Junk Food—One’s Junk Food Can Be Another’s Lifeline
There is no proper definition for junk food and there will never be one. If we google it, we may find that junk food refers to any man-made food which is often high in fat, sugar and salt. Of course, so-called junk foods typically contain high levels of calories. The human body requires protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals but in moderation. Some health-conscious people consider salted snack foods, gum, candy, sweet desserts, fried fast food and carbonated beverages as junk food. On the other hand, foods such as pizza or hamburger can either be considered as healthy or junk food depending upon the ingredients used in the preparation. The unhealthy eating habit may be categorized as the consumption of junk food.
If someone really wants to get rid of junk food, he or she must watch the pictures or videos of hungry people on YouTube or other social media. A few days ago, a picture made me cry when I saw an African woman was making dough out of soil. A person who eats more than what he actually needs cannot even imagine what a hungry person feels. We can show a way to eat moderately by not wasting food because one’s junk food can be another’s life line.
Food waste is a major problem in much of the world. While millions of people go hungry millions of ton of food are wasted at all levels of the food chain. Farmers, manufacturers, retailers, restaurants and consumers are all complicit in this problem. The growing lines at food banks in the developed world, a result of the continuing economic crisis, have now turned the media attention on what can be truly termed a crisis.
In Canada an estimated 40 percent of the food, valued at $27 billion by the Value Chain Management Centre, finds its way into landfill and composting every year. In the US roughly 30 to 50 per cent of food produced for consumption ends up in landfills each year. The estimated cost of such waste is pegged at more than $1 billion. Similarly, in the European Union countries around 50% of edible and healthy food is wasted each year. The European parliament recently adopted a resolution calling for urgent measures to halve food waste by 2025 and to improve access to food for needy EU citizens.
In an age of increasing poverty such waste is absolutely intolerable and urgent measures should be taken to address it all levels of the food chain. Islam forbids all forms of waste and explicitly states that food waste is an impious act. In the Islamic worldview, food is considered to be a great and highly valued blessing. Therefore we find numerous teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) warning against any kind of food wastage. There are explicit instructions related to the value of food for the individual, traders, businesses and the state. The most prevalent narrations of the Prophet (PBUH) begin at the individual level. This is logical as every major initiative begins with the individual before it permeates through the society.
In one authentic narration, the Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said, “When you eat, do not wipe your hands till you have licked them…” (Bukhari & Muslim). The message in this narration is that once one has eaten all the food that one has taken in their plate, they should even utilize the grains or gravy that are left on one’s hand after the completion of the meal.
In another narration in the Sahih Muslim collection the Prophet (PBUH) is reported as saying that if a morsel falls off one’s hand he should pick it up, clean it, and eat it. Just because the food has fallen off one’s hand or plate doesn’t mean it should be wasted. Islamic jurists have interpreted this narration to mean that if the morsel falls in a clean place then it is clean and should be eaten. If it falls in an unclean place then it (the morsel) also becomes unclean and should instead be fed to the animals. In either case it should be utilized and not wasted. In another narration the Prophet (PBUH) is reported as saying one eats everything that he or she has put on the plate as one never knows which part of the food has barakah (blessing). (Muslim)
In the light of these teachings it is imperative on Muslims to be conscious of the value of food and treat it with the respect that it deserves. Just because we have access to abundant food doesn’t mean we have a license to indulge in waste. We never know when we will be denied this blessing. This is exactly what we should teach our young generation. Even in different events like wedding ceremonies, people waste a lot of food. This is a common practice in the Indo-Pak region where affluent people may be wasting food while someone close by must go to sleep without anything to eat. This really hurts big time. We hope the time will come when one person will really care about the other.
Some Muslim communities and organizations are already taking action to tackle food waste. Chicago’s Sabeel Food Pantry (www. sabeelfoodpantry.org), an IFANCA initiative, collects healthy, safe, and edible food from Panera Bread, J & M Food Products, and other businesses, which would have otherwise been wasted and distributes it among the needy. This service reaches nearly 1600 people each year and is only increasing. More such initiatives need to be taken to tackle waste and hunger at all levels of the food chain.