Wasting food: sign of a thoughtless society

February 7, 2021 | 03:51 pm PT
Luu Dinh Long Book author
Most Vietnamese people are inured to the sight of food being wasted.

On every occasion that involves eating, people have the tendency to order more food than needed, and when eating at someone's home, the hosts usually offer as much food as possible to prove how hospitable they are.

On festive occasions, the offerings made to ancestors are always excessive. Often they cannot be eaten after spending hours next to the burning incense. Besides, we have other food coming straight from the kitchen that is much more delicious.

I have complained to my mother more than once about cooking too much food for offerings during the Lunar New Year since our family is small. But that would change nothing because my mother would do exactly the same the next year.

I personally do not like weddings because I repeatedly see for myself how much food is wasted because too many dishes are served and not many people really enjoy them.

Women, with all their makeup and beautiful clothes, do not want to spend too much time on food, while men are too busy drinking beer. As a result, weddings are where people waste food the most.

"This is to safeguard our reputation [of being hospitable]," "This is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion," "Just relaxed..." People always have reasons for why they want lots of food at a feast, and not many seem to agree that wasting food is unconscionable.

For every 10 tons of waste produced in Vietnam, five to eight tons are biodegradable organic waste, most of it food, according to a World Bank estimate.

‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World,’ a report released in July 2020 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, estimated that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019, 10 million more than in 2018 and nearly 60 million more than in 2014.

Across the planet, the report forecast, the Covid-19 pandemic could tip over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020.

It also said high costs and low affordability mean billions of others could not eat healthy or nutritious food, and Asia has the largest number of the hungry people.

In 2019 some 21.3 percent of children under five years of age, equivalent to 144 million, were estimated to be stunted, 6.9 percent (47 million) were wasted and 5.6 percent (38.3 million) were overweight, while at least 340 million others suffered from micronutrient deficiencies, the report said.

A person throws leftover food into a trash bin. Photo by VnExpress/Andrey_Popov

A person throws leftover food into a trash bin. Photo by Shutterstock/Andrey_Popov.

FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva said in 2013 that annually "around 1.3 billion tons or one third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted."

"This costs around 750 billion dollars annually. If we reduce food loss and waste to zero, it would give us additional food to feed two billion people."

The first lesson I was taught about saving food as a kid came from my maternal grandmother.

She told me never to leave rice, the Vietnamese staple, unfinished.

"That is emerald from heaven, and you sin if you throw it away and will be hungry in your next incarnation."

Grandma is no more, but I now understand what she taught me.

In order for a grain of rice or a piece of food to come to life, it needs lots of efforts from lots of people, not to mention the energy which sustains all living things on earth that involves sunlight, air and water.

Not wasting food is a good habit that children should be taught both at home and school.

A society where food is not wasted will have no place for a selfish generation that suffers from obesity and other diet-related chronic diseases.

*Luu Dinh Long is an editor at Giac Ngo, a Buddhism newspaper published in Ho Chi Minh City. The opinions expressed are his own.

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