million children go hungry, 2 billion are micronutrient deficient, 1.9 billion are overweight and obese, 160 million under age 5 are stunted. Around 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world (World Food Program, 2012). Approximately 3.1 million children die from undernutrition each year (UNICEF, 2018).
The Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Program (WFP), and the International Fund for Agriculture Development, say in their report The State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World 2017 that 815 million people (or one in every 10) around the world experience chronic hunger. This is while the developed world wastes one-third to half of all the food it produces.
According to a report by Statista on the per-capita food waste worldwide in 2017 (in kilograms per year), Australia wasted 361 kilograms, the United States 278 kilograms. The average Canadian consumer wastes 170 kilograms of food a year. How can anyone justify this?
I think about ways to avoid wasting food. One way is to serve each person as much as he can eat and no more. As an Indian, I would like to mention how it is done in many restaurants there: a sumptuous full course meal is served on a banana leaf.
A clean banana leaf is placed on the table. Small steel bowls are arranged in a row at the top edge of the leaf. These are for the curries and other dishes with thin sauces. Then the servers arrive and fill the bowls. All the other preparations, served little at a time, are placed on the leaf in a second row. Steaming hot rice is served last with a spoon or two of clarified butter poured over it.
The servers keep a constant watch over the guests and refill the bowls as and when they become empty. Everyone eats his fill and what is left are the empty steel bowls and a used banana leaf. The bowls are washed and used again and the leaf goes into a compost pit.
Perfectly earth-friendly and no wastage at all. Even some of the five-star hotels have restaurants that use this method.
I know it would be hard to sell Haligonians on this particular method but there are other ways to save food. What about cooking or ordering or taking just enough for the people around the table and getting extra only when plates are cleaned?
Not everyone wastes food. But most of us do. Parents have a responsibility to make their children aware that in many parts of the world millions go hungry. Let them remember their hungry brothers and sisters when they empty their half-full plates into the garbage bin.
The world population is forecasted to reach 9.6 billion in 2050. The question is, how are we going to produce enough food for everyone? By reducing food wastage, we can improve the food security worldwide. And we can all easily do our part.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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