The problem of food waste is a relatively modern one. India is an ancient civilisation and we have been prudent about food for millennia. Our parents and grandparents, too, once approached food and cooking with the same prudence. Yet, somewhere along the way, we lost sight of this “waste not, want not” mentality.
Nearly 40 per cent of the food produced in India is wasted every year due to fragmented food systems and inefficient supply chains — a figure estimated by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). This is the loss that occurs even before the food reaches the consumer.
There is also a significant amount of food waste generated in our homes. As per the Food Waste Index Report 2021, a staggering 50 kg of food is thrown away per person every year in Indian homes. This excess food waste usually ends up in landfills, creating potent greenhouse gases which have dire environmental implications. Meanwhile, we continue to be greenwashed into amassing more “organic” and “sustainable” products than we really need.
This has been a problem for decades, and is worsening with time. It was only when the COVID-19 pandemic came along in 2020 that many of us began taking note. Affluent Indians were suddenly inconvenienced by things otherwise taken for granted, like procuring groceries or worrying about how long their supplies would last. We came to realise that the food we eat goes far beyond the few bites it takes for us to finish it. We started becoming more conscious of our food choices.
The pandemic not only exposed the problems on food waste but also compounded them. In the wake of the lockdown imposed last year, surplus stocks of grain — pegged at 65 lakh tonnes in the first four months of 2020 — continued to rot in godowns across India. Access to food became extremely scarce for the poor, especially daily-wage labourers. Although essential commodities were exempt from movement restrictions, farmers across the country struggled to access markets, resulting in tonnes of food waste. Meanwhile, instinctive hoarding by the middle class disrupted the value chain, further aggravating the situation.
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