Say ‘no’ to food waste

Malaysians should take another look at how they consume and waste food. Statistics show that we throw away a staggering amount of edible food each day. The National Solid Waste Management Department puts it at 3,000 tonnes of preventable food waste daily, and it is the largest contributor of solid waste and largest source of harmful greenhouse gases in the country. It makes up between 31 and 45 per cent of an average of 36,000 tonnes of garbage generated annually.

Households contribute the largest portion of food waste, followed by night and wet markets, food courts and restaurants, hotels, and the food and beverage industry. We are wasting all of this food when many Malaysians in the Klang Valley and other parts of the country are “food insecure”, which means they do not know where their next meal is coming from. That includes the urban poor and street people. They depend on soup kitchens, among other places, for their sustenance. Accurate statistics are not available, but City Hall figures show that there are nearly 2,000 people living on the streets in Kuala Lumpur, while almost 2.7 million households in Malaysia fall under the bottom 40 per cent group. Is legislation the answer to Malaysia’s food waste problem?

Following reports that some supermarkets were pouring bleach on unsold food to stop people foraging in their bins, France recently passed a law requiring heads of supermarkets with a footprint of 400 sq m or more to sign donation contracts with charities or face a penalty of €3,750 (RM16,900). Some countries may consider the measure a step too far, but it is something to think about. A stringent approach would surely help reduce the amount of disposed food scraps. But Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) director-general Datuk Dr Sharif Haron prefers the voluntary strategy through education to raise awareness of the issue.

Mardi and the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry are coordinators for the MYsavefood programme — an awareness drive by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations — to promote food loss and food waste reduction. Its plan includes persuading and encouraging hypermarkets and supermarkets to donate their soon-to-expire foods to charity, emulating the French example. We are the key culprits in food waste. We act like fussy children when faced with fresh products with a few brown spots. When we turn up our noses at anything less than perfect, we are sending a message to supermarkets that slightly blemished produce do not deserve our ringgit. We often overestimate the amount of food to prepare at home and feel ravenously hungry at lavish buffet lunches and dinners, heaping our plates with a large pile of assorted dishes which we cannot finish.

And, when organising events that involve serving food to guests, our motto is “more and more food”. Careful meal planning makes wasting food less likely and we can signal our references to supermarkets by snapping up bargains in the discount section for a little flawed produce. As consumers, we can do our part to reduce wastage and create a more sustainable world of food.

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Source: New Straits Times Online. Date: 28 MARCH 2016