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Food wastage – A social evil and a criminal act!

 ‘While the rich people have excess food to waste, the poorest have none and die unnoticed’

The food basket differs from region to region depending on the crops grown, consumer preferences and market structure. The word ‘food’ encompasses all the items raw or processed, consumed by human beings as a source of energy. So the purpose of taking food is to ensure good health through nutritious and tasteful materials. The ingredients include plant based, like cereals pulses, oils, vegetables and animal based like meat and fishes. Generally, the nature of food consumed by the people depends upon the predominant crops in the area, weather conditions and local preferences of flavor and taste. The food delicacies include international, national, regional and local choices, depending on the specific crops and local preferences as ‘staple’ food. In early years, there used to be distinct cuisines preferred by the people living in the area but with the migration of population across the globe, the consumption of different food items by the non-natives has become common. Food processing industry has become one of the lucrative business enterprises across the world catering to the needs of the public. People have adapted to new tastes, so much so the demand increased for all sorts of food items, sometimes competing with the traditional food basket. The example of pizza, an Italian delicacy has become popular in many Indian cities; so also Chinese delicacies. Within India, ‘roti’ used to be the staple food of North Indians and ‘rice’ that of South Indians, but now there is wide spread of food items of different States. These lead to regional imbalance in trade, sometimes with the traditional food losing the market. All the present problems of health reflect on life style based on food habits. This calls for debate on the overall food systems in a holistic way.

The food production in the country with over 230 million tons is claimed to be adequate to feed the population. But the hidden truth is that about 30% of the food is wasted in different forms, namely grains, fresh and processed items. The economic loss incurred due to food wastage is seldom highlighted and its implication in addressing the problem of chronic hunger is rarely understood. In addition to the post harvest loss ranging from 25 to 35% among the food grains both as fresh and dry materials, the wastage of perishable items like vegetables and fruits also adds to the overall food basket lost in the system. The main reason attributed to loss of quantity and quality of grains is the poor storage and transport facilities in the country. Even the major godowns like Food Corporation of India lack infrastructure facilities to protect the valuable food items. The wastage also includes the processed food items at domestic, community and large scale sectors which are ignored. Especially food prepared during events like marriages, seminars and high level meetings account for substantial wastage of food items. The rich people contribute to more wastage of food since they have less time and concern to realize the implications of valued food that can feed several thousand hungry people.

The data from the International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington/New Delhi showed that while 20% of Indian population is undernourished based on calorie consumption (less than 1632 kcals per person per day, the cut off level), equally 20% of the population are overfed, that consume more than calorie requirement (more than 2500kcal). In terms of absolute values it runs to millions of people who are heavy eaters, denying thereby the poorest of the poor even a normal food per day. It is the rich to richest class come under the latter category who are by and large insensitive / indifferent to the wastage of food vis-à-vis the ‘hunger’ among the poorest. The farmers work hard to produce food to almost required levels but the consumers are the ones, along with the business agencies, who are responsible for the overall food inaccessibility to the most needy who are driven to chronic hunger. The policy planners failed in combating hunger which resulted in India being one of the ‘hungriest’ nation with dismal 66th position among the 88 countries for global hunger index, along with many African nations. Considering the fact that India hosts 54 billionaires, 153, 000 millionaires, besides millions of average rich and middle class people, the great nation should not have poverty and hunger.

In a country where over 400 million people go without food every day, out of which more than 50% are chronically hungry such huge wastage of food is a criminal act. In terms of the financial loss due to food wastage it is equivalent to feeding lakhs of hungry people. It is estimated that Rs.730 crore will be required to feed one million hungry persons per year at the subsidized rate of Rs.20 per person, twice a day. The country has money but no will to act.

Strategies

General public should be conscience of the wastage of food that can fill the stomach of hungry persons. The mindset of the citizens have to change with the awareness that millions of children and elders suffer from chronic hunger leading to malnutrition and various diseases. It may be made mandatory that all marriages and other parties set apart at least 20% food items for feeding the hungriest in the country to make India hunger- free by 2020, as a moral and social responsibility. The social activists have a great role to play in educating the public on the value of food to the poorest who have the right to live as others do. The media, both print and electronic, have to play a stellar role in addressing the issues of poverty and hunger in the country. Regional Food Systems need to be encouraged and supported.

V Rajagopal
Founder, Hunger Elimination and You movement, (HEYm)
President Society for Hunger Elimination (SHE)
Tirupati – 517 501, Andhra Pradesh. E-mail: rajvel44@gmail.com