The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) rings in this World Environment Day (June 5) with the theme ‘Think. Eat. Save’. What can we do to prevent food waste? METROPLUS speaks to caterers and hotels on keeping wastage at bay, NGOs on distributing food to the needy and an expert cook on tips to recycle food

Wrap a meal

‘Don’t waste your food, wrap it’ — this poster on how one can pack excess food and give it to the needy serves as a everyday reminder to people. R. Mohammed Ali, T. Merwin Wesley and J. Palaniappan of SEEDS put up 3,000 such posters at hotels and shops in 17 cities and towns in Tamil Nadu. People started calling them to give away excess food. “The quantity of leftover food was insufficient for orphanages, so we approached a group of people who live in makeshift tents by the Noyyal,” says Palaniappan. “They make and sell phenoyl for a living. Now, they receive the excess food.”

The youngsters also talk to school students. “Our Tamil teacher checked our lunch boxes in the evening to ensure that we didn’t waste food,” says Mohammed. “We share such stories with kids. Hotels should organise regular events to send home the message on how not to waste food,” he adds.

Call them at 81221-39893, 95004-88803 or 74185-17750.

Sponsor a meal

You could also sponsor food for the needy. That is what Annakshetram, a voluntary organisation, encourages people to do. On anniversaries, birthdays, and other occasions, you can sponsor a breakfast or lunch for an orphanage. Says Urmila Kishore Dattani, founding member, Annakshetram: “When we started, we supplied leftover food from functions at ashrams, orphanages and old age homes. But, the food got easily spoilt. In some cases, the quantity was insufficient; it was risky.”

Now, they have a tie-up with three messes, and anyone interested can contribute Rs. 800 to sponsor a meal. “We also pick up and drop the sponsors from the mess so that they can serve the food,” she adds.

They cover more than 25 ashrams and homes within city limits. On a daily basis, they supply food to four ashrams, covering 500 children. “When they have a hearty breakfast of idli, upma and pongal, there is so much happiness on their faces,” she says.

Annakshetram can be contacted at 98430-82655.

Store and recycle

Award-winning Chettinad cuisine expert V. Mangalam, 83, says leftover rice could be made into puliyodharai, pepper saadham and sakkarai pongal.

“If there is leftover sambar, make sambar saadham by adding rice, and temper it with urad dal and curry leaves,” she says. As far as poriyals are concerned, mix them, shape them into balls and dip in maida batter to make bondas or koftas. You can also make vegetable masala, by adding sautéed onions, tomatoes and leaves to leftover poriyal. This goes well with rotis, she adds (see recipe).

Idli or bread pieces can also be mixed with this masala.

Tip: After recycling a dish, add ghee to it. The fragrance and taste of ghee will make you forget it is leftover food in a different avatar.

Vegetable Masala

Heat oil in a pan and splutter mustard seeds. Add curry leaves and red chillies (to taste).

Add chopped onion and fry. Then, add tomatoes. Sauté well.

Add the leftover poriyal and masala powder and salt (to taste). Stir till done.

Serve hot with rotis, naans and chapattis.

Limit variety

Weddings witness large-scale production and wastage of food, with grand menus and exotic dishes being the order of the day. But, of late, there is a growing awareness that wastage must come down, say caterers.

“We explain that a person cannot eat more than 500 gm of food for dinner. A lot of variety means that people do not get to sample everything,” says Ananda Kumar Shankar of Friends Catering.

Breakfast and lunch are not an issue, he says. Extra food can always be passed on to the needy. Dinner is the problem area. He says an ideal dinner menu will have three starters, three to five dishes in the main course, two sweets and ice cream. But, people do insist on more variety.

“Serving 10 varieties of idlis might make the hosts feel good, but not really make diners happy,” says Ananda Kumar. “People must understand that guests just want a well-cooked meal served with love, not a grand, impersonal affair.” Which is why, he roots for the traditional elai saapadu. “You ask for what you want and in the quantity you want.”

On the other hand, Madhampatty T. Rangaraj of Madhampatty Thangavelu Hospitality is all for buffet dinners. “There’s just one catch. People here are yet to learn how to eat in a buffet. The idea of a buffet is to give you choice and minimise wastage on the plate. But people get greedy and pile everything on the plate and waste it all,” he says.

His idea of an ideal menu is three starters, a seven-dish main course (10, if it is a very elaborate affair), two to three sweets, ice cream, fruit, a hot beverage and a beeda. “If some hosts insist on 10 sweets, we go in for mini sweets by reducing the volume,” he says. For instance, they might downsize a sweet that weighs 25 gm to 10 gm.

Rangaraj’s team also works with the hosts to arrive at the expected number of guests, after factoring in the invites sent, the day of the wedding (weekday, weekend), and if there any other functions in the extended family. “It is important that the hosts communicate these details properly. That way, we can get the number and quantity of food almost right,” he says.

Prevent waste

Popular hotels such as the Sree Annapoorna Sree Gowrishankar Group have their own measures to ensure that patrons do not waste the food they order. “Food here is prepared on an a la carte basis and dishes served fresh. There is less scope for wastage as customers normally order only what they want,” says Vivek Srinivasan, executive director. When it comes to bigger orders for weddings or other private parties, customers are advised to estimate the quantity required as accurately as possible. Food which gets left over is collected and given to select orphanages. Orders that are untouched are reheated and consumed by employees at the end of the day, he says. “We also put up posters in our hotels advising people not to waste food. We hold weekly meetings where waiters are told to serve sambar, chutney and other side dishes in moderation,” he adds. Biryani eateries with high patronage prominently put up stickers asking customers to avoid wasting food. However, since biryanis do brisk business, 95 per cent of the food prepared is consumed; the leftovers are consumed by the staff, say managers. K. Subramaniam, manager of Thalapakatti Biryani, which is now under renovation, says that people have also learnt to order more sensibly, so as to avoid wastage.

What is Think.Eat.Save?

It is an anti-food waste and food loss campaign that encourages you to reduce your foodprint. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted. At the same time, one in every seven people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of five die every day of hunger. Think.Eat.Save encourages people to become more aware of the environmental impact of the food choices they make and take informed decisions

(Source: UNEP website)