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Heaped plates, hungry stomachs

Food turning surplus at celebrations and other gatherings should be collected and given to the poor

Marriages, birthday celebrations, anniversaries, alumni meetings, conferences, seminars and many similar events lay out lavish multi-course feasts with plenty of starters, soups and salads followed by the main course and ending with desserts. After the events, mounds of food are dumped in dustbins, unmindful of its value to the poor who go hungry.

Most such gatherings serve buffets. The tendency of food wastage is more when people help themselves. They pick more than what they can eat only to waste the excess.

Similar wastage happens when hotels serve complimentary breakfast buffets. Wherever food is free and in plenty, people take more than what they can eat. Those fortunate to have surplus food forget the plight of those who do not have enough to eat. Millions of people die of malnutrition and hunger in India. Starvation deaths in some parts of the country are now new. The Global Hunger Index, 2019 places India at 102 among 117 countries, indicating a serious level of hunger. Despite considerable industrial and economic growth and self-reliance in foodgrain production, India is unable to provide enough food to a large number of people, especially women and children. Food wastage adds to the woes.

Nearly one-third of the food produced every year gets lost or wasted, but the affluent sections still throw what they can’t eat into the dustbins. It is said that 40% of fruits and vegetables and 30% of cereals are lost from inefficient supply chain management and do not reach the market. While significant levels of food losses occur at harvest and during post-harvest handling, a lot of food is lost or wasted during the distribution and consumption stages. Poor transport facilities and roads in the hinterland force some of the farmers to dump their produce in the open. So the problem is not lack of food. It is a lack of ability and sensitivity to distribute food to the poor.

Social involvement

While many public-spirited people and non-governmental organisations collect surplus food and distribute it to the poor, a more inclusive involvement of society in this work is required. Most important is to educate the people about the ills of food wastage. Social awareness and disseminating knowledge on sharing food resources in a better-organised mode will be able to make a difference.

It may not be possible to regulate food usage in social functions but display of information and appeals against wasting food can eventually help. The NGOs can field volunteers to collect surplus food to feed the hungry. Awareness material should be developed to bring about a transformation in the way food is preserved.

Restaurants can be given incentives to reduce food waste, and municipalities should levy a tax on disposing of leftover food. On the lines of Swachh Bharat, campaigns can be launched to reduce food wastage.

Unless elimination of food wastage becomes an agenda of everyone, it is difficult to end hunger. Organisations can launch corporate social responsibility programmes to eliminate food wastage. Coordinated work of government, corporates and NGOs will be able to change the mindset of people.

kembais@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:18:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/heaped-plates-hungry-stomachs/article30950538.ece

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