Did you know that India has the largest number of hungry people in the world?
The reasons for this range from the faulty distribution of food supplies to inequity in access to food. However, the fact still remains that India is home to 194.6 million undernourished people in the world, according to an annual report released by United Nations in 2015.
According to a government study, India wastes 67 million tonnes of food every year, the value of which is around ₹ 92,000 crore. And it’s enough to feed all of Bihar for a year.
This is also a global crisis. Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted. This is criminal considering that this could have fed 3 billion people – nearly half the world’s population.
In developing countries, almost half of the food produced is lost post-harvest and at processing stages, whereas in industrialised countries, more than 40% is lost at the retail and consumer levels. The latter happens in this age of supermarket indiscrimination where a lot of fruits and vegetables are discarded ruthlessly because they do not look ‘pretty’ enough for the consumer. There is an arrogance that comes into play while choosing perfect looking tomatoes and oranges.
This colossal waste of food by both developed and developing countries has led to a major loss in resources like water, land, labour, capital and energy. In the bargain, it has also led to a spike in global warming and climate change due to enhanced greenhouse gas productions.
However, all is not lost. We, in India, have for centuries harboured a knowledge and deep understanding of the nutritious value of seeds, peels, rinds and other parts of fruits and vegetables that many developed newer nations have discarded as unusable. We have always known that jackfruit seeds are very high in protein and the peels of vegetables like peas and ridge gourds are just as nutritious as the vegetable itself. This stemmed from the fact that a lot of arid regions in India produce very few vegetables and fruits and it made a lot of sense to use every part of that which was grown. Not much was wasted in our traditional frugal culture.
Sadly, we are losing this advantage as our food choices lean more and more towards western food choices, forgetting the traditional Indian foods that were a part of our growing up. Who growing up in the 80s and 90s in India doesn’t remember the cauliflower stems that were so deliciously crunchy in the Bengali ‘charchari’ and the spicy ‘peerkangai thogayal’ made from peels of ridge gourd from Tamil Nadu? Why is it that these same peels and stems and roots are now only destined for the rubbish bin? Why is it that growing incomes have made us forget these nutritious and tasty recipes?
We have a choice today to go back and revisit our sustainable food practices. We have a choice of saving food in our kitchens which are thrown away because they are not symmetrical enough, not pretty enough for our tables. We need to retrieve them and relearn a lot of what we can include in our daily food. In the context of mass deprivation and climate change, doing this becomes essential if we have to address the crisis of enormous food wastage globally.
Let us today all pledge to choose that unwieldy looking potato and the tomato that looks less enticing than its neighbours on the supermarket shelf. If we don’t, you can be sure that it will be trashed and will be hauled off to the stinking landfills where more such food waste await it to rot together in unholy unison and produce dangerous greenhouse gases like methane which will then spike temperatures causing global warming, leading to unseasonal rains and tsunamis and many more man-made disasters. Phew!
And to think we can contribute our little bit to mitigate climate change by simply making innovative and simple changes in our food habits. Not very difficult, is it?