Food waste is dumb. Given that Vox Media has already done an in-depth video on the topic with the title ‘Food waste is the world’s dumbest problem’, which was largely US-centric, we decided it’s time to look at us. Think about it; you can order everything from Peruvian potato fries to desi Dal Makhani on your phone in a few taps and have it delivered to your doorstep, but within your proximity of a kilometre, there are probably people going to bed hungry and malnourished every night.
It boggles the mind. It also befouls the earth. Food waste is a problem across the world, with global rates averaging around 40 per cent of food being produced being wasted. As opposed to most other metrics, India sort of achieves this one. As quoted by several sources, The Food Waste Index Report 2021, conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its partner organisation WRAP, states that “around 931 million tonnes of food waste was generated in 2019, 61 per cent of which came from households, 26 per cent from food service and 13 per cent from retail.”
Out of that staggering amount, India contributed a stunning 68.8 tonnes a year, averaging out 50kg per household per year. According to FAO estimates in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020 report’, “About 189.2 million people are undernourished in India. By this measure 14 per cent of the population is undernourished in India.” Michelin-starred Chef Suvir Saran, of New York and New Delhi, believes there needs to be a three-pronged approach to tackle the issue. “It needs to start with the chefs first. A few like Manu Chandra and Prateek Sadhu (of Masque) are responsible for engineering their menus according to the season, sustainability, and portion size.
They think about tomorrow as opposed to profits today, which needs to be celebrated.” The government and other authorities are the second tip of the spear, with Saran saying, “Look at telecommunications. India is an industry leader in how fast we adapted to mobile technology and online, cashless payments. It would be amazing to see that same spirit of innovation in food management.” The third prong is something we’ll come back to. Chef Manu Chandra, who has been championing for using locally-sourced produce and helping in cutting down potential wastage for monkey’s years, says, “The idea of food waste goes way beyond cooking.
You have all these catch-all rubbish terms like root-to-fruit, which all sound lovely, but are things we have been doing for years.” Instead, Chandra follows that simple maxim of waste not, want not: “We don’t just carve out the hearts of vegetables and chuck the rest; instead we use everything, from discarded roots to leaves, to enrich our vegetable stocks, while I also try and keep items on the menu which can be cooked cooked to order as and when they come, we are not keeping items that could potentially go bad.” Chandra is leading the way, but that’s not to say others are not doing their bit. “Sustainability is the key word for our brand.
Our entire kitchen is made out of sustainable materials and we have tied up with a company called Vlu-o. It’s a Chennai-based company that makes all our bags and stationery items out of recycled plastic. On festivals like Holi and Diwali, we curate hampers using sustainable products,” aver Chef Vikramjit Roy and Anurodh Samal, co-founders of Hello Panda and Park Street Rolls & Biryani, adding, “For instance on Holi, the hamper had gulaal that was made out of recycled flowers, a mask and a pouch that were made out of recycled plastic. An outsourced company converts our segregated waste into compost which further helps the environment.
We also use only bio plastic packaging and all our uniforms are made out of recycled plastic that is converted into linen.” And they are not alone. “One of the core values of L’Opéra is ‘Responsible and Sustainable Growth’. Minimising and managing waste and using whatever unsold products are returned from the outlets. As to unsold products which are returned to L’Opéra’s Production Centre, the company uses some as input for new products, others which are still absolutely fine for consumption are offered to the staff at discounted prices or sent to temples, orphanages and occasionally to schools.
“In the cooler months of the year, cream-based products are distributed, however, during the warmer period of the year temperature- sensitive products, which may adulterate rapidly are discarded,” says Kazem Samandari, Executive Chairman, L’Opéra, adding, “Unsold breads are sent to animal shelters and being used to feed, mainly dogs. All products are delivered by the company’s own vehicles to their destination.” Then there’s Aavika Chhawchharia, Co-Founder of Honey & Dough, who says, “Over the past few years, we avoid over-buying stock. We also make sure to store our food properly at the right temperature so that it lasts long and does not go to waste.
We always request our customers to not leave leftovers with us; rather take them home to reuse them later. Our employees are trained to make the food portions in the right amount and at the beginning of the day, plan the portions and amount of food to be made accordingly. We make sure to not bulk cook or bulk order any food to reduce wastage as much as we can.” And that brings us back to you and me, the consumers (and potential wasters) of all that food that is being prepared, be it at home or in restaurants. “We are an old culture, but a very young nation, and the dining scene here reflects that. It’s in its teenage phase, meaning that diners are making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons, be it wanting a dish to Instagram about or ordering larger portions than we can possibly consume.
And then we waste it,” points out Saran, noting how many countries seem to take their cue from the US, which, in food terms, translates into ‘bigger is better.’ “I don’t like to do buffets, because there’s so much potential for wastage. If there is an event, I’d prefer to do pass-arounds, which tend to be consumed entirely, followed up by wholesome, but not multi-coursed, mains,” says Chandra. Harking back to how bigger is not better, Saran concludes, “It’s a lot to do with portion control. Restaurants in India are seeing that if they offer big meals at ‘small’ prices, they are bound to succeed.
And so they load up their plates for people who are happy to consume with their eyes, and waste most of the dish without a thought. We need to learn what we are putting into our bodies. It’s not about consuming 300 calories in a dish. It’s about what those calories consist of: fats, carbs, whatever. And which of those we actually need.” And that is the lesson we should take away: quality over quantity.
As quoted by several sources, The Food Waste Index Report 2021, conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its partner organisation WRAP, states around 931 million tonnes of food waste was generated in 2019, 61 per cent of which came from households, 26 per cent from food service and 13 per cent from retail. Out of that staggering amount, India contributed a stunning 68.8 tonnes a year, averaging out 50 kg per household per year.