Muslims are just as guilty as the rest of the world in wasting, and while they might be more prudent in Ramadan, it is part of a global problem that flies in the face of the millions who still die annually from hunger. This seemed to be the consensus among VOC onliners and professionals in the local food industry.
Sheik Dr Riedwaan Gallant of the Muslim Judicial Council’s Environmental Desk kickstarted the discussion on VOC’s Open Lines, aired on Wednesday, when he said: “The issue of food waste does not only apply to Ramadan, but throughout the year and I think it is important that we, as Muslims should be aware of it, for Allah tells us in the Quran that He does not like the wastage of food or extravagance,” he related.
Restauranteur Mahmood Malick of Tikka Palace in Hermanus who also had several restaurants in Cape Town, said Muslim diners waste up to 25% of the food on their plates. To make matters worse, while many non-Muslim diners have no qualms asking for a doggy bag to take left over food home, many Muslim diners consider themselves too sophisticated to ask for the same service.
“I come from a Pakistani culture where 70 – 75% of people eat out a lot. I have now been here for almost 28 years. The women here tend to make everything at home and now, all of a sudden we see the dining out culture growing in South Africa. Before it was a luxury, like once a month. Now it is almost a day to day business, especially in Cape Town and there is a lot of wastage going on.”
As for asking for doggy bags, he said: “I think people feel very sophisticated and asking for a doggy bag means it is for the pet. Those who do ask for it, will ask for it as a take away. But most of our people don’t ask for it and it results in a lot of wastage, up to 20 – 25% of their plate. It is a heart sore, given how many people go without food,” he related.
In comparison, non-Muslim diners have no problem asking to take leftover food home, said Malick, whose client base in the coastal town is 95% non-Muslim. “They are not embarrassed to ask, while our Muslims are reluctant to ask. Yet, we have lots of poverty in our community. So many people go without food or clean water. So we can do much better.” He added that in Cape Town it was not hard to find people who were hungry.
As for his restaurant, Malick said there were many poor people around who benefit from their left over food. “So we do lots of charity with our food in the area. And my staff, although they get two meals as part of their contract, also benefit from our left over food. I don’t believe in throwing away food that we work very hard for. When we had a restaurant in Cape Town, we gave the left over food to people on the street and when they came to know about it, they always came to stand outside the shop at closing time to wait for the food to be distributed.”
Asked what he does with food that were half bitten or eaten, Malick said: “Hungry humans come before animals. You must have seen many hungry people standing in front of garbage bins who don’t mind food that were half eaten. At least it is something to feed their stomach.” Referring to Muslim diners, Malick had this message: “Please order only what you can eat. Don’t leave anything in your plate and don’t mind taking the leftover food – that you have paid for – home to give to someone that would need it. Please don’t leave it at the restaurant because many restaurants will dump it in the garbage and that is haram.”
Others in the food industry confirmed that food wastage was a daily reality. Tasquia Shaik-Cader said this is one of her pet peeves. Having been in business for three years, she reports that the level of waste, from homes to functions, was “shocking”. “Having grown up with wasting food not being an option, I try and instill the same in my little family. I cook enough for us, and if people pop by unexpectedly and I feel there might not be enough food, I’ll make an extra side or more food. This is year round, not only Ramadan,” she said.
“With regards to functions, I cook and prepare enough for all guests. At the end of the function, if there is food left, I divide it among everyone who wants to take food home, including our staff and guests. If its a big function, we take the leftovers to a place where people need food,” she explained. “I’m not sure where (this waste comes from), but I guess some people feel that since they have it, why not? So at weddings for instance, you will see that people dish out more than they can cope with. Because it is available to them, they take more than they need to.”
This was even worse when a buffet was served, she added. “This is why I don’t like going to buffets. When I used to go, I found that you sit with people who dish up mountains of food and then just leave it. They just took it because they could. That seems to be the same thing that happens in households. They have the money and whether they eat it or not, at the end of the month, they will still get another paycheck to buy more food.”
Asked what she does as a caterer with left over food, she explained: “With the leftovers in people’s plates it is very difficult. You might find something that had already been bitten into. So there is very little you can do with that, except give it to animals. But the other untouched food – there are some caterers who say they don’t give out food after an event. It baffles me, because why not?”
She said after dishing out food to guests and staff, she takes what is left to a number of charitable organisations that they work with to feed the hungry. However, Shaik-Cader added, that there was no cohesive collection structure in this regard that collects food from the food industry for such a purpose. “I have looked for food banks locally, but have not found any in Cape Town. So everyone mostly makes their own arrangements.”
At the same time, as a mother of a three year old, she has had to find creative ways to encourage her daughter not to waste food in order to hold on to the same values she had been raised with. “I try to be strict with her on food. So if she does not want to eat what is on her plate, there are no snacks thereafter. If she comes back later when she is still hungry, she is told to finish what was on her plate. Such positive reinforcement tends to work,” she said.
Onliners commenting on Facebook also waded into the debate. Most of them said there was little waste after iftar because there were so many to whom they could donate it. Said Aziza: “It is so true. People must take recognicence of wastage – whatever is left over at night (after iftar) we do distribute it because there are so many people knocking at the door for something to eat. It is heartbreaking at times to say no when you don’t have.”
Asa wrote that when you are fasting, people have all sorts of cravings, which starts the process of over indulgence. Jasmine wrote: “A few minutes before iftar I will only take out one of each for my kids and put the rest in a container which my son takes to our Christian neighbours, because I don’t like giving people something after we have already eaten.”
Fadielah concurred. “I keep any leftovers for whoever comes to the door. I have given them clean margarine bakkies and told them to bring it with at night. If there are no cookies left, they are even satisfied with a little soup or a sandwich. I feel pleased if I can give to people who are less fortunate, alhamdulillah.”
Moegamat advised fasting Muslims not to shop when they are hungry for one tends to go overboard when there are many who cannot even afford to buy food. “That is what Ramadan is about – to feel how the poor who has nothing to eat, feels. That is why we send boeka plates to neighbours, because you don’t know if they have something with which to break their fast. So our older people had great wisdom.”
Mariam threw in her two pennies worth. “I think wasting is when people throw their food in the bin. We make more than what we can eat just to give to those that don’t have. That is the beauty of this month, alhamdulillah.” Nadia said it was heartbreaking to see so much wastage when many children go hungry. “My young daughter always tries to hand out all the leftovers so that everyone gets and of course they all rush to get something that has cream on it!”
Abdullah asked: “The real question is how come we spend more in the fast on food than in any other month and is it then necessary to have three or four courses every night?” Ibtisaam replied: “Where in the Quran or Sunnah is it indicated that breaking one’s fast must be a ‘party’? Spending more on food during Ramadan? Subhanallah!”
Adela responded to Sheik Gallant: “With all due respect, I think Sheik Galant is barking up the wrong tree. Not all Muslims waste food. I too have people coming to our door all the time and I try to teach my kids to take a few and leave the other stuff – without messing in it – for the less fortunate. To see the smiles on others faces really warms my heart. Ramadan after all is also about sharing an caring.”VOC