Saturday, March 7, 2009

Isko at Iska, Are you wasting your food???

Are you wasting your food?

Food wastage in the UP Campus

by Mark Pere Madrona

Every time I have my lunch at the canteens here in UP, I can't help but look at the tables around me. I'm not doing this to know if they're having more delicious meals than what I have. Rather, I look at their plates to know how much food others have left behind. Most of the time, the question is not whether there is food wastage or not. The question is more about the food being wasted. Sometimes, I see so much left-overs that it makes me wonder if those who left it behind had eaten anything at all. Just have a seat at any canteen here in UP and you will the tremendous wastefulness among the students. It isn't surprising to see plates containing virtually untouched cups of rice canteen staffs (in Filipino, we refer to them as 'nalawayan na') and a full serving of viand being collected by the canteen staff. Personally, It's disappointing to see this.

When I was a child, my mom would tell me that I would have to finish my meal – down to the last grain if I can, because there are lots of street-children out there who have nothing to eat. That is a lesson that I have lived by to this day, and I intend to pass it on to my children. Whenever I see my schoolmates waste so much food, I wonder if their parents haven't told them not to do so. I wonder if they are that affluent not to feel any remorse for their food that goes instead to the trash. I wonder if they are simply indifferent to the fact that many people doesn't have the means to eat thrice a day.

Here in UP, it is very common to see children ask for the food that you're eating. “Kuya, akin na lang yan,” a young boy told me when he saw me eating 'biko'. It easy to get mad at them for being 'bastos' but on the other hand, you can see their desperate need to have something to eat.

A 2006 study by the Food & Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) indicated that each Filipino wastes around ¼ cup of rice daily. To measure the wastage's approximate cost, the FNRI multiplied the total wastage (about 1,200 metric tons) with the cost of the cheapest rice in the market – the NFA rice, which costs P12 a kilo at the time the study was done. The total cost? P14.4 million worth of rice goes down the drain daily. The figures are very staggering in light of the fact that the nation is forever trying to cope with adverse economic conditions.

Last year, long lines gathered in places where the much cheaper NFA rice are being sold. This is perfectly understandable since most Filipinos are looking for alternatives to the P35/kilo commercial rice. Rice i our most staple food and yet it is the one which gets most wasted in our dining tables. When the FNRI divided the amount of rice wastage with the number of street children nationwide (around 200,000), they found out that each child would have received P65.00 – enough for them to meet their basic food requirements for a few days.

For me, it is very deplorable to know that Filipinos waste so much food especially at a time when hunger-incidence rates are hitting all-time highs. According to the latest SWS survey, almost a fifth of the entire populace have experienced involuntary hunger in the past months. We all know that food costs have skyrocketed due to the global financial crisis, making it tougher for the country's poor to survive.

When the rice crisis surfaced last year, the vulnerabilities of Asian countries particularly the Philippines, China and Vietnam got exposed. Ninety percent of the world's rice is produced in Asia and since it is at the center of the region's 2.5 billion people's diet, any abnormal upward trend in its price would definitely trigger food emergency, if not food riots (like what we see in Africa).

Now, let's go back to the smaller picture. The FNRI says food wastes tend to be greater among smaller households. It is likely because there would be a relatively abundant food supply for fewer household members. They also found out that food wastage is higher among households with larger budget for food. Parenthetically, those with less purchasing power can't afford to waste as much.

Some may argue that some of the left-overs are eaten by pets and other domesticated animals (e.g. pigs) while others may point out that food lost due to overcooking and spoilage isn't really wasted. The FNRI says edible food wastage includes all food that has not been eaten by humans for any reason. These are legitimate points but the most important thing in lights of all these facts is the need for us to be aware of the socio-economic consequences of food wastefulness. A change in people's attitudes and behavior is needed for us to be able to maximize our food resources.

Let me end by quoting Pope Benedict XVI. In his message to the Food and Agricultural Organization last year, he said “Give food to those dying of hunger because if you do not, you shall have killed him.” The Pontiff even says that “the main cause of hunger lies in people's coldness to their fellow human beings.” Remember my UP schoolmates who had been so reckless in wasting food? Are they that indifferent to the plight of the deprived ones?

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