Kashmir has a solution to counter food waste!

At a time when we waste large amounts of food, the food security problem has become an important concern for the entire world
Kashmir has a solution to counter food waste!
Representational Pic

We save at least 1 lakh kgs of cooked mutton daily that would otherwise go into landfill meaning Rs 2.40 crores loss daily

Large amounts of cooked food, vegetables and fruits get wasted on a daily basis across the world. This has turned into a global challenge in the last two decades. The developed countries which should have been more concerned about this issue are unfortunately throwing away large quantities of food every day. Food waste is a huge problem as it costs billions of dollars in lost revenue in the US and many other developed countries. The food waste affects human resources, and harms the environment by contributing to global warming and climate change as the food waste goes to landfills where it is not even treated. This untreated waste produces methane which is a dangerous greenhouse gas.

Earth has provided us with huge natural resources. But we have not utilized them responsibly and we consume far beyond what our planet can provide. We must learn how to use and produce in sustainable ways that will reverse the harm that we have inflicted on the planet earth. The sustainable development goal number 12 (SGD-12) focusses on sustainable production and consumption patterns. All the countries need to implement the 10 ‑Year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns. All countries taking action, with developed countries claiming to be taking the lead, but when we see the amount of food waste countries like US, Japan, China, France, UK waste, the developing countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh find no role-models to adopt policies of not wasting the food unnecessarily.

At a time when we waste large amounts of food, the food security problem has become an important concern for the entire world. India waste 68,760,163 tons of food every year which means 50 kgs food is wasted for every person every year in India (50kg/ capita). China also wastes large quantity of food i.e 91,646,213 which is around 64 kgs / capita, but as the population of China is much higher this is still less when we compare this with developed countries like Australia , France and Germany where per capita food waste is 102 , 85 and 75 kgs respectively. The US and Japan waste 59 and 64 kgs / capita food every year.

The problem of chronic hunger which has increased over the decades in the world clearly indicates that the world does not have sufficient amounts of food to feed the people. The problem is further exacerbated by factors like effects of climate change, unstable global economy, low agriculture production, rising poverty and huge food wastage. Therefore, these factors have brought new challenges to the world for producing and supplying continuous staple food to the people and making sure we don’t waste our food.

Food waste & hunger

As per 2016 report of Food and Agriculture Organisation a total of 795 million people or around one in nine people in the world, were estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger, regularly not getting enough food to conduct an active life. Further, the world is faced with problems of rising population, climate change, unstable global economy, low agriculture production, rising poverty, unstable food prices and food wastage. Such problems have brought new challenges for the world in terms of continuous availability, supply and access to food at affordable prices. Thus, food security has become an important problem for the world.

Food waste across the world is becoming a huge problem. According to the 2021 Food Waste Index of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 931 million tons of food waste is produced every year in the world, out of which 569 tons comes from households (more than 60 %) . The rest of the food waste which amounts to 244 million tons comes from the food service industry and 118 million tons is attributed to the retail sectors. The average global household produces 74kg of food waste per capita every year and that figure is broadly similar across country income groups which suggests that widespread improvement is needed to tackle the problem.

The food waste index states that if food loss and waste were a nation, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions on the earth. So we can now imagine with this illustration how extravagant the developed and developing countries are by wasting huge amounts of food waste and on the other hand 11 people die of hunger each minute around the globe, reported Oxfam in its 2021 report. When it comes to India the situation is more alarming. As per the 2017 report of National Health Survey approximately 19 crore people in India were compelled to sleep empty stomach every night , and on the other hand tons of food waste is dumped in our landfills. Most alarming figure that was revealed through that report was that 4500 children below the age of 5 years die every day of hunger and malnutrition across India which amounts to 3 lakh deaths every year.

1 lakh kg cooked food is saved

Kashmir is famous all around the world for its royal cuisine known as ‘Wazwan’. The Wazwan is a multi-course meal wherein different mutton dishes are served. There are a few vegetarian dishes as well. The wazwan is served during Kashmiri weddings and other functions. In the past only 7 mutton dishes would be served in the wazwan but with the passage of time this jumped up to 12 and then 15. From the last 10 to 15 years around 20 dishes are served during special wedding ceremonies like Barat when groom has to get his bride. This is called Mahraz Saal in local dialect, which means special feast for groom and those who accompany him, which ranges between 20 to 100. The wazwan is served with steamed Kashmiri rice on a large copper plate called Trami . Four people eat from the Trami at a time. On an average 5 kgs mutton is served to 4 people during Mahraz Saal. For other people who take lunch or dinner other than Mahraz Saal minimum 3 kgs mutton is served on a trami.

As per un official information provided by local Kashmiri Chef Farooq Ahmad Waza on an average there are at least 2000 marriage functions daily in Kashmir valley alone between May to November every year. During these functions on an average 200 kgs mutton is used to make Wazwan dishes in every marriage function. This means 4 lakh Kgs of mutton is used during marriage functions alone in Kashmir valley daily. Had Kashmiri people not been carrying the leftover wazwan dishes with them, we would have been wasting at least 50% of the food (wazwan dishes) which means 2 lakh kgs of mutton every day would go to the landfills that would be a financial loss of minimum Rs 2.40 Crores daily as every kg mutton costs Rs 600in retail which amounts to Rs 1.20 Crore Rupees plus same amount is spent on its preparation for every kg of mutton.

In the past only Kashmiri ladies would carry the leftover mutton dishes by putting the same in old newspapers or poly bags that they would carry along . This trend gained momentum with the passage of time and men also started carrying the leftover mutton with them. As the number of dishes in wazwan increased from 7 to 12 and then 30 or more , it was difficult for the guests to eat everything. Some people would carry the leftover food with them , but many were reluctant as they felt very awkward. In the early 1990s the hosts started distributing poly bags to carry leftover food. A retired Kashmiri bureaucrat told me that this practice originated from Anantnag district of South Kashmir. This practice had more takers in rural areas and within a year or so people in towns and cities also adopted this. To take leftover food in carry bags became a kind of movement in Kashmir and people gave it a social acceptance and this has now become part of our culture for the last almost 30 years.

From the last 20 to 25 years the host keeps specially designed plastic packets with the wazwan feast while it is served. There have been many innovations in it. Then another bag is used to carry it which is also served during marriage or any other function. Some elites of Kashmir particularly in Srinagar city were reluctant to serve the bags to carry leftover food but that led to huge wastage of food and with the passage of time elites too joined this movement and started serving the specially designed carry bags for the leftover food. Now carrying the leftover food with us during marriage parties (lunch or dinner) and other functions has become part of our Kashmiri culture and we don’t feel this is an act of awkwardness anymore. This is in fact a success story to overcome the food waste as we are able to save more than 1 lakh kgs of food waste daily in Kashmir valley and some parts of Jammu as well. Even the leftover rice is also not wasted in marriage functions as the majority of it is served to animals (dogs, cattle etc).

Conclusion

Using quintals of mutton to make thirty dishes of wazwan is indeed extravagant, but when all the leftover food (wazwan dishes) are collected carefully by the people attending a wedding or any other feast where these dishes are served, a person like me feels relaxed. This leftover food is carried by people and then stored in a refrigerator at home. The same is relished by every family member for several days. This is a great societal and cultural change we have seen in Kashmir during the last thirty years. This continues to be followed by everyone now whether rich or poor , educated or uneducated . Even the elites who were against it some years back are now getting adopted to this new enculturation. Carrying the leftover food has some negative impact also in society as more and more dishes are being added to wazwan. People believe that they are not wasting the food , and under this garb more and more mutton dishes are served to guests. Food waste is a global challenge and developed nations like France, Germany, Australia, China and other countries must take lessons from Kashmir when it comes to addressing the food waste crisis. These nations must replicate our model in their countries which will ensure food is not wasted during marriage functions and other parties.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is also an Anant Fellow for Climate Action.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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