What happens to all those Iftar buffet leftovers?
Maybe it's time to start thinking about scaling back. (AFP/File)
At 13, do-gooder Firdous Mohammed Farooq is concerned about the food wasted at Iftar buffets. Evidently a teenager with a conscience, Firdous took on the enterprise of distributing 40 packets of biryani to goods movers near Madinat Zayed Centre in Abu Dhabi, her good deed for the month.
She says: "In the first weekend of Ramadan our family was invited for an Iftar buffet party. A few minutes before the Maghreb azan, people started to fill their plates in heaps. One table of eight buffet diners left behind enough food to comfortably feed 10 people".
The ninth grader studying in Abu Dhabi said: "During Iftar, I also saw that some people were not only taking a lot of food but also wasting it by leaving the plates that were already filled with food to try out the other dishes."
Meanwhile, to minimise food wastage, Dubai Municipality said it's preparing guidelines for establishments, especially during Ramadan and festivals.
The guidelines have to be approved by the Director-General of Dubai Municipality Hussain Nasser Lootah, who is keen on implementing programmes to cut food wastage.
Food left on the plate
At the ongoing Ramadan Night Market at World Trade Centre, it's no surprise that food is wasted. It's also wasted in hotels, restaurants, homes, food courts - everywhere. Wherever there is an Iftar buffet, food is left over, and there's only so much that can be given as parcels to workers and employees. And so off it goes to the dumpster.
Samantha Cordeiro Miranda, Brand Manager, Sumansa Exhibitions, the event organisers of the Ramadan Night market says: "Since there are over 50 food stalls, each working independently, I cannot get you any particular data on food wasted. We do know, however, that each outlet has its own way of dealing with the remaining food. Some give it away to janitorial staff and other people working at the market at the close of the day. Others freeze or store the food (depending on what they are serving, of course) for the next day."
Miranda says, "I believe that most people at the food stalls are making conscious efforts to curb food wastage and have devised ways to dispose it off without having to throw it. The quantity of food is also prepared based on past experience and turnout. For example, on weekends when a bigger turnout is expected, vendors prepare more food, and during weekdays the amount gets curtailed accordingly so that minimum amount of food remains to be disposed off".
The night market apart, Miranda feels food wastage is a problem, not just during Ramadan, but any place where buffets are served. "In Ramadan, it becomes all the more evident because many hotels and restaurants are serving all-you-can-eat Iftar buffets, and since visitors are not allowed to take home leftover food, they tend to leave it on the plate. Personally, I think it's psychological: you want to get your money's worth, so you end up ordering more than what you can stomach. Plus, I've seen people, especially youngsters indulging in bets on who can eat the most, which also leads to food wastage".
Miranda echoes the words of Habiba Marashi, Chairperson of Emirates Environment Group who told Khaleej Times in an interview, "I find the culture of catering and the elaboration of buffets here excessive. It bothers me a lot. I wish we could reach the level of maturity as in other countries. At the end of the day this is my stomach, how much can a human being eat?"
Firdous is struck by people suffering in different countries because of food shortage, increase in food price and many other reasons. The teenager throws in a wise little bon mot: "Ramadan should never be a time where both waist and waste increase."
Loss in the neighbourhood
Iftar at refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey are far from lavish. No 15 dishes. No all-you-can-eat contests. No plates piled up as mountains. None of the excess that is familiar to the UAE. And with little on the plate, there's little to waste. "It's not a typical Ramadan there," says Mohammed Abu Asakaer, Public Information and Communications Officer, UHNCR. "It hasn't been for four years now. And Ramadan as you know is a very important month for the Arab community, for all Muslims - naturally, including Syrians."
The conflict in Syria has entered its 5th year, and nearly 12 million Syrians, mostly children, have been forced to flee their homes; almost 220,000 lives have been taken.
At Iftar, and at other meals, there is now less food than in the previous years. There is no money for food vouchers, as donations have dried up. If funding in 2014 was low - only 53 per cent, this year it's worse, at 23 per cent.
The World Food Programme (WFP) in December 2014 had to suspend the food voucher programme for the 1.7 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, because they couldn't get the $64m needed to support Syrian refugees. The effect on Iftar - or on any meal in any month - has been heartbreaking. Think of rumbling tummies of blameless kids in refugees camps. The image is heartbreaking, but the truth is harder still.
Asakaer says, "UNHCR has launched the "Voices for Refugees" initiative to help spread awareness about the plight of Syrian refugees by lending our vote and voice to the cause, and bringing hope to the men, women and children who have lost everything through no fault of their own". Voice for Refugees is nothing to do with money. It's just so people don't forget that while the better portion of Iftar meals here are being wasted, as the cliché goes: there are (really) millions starving.
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