Waste Not, Want Not
Mohammed A. Khan
As she maneuvered her shopping cart towards the check out lanes at Costco, Huma Ahmed of Lombard, IL was in for a shock. Handing over a bag of oranges, she noticed that one was rotten. She pointed it out to the clerk who immediately got on the PA system to get Mrs. Ahmed a replacement bag. What the clerk did next, however, stunned Huma.
“She simply picked up the whole bag and trashed it. I couldn’t believe it. For one rotten piece of fruit, a whole bag of good fruit had been thrown out. Just then, I saw a woman returning some produce she’d purchased. I’m sure they’d throw that away too,” recalls Huma. “There are so many people, especially nowadays, who are in such need and we’re throwing food away without a second thought,” said Mrs. Ahmed.
Costco isn’t the only company to toss food that’s completely fit for consumption. According to the USDA in a paper titled ‘Feeding the Hungry and Reducing Solid Waste Through Food Recovery’, “More than one quarter of America’s food, or about 96 billion pounds of food a year, goes to waste—in fields, commercial kitchens, manufacturing plants, markets, schools, and restaurants. While not all of this excess food is edible, much of it is and could be going to those who need it…(Furthermore), the nation spends an estimated $1 billion a year to dispose of excess food. In a nutshell, that means for every person more than 300 pounds of food is discarded.
Food waste is a major problem in much of the world. However, the ever increasing lines at food banks in the developed world, a result of the continuing economic crisis, has now turned the media attention on what can be truly termed a global crisis. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “In the US, roughly 30 to 50 percent of food produced for consumption ends up in landfills each year. The estimated cost of such waste is pegged at more than $1 billion.” In Canada, an estimated 40 percent of the food, valued at $27 billion by the Value Chain Management Centre (VCMC), finds its way into landfill and composting every year. The VCMC works with businesses of all sizes that are looking to improve the performance of an existing chain in the agri-food sector. 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.
“I abhor wasting food,” says Asma Khan, of Naperville, IL. She says as much even on her Facebook profile. “We are taught not to waste in any capacity in our faith. I have taught my kids a cardinal rule since birth: don’t waste food. It is a blessing from above. People are used to living in a disposable society and unfortunately food is included among those things. Every time my kids tried to throw something away secretly off their plate or frowned at what was placed before them, I had them write an essay. I have kept these essays and, today, they are extremely conscious of throwing away any food, anywhere. I have no doubt that Allah blessed me with so much because I’ve respected His blessing.”
As a society, food recovery programs have four tracks. Food is recovered to feed hungry people, feed livestock or zoo animals, recycled for industrial purposes and composted to improve soil fertility, in that order.
IFANCA run Sabeel Food Pantry is one of the few food pantries that accepts perishable food donations. “We usually donate perishable foods to Sabeel Food Pantry, an amazing organization that has become the means of supplying food to over 200 families every year. My children go to Muslim Educational Center (MEC) and there are two containers at school for Sabeel Food Pantry,” says Chicagoan, Halima Ahmed. Pacific Garden Mission, also based in Chicago, is a 24 hour emergency food shelter and accepts food donations anytime.
Feeding America coordinates a nationwide network of food banks that receive donations from grocery chains. Florida’s Harry Chapin Food Bank, one of Feeding America’s partners, distributed 11.44 pounds of food in 2010. In New York City, City Harvest collects some 28 million pounds of excess food each year from restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers, and farms and delivers it to nearly 600 New York City food programs. Similarly, London Street Food Bank utilizes volunteers to collect unused food items from London businesses and get them to food banks around the city. Associated Food Dealers of Michigan, American Express, Boston Market, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Kraft Foods, Inc., Marriott International, Northwest Airlines, and Pizza Hut have formed coalitions with community-based food recovery programs. It saves them resources spent on trash collection and disposal fees and feeds the hungry too.
In San Francisco households are required, by law, to separate both recycling and food waste from garbage. The latter is transformed into nutrient-rich compost and given to area organic farmers and wine producers, helping to reduce resource consumption in agriculture. The Love Food Hate Waste website—an awareness campaign of the U.K.-based organization Wrap—provides online recipes for using leftovers as well as tips and advice for reducing personal food waste.
To help, you don’t necessarily have to be in the food business or even a national organization. Food Recovery efforts need volunteers, office equipment, transportation, computer help, and organizational talent.
He Who Sleeps Contentedly While His Neighbors Sleep Hungry Did Not Believe in my Message – Prophet Muhammad*.
We find numerous sayings of Prophet Muhammad warning against any kind of food wastage by individuals, traders, businesses, and the state. The most prevalent of his narrations address the individual. This is logical as every major initiative begins with the individual before it permeates through society. According to a Sahih Muslim narration, the Prophet is reported as saying that if a morsel falls off one’s hand we should pick it up, clean it, and eat it. Just because the food has fallen off one’s hand or plate doesn’t mean we should waste it. 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 animals. In either case it should be utilized and not wasted.
In the light of these teachings it is imperative that Muslims be conscious of the value of food and treat it with the respect that it deserves. Having access to food doesn’t mean having a license to indulge in waste. We never know when we will be denied of this blessing.
The average Khan, Abood and Jobrani family is equally culpable. Those half eaten fruits, barely nibbled on school lunches, fresh produce you intended to cook but never found the time for, salad you couldn’t get yourself to eat, over-ordering at restaurants, over-ordering for events, neglecting to check the use-by date on foods, burning food while cooking and tossing left overs are all examples of food wastage. In a nutshell, you, me and every entity whether restaurants, hospitals, airlines, grocery chains or movie theatres, where perishable food, if unsold by close of business, are culpable. And yes, besides the moral implications of wasting food, food wastage implies throwing money away.
The “Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act”, now a law, protects both businesses and organizations, who donate food in good faith, from legal liability that may result from their donations. In addition to federal protection, all 50 States and the District of Columbia have “Good Samaritan” laws that may provide extra protection to donors.
“If merely 5% of food discards were recovered, 4 million additional Americans could be fed each day.” — USDA
*Editor’s Note: ‘Peace & blessings upon him’ is recited with each mention of Prophet Muhammad.