x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Why do we waste so much food in the month of fasting?

Isn't Ramadan the month of fasting? Isn't it the month in which we are supposed to eat less and pray more, spend on ourselves less and give the needy more?

It was the night before Ramadan. I walked into the hypermarket to get the food I required. The shop was crowded with people stocking up with supplies for the month. A quick glance into most of the heavily-laden supermarket trolleys and I could see all sorts of food: rice, pasta, cans of this and that, dessert boxes, fruits and vegetables - the list goes on.

Everywhere in the hypermarket, there were various special deals and food promotions available only during Ramadan: buy two sunflower oil bottles and get an additional one for free, buy four packs of Jello or creme caramel and get the fifth as a gift, or get many other items in packages and for less than their usual price. Many food products have a "Ramadan Kareem" greeting written on them, with illustrations of lanterns, mosques and crescents.

This scene is familiar every year at this time, but every time I see it I can't help but wonder: isn't Ramadan the month of fasting? Isn't it the month in which we are supposed to eat less and pray more, spend on ourselves less and give the needy more?

During the holy month, households, restaurants and hotels tend to prepare more food than is consumed. Unfortunately, a large portion of this food usually ends up in landfill. And despite the constant calls from authorities to cut down on food wastage during Ramadan, the amount of dumped food is still enormous.

In Dubai, as The National reported last week, food accounts for 55 per cent of all the waste that funnels into the emirate's landfill during Ramadan, rising from an average between 33 to 38 per cent on regular days, according to Abdul Majeed Saifaie, director of the waste management department at Dubai Municipality.

The UAE, and not only in Ramadan, has one of the highest rates of food waste in the world.

In a survey conducted near the end of last year, 78 per cent of UAE residents said they throw food away weekly, if not daily. The survey, conducted for Al Aan TV's Nabd Al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) by YouGov, found that one in six of those surveyed said they deliberately cooked too much food to make sure there was always enough to eat. I believe that during Ramadan, that figure is even higher.

The true meaning of fasting is to experience hunger; to feel humility and compassion towards the poor. The holy month comes every year to remind us of the many people around the world who don't have enough food.

About 25,000 people die of hunger or hunger-related causes every day, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

On the other hand, statistics by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), show that at least 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year around the world, with the Middle East, including the UAE, recognised as a disproportionate contributor. It has been estimated that the whole of sub-Saharan Africa could be fed if a similar amount of food was saved.

For individuals, cutting waste could come down to small changes in our grocery shopping and eating habits, throughout the year, and especially in Ramadan. Families should measure the food portions they consume to know the exact amount of food they need to buy and cook. It is also healthier to buy fresh food every day or week, instead of rushing in the night before Ramadan to buy food for the whole month.

We are all responsible for reducing the amount of food waste. The easiest way could be to participate in leftover food campaigns, such as Hefth Al Ne'ma (Saving Grace), launched in 2004 by the UAE Red Crescent Authority. The initiative collects untouched and safe leftover food from homes, hotels and restaurants each day and distributes it to poor families around the country and to labour camps.

Dressed like chefs, wearing aprons and hats bearing slogans like "Save. Do not waste food", a group of schoolchildren aged 10 to 15 marched in different places in the capital marking the World Environment Day last month, to campaign against food waste. During the campaign, Sameen, a 15 year-old student at the Emirates Future International Academy in Abu Dhabi, said: "Many people go to bed without food and we go to food courts, eat and waste it like that, and it's not good. We should save a little and eat only what we need."

We need to be more thoughtful of both others and the environment, and encourage others to do the same. Sometimes all we need is a reminder. Ramadan kareem.



On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui