Why is Pakistan’s affluent class so ashamed of getting extra food packed at a restaurant?

Published: February 13, 2016
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We associate affluence with wastage; wastage that is criminal in a country where 61 million people are food insecure and malnutrition and stunting are common. PHOTO: REUTERS

“You are embarrassing me!”

Said the husband, upset over the fact that his wife asked the restaurant staff to pack the left overs which included one kabab, three-fourths of a naan and a bit of chicken karhai.

“But it will be wasted,”

She smiled and even carried the large mineral water bottle that was almost untouched with resolve.

It was a delightful dinner my family and I were invited to and this conversation between our host couple was all too familiar. There is the “what will people think” attitude associated with carrying home leftovers and in doing so we forget that edible, clean and fresh food will be thrown away simply because we over-ordered. We associate affluence with wastage; wastage that is criminal in a country where 61 million people are food insecure and malnutrition and stunting are common.

The numbers clash and vary, but all surveys and reports point in the direction that millions of Pakistanis live below the poverty line, with a 2015 World Bank report citing that the number is as high as over 50 per cent of Pakistan’s population. Women giving birth suffer from anemia, get too little protein and give birth to weak and often premature children.

On the other side of the social see-saw, privileged Pakistanis continue to pile their plates with food at weddings and buffets or order more than they can consume and end up wasting food, an offence that should be made a criminal offence.

But this criminal offence is not Pakistan specific. According to data released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, a total of 793 million people world over are estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger, regularly not getting enough food to conduct an active life. Of these, 791 million live in developing regions.

Meanwhile, in every other Hollywood movie, we see people getting up in the middle of the meal saying “I’m done” and emptying half of their plates into the trash bin.

Why did they heap so much food in their plates in the first place? And what precedent are they setting?

The perpetrators of food wastage do so both at an individual as well as at a colossal collective level. Supermarkets and franchise eateries throw away clean food items, even though most items stay okay for a while after the expiry date is over.

A very promising initiative in this regard is Lahore’s Robin Hood Army (RHA). The campaign intelligently used social media to mobilise volunteers and motivate food catering companies and restaurants to bring un-used food to those who needed to be fed.

But is that enough?

Can Pakistan learn from the recent initiative taken by France at the state level?

Recently, France became the first nation in the world that came up with a law that bans supermarkets from wasting food. French grocery stores will now have to donate unsold food to charities. As a result, millions more in need of food will be fed. The law is expected to spill over into all of the European Union eventually.

Yet here we are, Pakistan’s thankless, skimming over pictures of malnourished children with big bellies in Tharparkar dying of hunger, doing the customary “tsk tsk”, and moving on wasting the crust of the pizza slice or throwing away half the meal because it does not taste well. The scourge of hunger is not just limited to districts like Tharparkar.

Adjacent to Karachi’s affluent localities of Defence and Clifton, go visit the kitchens of your domestic help. Stories of malnourished underprivileged children abound. We follow international trends and become vegetarians and vegans for health reasons, but very few are ready to become freegans, or understand how freeganism can help feed more people use consumable food that needs to be reclaimed. We are environment friendly, or so we think, but are okay with writing off good fresh food just because the taste is not up to the mark. Maybe Pakistan needs a Tristram Stuart who comes and gives us a talk on food wastage repeatedly till we get brainwashed into respecting the food on our table.

Our lopsided food choices and unnecessary nakhray (tantrums) are also responsible for this trend of food hemorrhaging. We, as a nation, are getting more and more inclined towards eating more meat. Thus, because of the imbalanced food choices of the privileged, the demand for these food groups increases. This results in a lot of good crops going into fattening livestock to provide more food from the dairy and meat groups. When the balance is lost, the entire food chain equilibrium is lost, with more humans going hungry.

We can’t feed them all, but we can feed some. That packet of leftover food at the restaurant or café can be given to the kids at the signals. We can be more vigilant about giving away and sharing food items in our fridge and pantry before they are no longer edible. Small things will make a difference. But above all, we have to get rid of the ungrateful attitude towards food. We are the blessed ones. Let us be thankful till God is giving us enough food for the fill and share the blessing.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ravi Blr

    Very good article. Completely applicable to India too.Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    @FarahnazZahid

    I have been to USA once. Believe me, there too people waste more food than they eat. In most restaurants people order food and leave most of it untouched. Not just a problem with Pakistan.Recommend

  • ovais

    I have been following your blogs . maybe the only sensible blogger on tribune . Keep it up for always raising issues like theseRecommend

  • Parvez

    Strong stuff……and well said. I hate ‘ to waste ‘ anything, with a passion, most of all food. I taught my children not to waste and now I make sure my grand children learn the same……..possibly the learning must start at home and in schools.
    On the ‘ mindset ‘ of being ashamed of getting food packed I believe that our leaders should set an example because their shameless flaunting of grandeur ( with peoples money ) certainly does not help to set an example.Recommend

  • Saj

    “That packet of leftover food at the restaurant or café can be given to the kids at the signals.”

    Leftovers? That misses the point of being charitable, which is like giving a gift. If you’re concerned about food wastage, by all means pack the remains of your meal and take them home for a midnight snack. But spare the hungry your leftovers, give them respect, give them something that you would be willing to accept as well if the tables were turned.Recommend

  • bablu

    Yeah always a woman who is morally upright. Bibiji, which wasted food are you even talking about? Evey single bit that can be re-used, is promptly served to other customers. Rest is sold to soap makers, flour sellers etc.
    Recommend

  • Ramchand

    Great article. Specially, French Law, about not discarding food.
    Simply because of expiration date, or shelf holding time. This will feed
    a lot of people every day. Wish they would pass this everywhere. And the
    husband exclaiming ‘you are embarrassing me’ is a jerk of the first magnitude.
    Always take your left over food, from a restaurant. So many creative ways to
    eat it again. Mix it with eggs, to make an unusual omelette. Make sandwiches.
    You bought it with your hard earned money. Why feel embarrassed? Why try to
    impress the surrounding diners. They are not worried about you. They are interested
    in their food. You come second,…not you, your clothes, that is.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I liked the topic and did comment ( well, I comment most anyway ) so I try again briefly. To waste anything especially food is in my view close to a sin as one can get. Waste is a product of the mind and it needs to be checked early both at home and in schools.Recommend

  • LincolnTony

    There is no food shortage in this world. Instead we have often greedy and corrupt governments that would prefer that their own people starve.Recommend

  • salman

    Very good points….there is no shame in asking leftovers to be packed…
    Another tip…sometimes when I go to dinner with my wife and especially if we’ve ordered starters, we order just one main dish to share. Its better then ordering a main each and not being able to finish it.Recommend

  • Food For Thought

    We recently launched this initiative called Food for Thought which aims to prevent food wastage through the distribution of leftover food at restaurants.

    The idea is simple. Incase any food is leftover after the meal, the customer can opt to have it packed in a ‘Food for Thought’ bag. Each consumer then takes charge of distributing their own leftovers, thus making it a community driven initiative.

    We’d really appreciate it if you could support this project by liking the page and sharing it with as many friends as possible. Also the next time you’re dining out, do keep a lookout for our packaging.

    Help us spread the word and bring about a positive change smile emoticon

    https://www.facebook.com/foodforthoughtpk1/?fref=tsRecommend

  • J

    1/3 of all food produced, globally, is wasted. Enough to feed
    everyone in the world for two months ! $940 billion dollars !
    The water used to produce all this, is also wasted. [Not even
    included here. That’s an entirely different subject.]
    This includes farm loss, production loss, loss on retail level,
    loss on consumer level, [restaurant wastage, supermarket
    wastage, vendor wastage and such]
    Believe it or not, in Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania 50% of the
    staple crops are lost. They never make it to the market or consumers.Recommend

  • Iqra

    Ok,one question: WHY the HELL would you leave the pizza crust uneaten? WHY?Recommend

  • Syed Muhammad Antiq

    If you ask me, i’d say because for when it’s about Pizza, you get to eat the most out it the crusts are harder to chew once you eat too many of those, you can’t get to eat more than a couple of slices of Pizza. It’s tried and tested. and i ‘ll hate some one else grab slices i had eyes upon since the pizza was served on the table.Recommend