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June 6, 2013
Most items are locally bought

Most items are locally made and bought

For all those who think that this blog post might be about a sequel of the Julia Robert’s movie Eat.Pray.Love, please click here.

For others please read on to know what this means to us as individuals/consumers.

I am pleasantly surprised to know that this year’s World Environment Day theme is Think.Save.Eat. I am going to elaborate a little on my story here, so please bear with me.

How it was like growing up in a vegetarian family in India?

Upon spotting the plums during our last trip to the local market, my husband exclaimed and asked whether I knew how to pick the right ones. Of course, was my answer. I aced the job and his joy had no bounds upon biting into the ripe and juicy plums, when we got home . He even mentioned (sadly) that growing up, he never ate as many fruits as he does now i.e. after my arrival in the US. This made me think, how differently both of us were brought up, despite being from the same country.

Our family being vegetarian (because of religious reasons) ate fresh and prevented a lot of food wastage in our daily routine. We bought only the amount of fruits and vegetables that were consumable over the course of a few days. My grandfather was even against the idea of refrigerating the fresh produce and used to make daily trips to our neighborhood market for buying the fresh produce. I remember those trips till date including his bargaining with the fruits’ and vegetables’ vendors, who used to address him as ‘Uncle’, out of affection.

How  it is relevant today

Now we know that according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted! This is equivalent to the same amount produced in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger.

Growing up in a country like India, I have witnessed food being wasted (mostly in the cities) and people not getting to eat even one meal (both in the cities and villages) very closely. This year’s theme is more than welcome for a sustainability professional like me. However, the following key findings by the environmental action group Natural Resources Defense Council are a wake up call for all those who think that we are living in a food secured environment

  • 40% of the food never gets eaten and a lot of money is spent on the same.
  • Tossing one hamburger wastes water needed for a 90 minute shower.
  • Americans waste 10 times more than an average person in SE Asia.
  • 1/4th of the water in the US is used to grow food that is never eaten.
  • Food waste is the largest type of waste entering the landfills.
  • 10% of food in supermarkets is thrown out. This costs those supermarkets 50 billion dollars each year.
  • Americans throw away 25 lbs of food per person/per month. It is the equivalent of throwing away $170.00
  • We are wasting 50% more than in the 1970s.
  • The average cookie is 4 times bigger.
  • 1 in 6 Americans is food insecure.

These findings are startling given the magnitude of chid hunger and food insecurity faced by the country and the world as a whole today.

What can we do at a personal level?

Since the day I can remember, my mother taught us to buy locally and never wasted even a single food item in our household.  She used to fret over the spoiled milk and made Indian cottage cheese (paneer) out of it by using this neat trick. This is very common in most Indian households. When we had some leftovers (curried and others), she used to reuse them to create innovative Indian dishes (stuffed or kneaded chapatis/ paranthas, and so on). I continue to do the same now at my home here.

As individuals, there are a few simple measures that we can adopt in our everyday lives to address this problem:

  • Shop locally as long as possible
  • Do try to visit your local farmer’s market every other day
  • Try to connect with the local food bank and donate in kind (or in the form of goods) there if possible
  • Join a community garden and adopt a patch of land or land a hand there
  • Monitor your weekly consumption of food at home and then buy accordingly to avoid the wastage
  • Explore your neighborhood shops and ask where the produce is being sourced from to make more informed choices
  • Help the local businesses connect with the food banks in your area by spreading the information, facilitating the relationship building and other similar initiatives
  • Try to inculcate the concept of ‘waste not want not’ in your kids from the beginning.

I recently came across this great effort being undertaken in Mumbai, India to provide food to the underprivileged kids by the Dabbawala Foundation.

Efforts like these and many others shall go a long way in paving the path towards sustainable food sourcing, alleviating hunger and ensuring food security.

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