Waste not, want not in Sana'a's restaurants
Of the food lost Yemen, 90 percent of the loss happens before the food even reaches consumers
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At 3:00 p.m. on a normal day, after the rush of lunch, you can find hungry beggars hovering outside restaurants. They are waiting to collect leftovers scraps of bread or meat that customers have left on their plates. Restaurant owners and employees regularly give the food away.
Restaurants across Sana’a find ways to cook and prepare food economically, with almost no waste. Nothing goes uneaten.
A 2011 United Nations study, carried out by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, found that one third of edible food is wasted annually, which amounts to 1.3 billion tons of food worldwide. However, restaurants all over Sana’a are not culpable of this practice that environmentalists and advocacy groups say is careless.
Mostafa Sharjabi, the head of the kitchen in Al-Shaibani restaurant in Sana’a, said that in his restaurant, they never cook more than they need—and in the rare event that they have prepared too much of an order in the kitchen, they save the food and donate it to an orphanage.
If there are scraps left on plates, it is given to beggars or other poor street workers, he said.
Some restaurants have agreements with charity organizations, which collect the food and redistribute it in destitute neighborhoods of the capital.
Ahmed Hamdi, the executive manager of Al-Hamra restaurant, works with such an organization, particularly during the month of Ramadan, when acts of generosity and charity carry a special importance for Muslims.
Hamdi said Yemeni food is prepared fresh and doesn’t last longer than one day. Everything is cooked to order, he says, and that is why trash cans are not overflowing at the end of the night.
In developing countries like Yemen, though food may be lost in the early and middle stages of the food supply chain—due to lack of infrastructure—very little is lost once the food reaches consumers, the United Nations report found.
Annually, Europe and North America waste around 640 pounds, or 290 kilograms per capita. By contrast, countries in Central Asia and North Africa waste around 190 pounds, or 86 kilograms per capita.
Of the food lost in countries like Yemen, 90 percent of the loss happens before the food even reaches consumers. Once the meat, grain, vegetables or poultry is in the hands of a restaurant or other consumer, every bit is used.
Abdul-Qawi Al-Sharabi, the kitchen manager of Remas restaurant in Sana’a, said that if there is any extra food at closing time, the employees take it home.
Customers are also keen to clean their plates, said 23-year-old Mohamed Al-Qubati, a waiter in a local restaurant.
In contrast, at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), one of Sana’a’s only multinational fast-food restaurants, regulations dictate a different outcome.
If there is any food left on the customers’ tables, it goes directly to the trash. Nothing can be given to beggars as this is against company policy.
Food handling and disposal standards are set by the corporation, which is based in the U.S., Ibrahim Al-Hassani, the manager of the shop said.
Most of KFC’s food is pre-frozen. If an employee makes a mistake and an order has to be thrown away, he may have to pay for that lost order out of his salary.
Taha Mustafa, a member of the youth-led organization called Eyoon Shaba, said that last year they launched a campaign to raise awareness about food waste in Sana’a. They gathered scraps from restaurants and over the course of two weeks, provided over 1,000 meals to hungry Sana’anis.
“We tried to raise awareness by giving people boxes to put their extra food in,” Mustafa said. They can take food home, donate it, and even if it is inedible it can be used as compost, he said.
Nearly half of Yemen’s population is food insecure. Out of those, a World Food Program survey found last year, 5 million are “severely insecure,” unable to buy or grow the food they need to survive.
Soltan Saleen, a 20-year-old who works in a local restaurant said that food should never be thrown away.
“How can we throw food away, while children in the street are hungry?” he asked.
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