Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 30 May 2020

Coronavirus: Outbreak leads to big shift in attitudes towards food waste

Households describe better meal planning and being more aware of their budgets

UAE restaurants have cut food waste during the pandemic as eating habits change. Antonie Robertson / The National
UAE restaurants have cut food waste during the pandemic as eating habits change. Antonie Robertson / The National

The coronavirus has led to a radical shift in attitudes towards food waste in the Emirates, restaurants and households have said.

Families claimed the introduction of the stay-at-home order had forced them to reassess their eating habits as well as they way they shopped.

Restaurant closures, together with the ongoing practice of working from home, has disrupted the usual levels of convenience expected by customers.

Now, anecdotal evidence suggests thousands of residents have become more considerate consumers, budgeting their food shops more carefully and wasting less.

Ivano Iannelli, chief executive at Dubai Carbon, an organisation that promotes a greener economy, described Covid-19 as a “change element”.

Because of the severity of the pandemic, human behaviour has entered a state where change is acceptable and necessary

Ivano Ianelli, Dubai Carbon

“Because of the severity of the pandemic, human behaviour has entered a state where change is acceptable and necessary,” he told The National.

“Often, there needs to be a major event that puts individuals and organisations in a state where they need to adapt.

“During business as usual, people are less keen to shake up conventional practices, but an event like Covid-19 has forced us to reconsider things.”

Recent figures from the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment suggest the average person in the UAE wastes about 197 kilograms of food each year.

The cause is thought to be a combination of a culture of takeaway meals in the country and a tendency by consumers to “overestimate their food demand”.

Now, however, faced with a significant change to their shopping habits, residents have become more aware of their purchases.

Until late last month, consumers in Dubai even needed a permit to go to a supermarket as part of efforts to ensure effective social distancing.

Lavish buffets used to be the norm for iftar at many hotels across the Emirates during Ramadan. Pawan Singh / The National
Lavish buffets used to be the norm for iftar at many hotels across the Emirates during Ramadan. Pawan Singh / The National

And faced with restrictions on what food was available, families are now seen as increasingly adept at “quantify serving sizes”, leading to less food waste.

“We are spending a lot more on our weekly supermarket shop and hardly ordering in at all, perhaps once a week,” said Madeline Simm, 30, an events worker in Dubai.

“That’s mainly due to the fact that we have the time to cook now and are trying to be relatively healthy.

“We’re most definitely more cautious on food waste. We try to use absolutely everything fresh we buy and use up all the sauces in the cupboards.”

Laura Morgan, a mother of two living in Dubai, said better budgeting had also become the new norm for her family during the pandemic.

She argued the current crisis was likely to have forced many in the country to understand the value of food better than ever.

“We have been spending more on supermarket shopping but less on takeaways,” she said.

“We’ve been meal planning and using up what is in the cupboards which has reduced our food waste.

“I think we’ll take it forward with us and not go for breakfast every weekend, or have a takeaway once a week.”

In the past two weeks, the UAE government has been able to relaxed stay-at-home restrictions as the pandemic has been brought under tighter control.

But rules on home gatherings and capacity limits in malls and restaurants remain in place, impacting the public’s behaviour over Ramadan.

Mr Iannelli said this had paved the way for a “positive reduction” in food waste during the holy month, as lavish iftars at restaurants and big family gatherings were no longer the norm.

According to Dubai Municipality figures last year, food accounted for 22 per cent of the total waste produced by the emirate.

That figure jumped to 55 per cent during Ramadan, with demand for iftar and suhoor buffets this year understood to have decreased by up to 80 per cent.

Chef Nachwan Koukach says kitchen staff have seen first-hand how the pandemic has changed food consumption habits. Courtesy: Movenpick Hotel 
Chef Nachwan Koukach says kitchen staff have seen first-hand how the pandemic has changed food consumption habits. Courtesy: Movenpick Hotel 

At Movenpick Hotel at Ibn Battuta Gate in Dubai, kitchen staff said they had seen first-hand how the pandemic had changed food consumption.

“We launched a family-style iftar set menu this year in line with regulations set by the UAE government,” said Nachwan Koukach, the hotel’s executive chef.

“As we forego the opulent buffet spread during this time and encourage advanced dining reservations, these moves have positively impacted our food and waste management.

“It has provided a clearer outline of how much food is required to be prepared, purchased and served.”

Chef Reif Othman, from Reif Japanese Kushiyaki restaurant in Dubai, also introduced an a la carte set menu for iftar this year.

“It is prepared only when a customer orders,” he said. “That has helped us in reducing our waste as we manage the preparation daily for our iftar dishes.

Chef Reif Othman from Reif Japanese Kushiyaki restaurant in Dubai says he is passionate about reducing food waste. Antonie Robertson / The National
Chef Reif Othman from Reif Japanese Kushiyaki restaurant in Dubai says he is passionate about reducing food waste. Antonie Robertson / The National

“I hate seeing food go to waste. If there is any, it becomes part of our staff meal.”

Earlier this week, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, said the UAE must rein in its “culture of excess”.

The Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces called for needless overspending and food waste to be tackled and the natural resources of the Emirates to be protected.

Hosting his online Ramadan majlis with Mariam Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security, he said he believed the public would be receptive to the need to move away from unwanted habits.

“We have a habit of excess that we need to restrain,” Sheikh Mohamed said during the video conference. “If this excess or overspending is for a good cause, like charity, it is good and we support it, but overspending for no reason is bad.”

Updated: May 10, 2020 07:22 PM

SHARE

SHARE

Most Popular