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At a time when the world is apprehensive about food security and the looming dark days when humanity will run out of food, millions of tons of food are wasted because of our poor habits of consumerism. In industrialized nations especially, retailers and consumers discard around 300 million tons that is fit for consumption. Ironically, one in every seven people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger.
When food is wasted, two other vital commodities are also wasted – the energy used to produce food and water necessary for producing and cooking food.
Indeed, Malaysians waste up to 8,000 tons or 8 million kilograms of food a day – and this amount can easily feed 6 million people.
Environmentally, food waste also means that chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides, and fuel used for transportation of these foods are also wasted. It also leads to more rotting food, which creates more methane, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.
Methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Thus, the vast amount of food going to landfills makes a significant contribution to global warming.
The best way to help reduce waste is to adopt and practice the theme ‘Think. Eat. Save’, as a way of saving the environment. If we observe what is happening around us in school, we will see many students eating only half of the food they have ordered and throwing away the rest. At home, we only eat what we like and discard the rest of the food that has been served on our plates because we dislike it.
Some of us heap food on our plates without any intention of finishing it. In restaurants, for example, many families order unnecessary amounts of food and waste a lot of it.
In fact, Malaysians have for too long lived in affluence and have a compulsive affinity for food. It is said that if Malaysians are not doing anything else, they are eating. It is a fact that while the British may be obsessed with the day’s weather, the first thing two Malaysians ask each other when they meet is “sudah makan?” or “have you eaten?” Malaysia could possibly be the only country in the world where food is available in street corners throughout the night, while the rest of the world is sleeping. Given this kind of lifestyle and the resultant devastating effects on the environment, the theme ‘Think. Eat. Save’ will encourage us to become more aware of the environmental impact of the food choices and informed decisions we make.
To put this theme into practice, we should start from the home and then witness the power of collective decisions we have made to reduce food waste, save money, minimize the environmental impact of food production and force food production processes to become more efficient. If food is wasted, it means that all the resources and inputs used in the production of all the foods are also lost. For example, it takes about 1 000 liters of water to produce 1 liter of milk and about 16,000 liters goes into a cow’s food to produce a hamburger. The resulting greenhouse gas emissions from the cows themselves, and throughout the food supply chain, all end up in vain when we waste food.
Therefore, we should eat only what we are able to eat. Do not heap your plate with food you know you will not be able to finish eating. In restaurants, make sure you or your friends or parents do not over order food, or even for that matter, order dishes that many do not like. It is more prudent to order less food than too much – if insufficient, you can ask for more.
Parents too, need to change their attitude towards food consumption and educate the young about the downside of food wastage. Even in the school system, some effective kind of awareness on food wastage must be impressed upon the younger generation as they may not be aware of another world where food is scarce or the looming food security issue which is threatening the world.
As for making informed decisions, it simply means that we purposefully select foods that have less environmental impact. One example is buying organic foods that do not use chemicals in the production process. No doubt organic food is more expensive, but if more people buy organic produce, their production will be increased and subsequently, production costs will fall. Foods that are produced using fertilizers and pesticides only harm the environment and our health.
At the same time, we should also support our local market. Choosing to buy locally produced vegetables, fruit and farm products can also mean that foods are not flown halfway across the world. It not only saves our money but also limits carbon emissions from planes.
Many countries are taking the problem of food wastage seriously and trying to curtail it by imposing fines on people who wantonly waste food. Restaurants in some countries fine diners who leave behind large amounts of food on their plates. Food wasted for these restaurants means more rubbish, which will only add on to the millions of tons of household and commercial trash thrown out daily, leaving a greater impact on the environment. By imposing fines, people will be more conscious of wasting food.
Lastly, we should all join hands to create a safe and green world. So think before you eat and help save our environment.
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