Saturday, 6 June 2009

Love Food, Hate Waste: An Easter Reflection!

The Easter of the year 2009 is finally around the corner and this is another opportunity for us to reflect on the reason behind the celebration of the feast of Easter. To begin with Easter is a feast that is very peculiar to the Christendom meaning that apart from Christians no other religion celebrates Easter.

To Christians it celebrates the rising of the Lord Jesus Christ from the death. Throughout the Old Testament numerous prophecies were made of this man who is to come and atone for our sins. Man by sin created enmity between himself and God and that brought about a rift between them that must be mended to avoid the eternal damnation of man. 

To achieve this atonement something has to be used as an object of sacrifice and this is where Jesus Christ comes in. He took the nature of man to come and save man. He was God, yet for our salvation he took the form of man.

He came with nothing. Not even with entourage in the manner of Prime Minister Gordon Brown or President Barack Obama. He chose to be born in a humble family of a seamstress called Mary and carpenter known as Joseph. When it was time to be born, He never chose the best hospital. In fact there was no room in the Inn for Him to be born and He was born in a manager and kept warmth by the breath and hays of animals. He went to no formal school yet his wisdom and philosophy is being quoted by all today including non-Christians and atheists.

When it was time to begin his ministry, He humbly chose 12 poor men, one would later sell him and another denied knowing Him, not just once but three good times. Yet He had the heart to forgive them all even making one of them the head of His church. Then During His tribulations He was beaten and tortured like a criminal, but He offered no resistance. 

He was stripped naked in the public, a shame none of us would want to bear today and lashed severally like a common criminal but He never complained. To add salt upon injury, He was crucified like a thief in the midst of two thieves and this Man had the gut to forgive again. He was later buried and on the third He rose from the death and that is what we are celebrating today as Easter.

Easter is therefore not in a real sense a day of merrymaking like the Christmas. It is an occasion more apt for a deeper reflection on the meaning of life and existence of man on earth and that is the reason I would want to us to use this medium and time to reflect on the culture of wasting that is now very endemic in our society especially in the western world.

Many months ago there was a huge riot in Haiti and it was called a food riot. The idea of food riot is very foreign to people in the western world simply because of the endemic nature of the culture of wasting food here. In the west things are simply taken for granted that many people would find it difficult knowing how bananas or rice are cultivated. They simply do not have an idea because they think that every other person eat as much as they eat.

Hunger and malnutrition is one of the greatest threats facing the third world today especially the children and young people there. For people in the third world the idea of ‘give us this day our daily bread’ is not just a prayer but also a hope they carry about. Every day we are confronted with ugly stories and pictures of children dying of hunger and malnutrition in Darfur or stories of famine and drought in Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

The ongoing credit crunch is impacting on the global hunger and malnutrition adversely. In 2008 alone about 40 million people were pushed into hunger as a result of the global financial instability that made the food price to go up.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation this brings the overall number of people undernourished worldwide to about 963 million people with the figure expected to rise more due to the financial quagmire we are experiencing today. For millions of people in developing countries, eating the minimum amount of food everyday to live an active and healthy life is still a dream.

The vast majority of the world’s undernourished people live in developing countries states the 2007 data reported by the State of Food Insecurity in the World. Of these, 65 percent live in only seven countries and they are India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Progress in these countries would go a long way to halve the number of children and young people dying of malnutrition and hunger yearly.

The 1996 World Food Summit target to reduce the number of hungry people by half by 2015 and the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger requires a strong political commitment and investment in countries like these of at least $30 billion per year for agriculture and social protection of the poor. Saving all the food we waste and throw away yearly would be enough to generate part of this money. With a very large population and relatively slow progress in hunger reduction, nearly two-thirds of the world’s hungry people live in Asia. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, one in three people are chronically hungry. That is about 236 million of the entire sub-Saharan African population. Most of this increase occurred in The Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of widespread and persistent conflict. But despite all these stories and pictures this culture of wasting food continues here. People go to shop and end up buying what they do not need. That is not bad though. The most pathetic is that at the end of the day, the whole stuff goes into the bin.

How else do we describe this if not as a great wickedness of man’s heart? Jesus died on the cross to save mankind and yet another person has got the gut to go to shop and buy food stuff with his money and throw them into the bin. This is a complete disaster and one of the mysteries that has defied human understanding and to think that this happens in a Christian nation is not just embarrassing but also ridiculous.

The fundamental question is for how long are going to continue to waste and throw food away when others are starving. Obesity is becoming a very big health disaster here in the UK, Europe and America simply because of the quest to eat until we drop dead. A trip to Macdonald’s or other high street takeaways would convince you how wicked we can be as human beings. People walk in there and order for this and that only to throw them into the bin.

Does man not know his needs anymore? How can we continue to live like this? In the late 1990s when there was a huge political agitation for the forgiveness of the debts of the third world countries, many Europeans and Americans rose in opposition. They do not see anything wrong in wasting and throwing food away but sees everything wrong in forgiving or slashing the debt burden of the third world countries.

Part of the reason children and young people die of hunger and malnutrition in the third world on daily basis is as a result of the debt their countries owe the western world. The burden of servicing their debt has seriously diverted their attention from food provision and other developmental projects. Haiti is a good example.

It is therefore with heart filled with sorrow that am advocating that we use this period of Easter to reflect on the culture of wasting and throwing food away that is engulfing our society. It makes every sense for us to go into the shop and buy only the quantity we need and can consume and even if out of mistake we buy more than required, nothing prevents us from sharing with others or inviting others to share our food with us. Unnecessary purchases push up demand and hikes the price of food and for the price of food to come down people must learn how not to waste and throw food away and buy only the necessary ones they need as well as storing them well.

According to a recent UK government study, the UK wastes about 4 million tonnes of perfectly good food every year and in the process adds about £420 extra to their shopping bills annually. About 4 million tonnes of food yearly is an equivalent of about £6 billion worth of food. That same study also says that an average UK household throws away £8 worth of food leftovers a week, yet spends 9% of its income on food. It however blamed the supermarkets for this and urged them to stop promoting the unnecessary purchases which results in a lot of food going to waste.

There is no better time than this to make amend. We can begin by inviting over the less privileged to eat out of our pot. We should make sure that the small leftovers in the plates go back to the fridge to be consumed the next time while the bones must be eaten or given to dogs. We could donate to hunger projects or even go on shopping for the less privileged just to say sorry for all these years of food wasting and throwing away. Knowing how to preserve food could be vital in managing foods while little things like looking twice inside the fridge could help us to make wise decisions on necessary foods to buy. Asking for half portion in the restaurant could be a good idea to avoid waste while preparing a shopping list could helpful as it helps us to buy only that food we really need and budgeted for.

The environmental cost of food wasting is enormous. An estimated 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food production, distribution and storage. If we stopped wasting food that could have been eaten we could prevent at least 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year.
“The majority of these emissions are associated with embedded energy but a significant proportion arises as a result of food waste going to landfill sites. Once in landfill food breakdown produces methane-a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide”, says WRAP.

But come to think of it the food we are wasting or throwing away is never ours. It is a commonwealth meant for all and therefore should be meticulously guarded and given to each according to his needs. For each food we throw away, one person dies in developing world for want of that food. If we refuse to heed to this commonsense, we shall all go hungry one day.

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