The left-over food in the plates at a five-star hotel in Delhi commemorating World Environment Day - with the global theme of 'Think, Eat and Save' this year - had only one message, such events are all about gas without any action.
If not so, humans across the globe would not have been wasting 1.3 billion tonnes of food, enough to feed the world three times over. In India the situation is not so bad with its per capita food wastage being 6-11 kilogram every year as compared to 95-115 kilogram per year for North America and Europe.
Even this meagre wastage accounts for annual agriculture produce loss worth Rs 50,000 crore, enough to feed around 300 million poor in the country every year. "Unless we build adequate storage facilities and cold chain preventing such a waste would not be easy," says former environment secretary and senior fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute, Pradipto Ghosh.
The government's attempts are atmost piecemeal. The real push is lacking as there is not enough private sector participation. The government believes that once Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail becomes a reality, agriculture waste could be reduced.
In high food wastage countries such as the United States, around 30% of the fruit, vegetables and cereals - having highest wastage rate among all foods - are rejected by the big retail chains on quality issues. However, that may not happen in India, experts feel, as there is a market for almost everything in India.
One area where even the policy-makers feel incapable to intervene is preventing colossal waste of food in social events such as marriages. A recent food ministry study said that around 20% of the food at marriages goes waste but failed to muster the courage to crack the whip to prevent the waste. The reason was usual - food is a state subject.
Among the usual culprits are top hotels in India, such as the one where the World Environment Day event was held. For many environmentalists it is not unusual because they preach altogether different from their actions. Symbolic are the annual climate change conferences held at high energy guzzling air-conditioned convention centres. "Some awareness is better than nothing," was the remark of a senior environment ministry official at the event.
The omen of food wastage
While you leave your Crème Brule at diners, because you are too full, a kid goes to sleep hungry. The reason why he goes hungry is not because India doesn't produce enough food, but because India doesn't manage its food. According to a new global report by the Institute of Mechanical Researchers, a quantity of wheat equivalent to the entire production of Australia goes to waste in India.
The issue has been raised in yet another report by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) which reveals that India lost 79,429.82 million tonnes of wheat since 2009, a 9% of the total crop produced. Lamenting the procurement policy as the main culprit, the World Bank said, "The FCI's inefficiencies not only lead to high losses of the grains, they also drive up the costs of food handling."
India needs to tackle food wastage on a war footing, and ensure ways to store surplus. There's a need of a better contact between the farmer and the consumers as well. A while ago South Korea implemented a method to check food wastage - what you don't eat, you pay for it. While adopting this would be difficult here but imagine if it's done. I'm sure you would want not just to finish your food, but lick your dish clean!
Ways to stop food wastage
* Buy and cook as much you require. It'll ensure that the nutrition value of the food doesn't go down.
* Distribute excess food from functions. Contact organisations that help in distribution.
* Don't discard raw veggies, fruits when they go a little limp. Find recipes to make the most of them.
(Debanjana Choudhuri is a Delhi-based activist. Views expressed here are personal)