Malaysia: We love our food – but we’re wasting tons of it daily

SHAHANAAZ HABIB The Star 29 May 16;

IS food in Malaysia so cheap that we take it for granted? When we eat at the mamak shops, at coffee shops, hawker centres, cafes, restaurants or hotels do we ask about the size of the portions?

Do we tell servers to give us less rice or less noodles or less of whatever we don’t want or like so that we don’t waste it?

Do we feel a tad guilty when we look at our unfinished plate of food? Do we think of those in our country who are hungry and might not have eaten for the day? And do we ask ourselves what all that waste is doing to the environment?

Dr Anni Miten does.

The executive director of the South-East Asia Council for Food Security and Fair Trade (Seacon) says she feels sad at the way so many people in this country take food for granted.

“There is no more element of people enjoying food sitting around appreciating the food or even asking where the food has come from.’’

Dr Anni Miten,Executive director of Southeast Asia Council for Food Security and Fair Trade ( Seacon) says she is sad the way people in Malaysia take food for granted.

If you don’t want the bread or potato that comes with your food, just tell them not to give it to you even though the price of your meal is the same. - Dr Anni Miten

She thinks “sharing food is something noble and part of our culture” and is somewhat exasperated at how much food people waste.

When Miten orders lamb at a particular restaurant she frequents she asks for only two pieces instead of the normal portion because that is all that she can eat. She is happy to pay full price for it because she knows she did not waste.

“If you don’t want the bread or potato that comes with your food , just tell them not to give it to you even though the price of your meal is still the same. Or tell them to pack it and take it home with you. Don’t waste.

“This is our responsibility as consumers.’’

Malaysians waste 15,000 tonnes of food daily – piled up, that would come up to about 16 KLCCs!

The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) estimates that of that amount wasted, 3,000 tonnes is actually untouched, edible and should not even have been thrown away.

All this makes Miten question how much of the country’s RM45bil food import bill for last year was really efficiently utilised and how much of it went to waste.

“This is a cost to the country. And the waste has to be treated,” she points out.

This is one reason why she wonders if it is wise for the Government to control the price of some food items, like rice. Because the price of rice is subsidised, it’s a cheap food item and people don’t think twice about leaving it on their plates – throwing it away, in other words.

“If there is no more price control on rice, will it make Malaysians jump?” she wonders.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) policy officer Dr Daneswar Poonyth, however, says the government shouldn’t be blamed.

“The Government is making food affordable – but does it mean that because it is made affordable you waste it? It is going to cost the Government more down the road to manage the waste. And the government never told you to waste food.”

He points out that in 2007, 2008 and 2009 when global food prices went up, globally everyone adjusted and went from buying high quality to low quality. But not in Malaysia, the adjustment was not there.

“People shouted that prices were increasing but they did not adjust their consumption and basket. We say when food prices increase, it will reduce the waste. But here in Malaysia when prices increase, waste increases. Economics fails here,” he says.

At Tuesday’s MySaveFood Forum orga­nised by Mardi, solid waste management company SWCorp said that, according to its findings, Malaysians end up throwing away a quarter of what they buy in a month because the food has expired or gone bad or is wasted during preparation or consumption – see details in graphic on right.

As the figures in the graphic show, this works out to RM2,700 a year – “And that’s a lot of money,” points out Agustina Fithri Kasmaruddin, an SWCorp officer.

Agustina is a working mother and she has come to realise that buying food for a week just doesn’t work. Some days she has to work late, some days she gets stuck in a traffic jam, so on those days her kids buy their food. So nowadays, Agustina buys fresh food every two to three days. That way she doesn’t waste. And any leftover vegetables are fed to the family’s pet rabbit.

FAO’s Daneswar says, individually, people might not feel it so much when they save RM100, but that saving adds up and helps the Government: “If a million Malaysians do that, it reduces the cost of imported food coming into the country.

He says the target is to reduce the amount of food that goes into the bin.

“We can’t deny that Malaysians love food. It is a culture. But if I love something, should I throw it away? I should cherish it.”

Chefs are trained about food safety rules, he says, “So why can’t a similar training be given to them to reduce portion sizes? It would be a gain-gain, for restaurants and consumers.”

In many developed countries, people have to pay for the waste they put out.

Daneswar says in Rome people are given a weight limit of the waste coming out from their house. If they put out an extra plastic bag to be collected, it will be weighed and they will be billed for the excess waste at the end of the month.

Seacon’s Miten says it took South Korea more than 20 years to change people’s attitude to waste.

The Government first got people to separate their waste. Then 15 years later, they banned organic waste in landfills, which meant that people had to manage their own kitchen waste. This made some neighbourhoods get into composting their waste for fertiliser.

Then the Government tightened waste regu­lations even more, Miten says, explaining how the authorities introduced a smart card and weighed whatever came out of the kitchen and charged people accordingly – “So you’d find people even squeezing all the water and liquid out of the waste.’’

Changing behaviour in Malaysia is not going to be easy.

“Once they feel the pinch, they will do it,’’ says Miten.

Of fish bones and carrot peelings
SHAHANAAZ HABIB The Star 29 May 16;

We do love our huge buffet spreads. But they pose a challenge to chefs and hotels when it comes to reducing food waste.

THERE is an art to buffet dining.

You don’t just load everything in sight on your plate and then sit down to eat.

“The art of buffet eating is how many times you go to the buffet line. It is OK to go back 10,000 times but just eat that portion. As simple as that,” says Siti R. Ismail who teaches culinary arts at Taylor’s University.

When Siti is at a buffet, she will go up to take food a minimum of six times! But the portions she takes each time are very small: “I will have my salads first, then my bread and soup, after that my cheeses, then my main course. Usually I eat a very limited main course. Then I will have the desserts.

“Being a chef I feel I need to try every single thing but I try only a bit,” she says.

What about taking a lot of some items, usually cakes and desserts, for the whole table to share?

For Siti, that is a no-no: “Once you are aware of the art of buffet dining, you will never do that,” she says.

Malaysians are such lovers of food that we delight in huge buffet spreads at hotels or restaurants – the bigger, the better! Call it greed or being kiasu, or over-ambitious, it is common to see people heap food onto their plates and then leave half of it uneaten to be thrown away.

The Dorsett Putrajaya is a new hotel that has yet to have its official opening but already about 30kg-50kg of food goes to waste every day, says chief steward Husairi Ali.

He knows all about the wastage that happens at hotels: at a hotel resort he worked at a few years ago, the food waste was a whopping 800kg a day.

He says there is a lack of awareness among consumers when it comes to wasting food and what happens to the food.

“They pay a lot of money and want to consume a lot. When it is not according to their taste or they can’t finish it, they just leave it on the table. During peak periods, food wasted at resorts can come up to more than one tonne a day,” he says – enough to feed 300 to 400 people if it was converted to rice!

Siti says many hotels have started to put out smaller portions in buffets these days to prevent wastage. Desserts, for instance, sometimes come in bite sizes, and there are also food stations where you get food cooked on the spot.

“In the mornings, there would be chefs doing eggs at the egg station even though there is already scrambled eggs in the buffet. A lot of customers like the personalised service. They prefer to see their food being cooked.

“This is a win-win situation because the customer wants it fresh and hotels can reduce wastage,” says Siti who is the deputy dean in the department of Culinary Arts and Food Service Management at Taylor’s University.

Siti says reducing wastage and, hence, food costs is knowledge that professional chefs need: “It is part of the business mindset. The bosses will check how you reduce costs. So you would need to know how to use your creativity to get full use from ingredients.

“If you do not utilise all parts of the salmon, what are you going to do about it? Can you make a fish stock with the bones? When you peel the carrots, can you use the peel for something else?’’

All this is part of the culinary arts syllabus and during exams, the examiner will actually check the student chefs’ garbage to see how much is being wasted – because it all affects cost.

Dorsett’s Husairi adds that food wastage is not confined to the kitchen and prepared food that is not eaten. Waste starts from the very beginning, at the delivery stage, he points out.

“We have a problem with suppliers. We expect the food to come in proper containers and packaging but some suppliers don’t have a proper policy for hygiene and sanitation. So goods sometimes come in dirty containers and boxes that make it easy for the food to spoil.”

When it comes to food that goes off easily, like meat and chicken, there is also the need to check if the supplier is using a chiller or refrigerated truck to deliver the goods to the hotel.

As for leftover food from the buffet, Husairi says it has to be thrown away even if it’s untouched and still looks fresh. It cannot be donated to the homeless or the needy or even given to hotel staff, as regulations do not allow it.

“Those are the regulations from the Health Ministry and Jakim (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia). When we do charity, we cook fresh new food to give away.”

As for Taylor’s University, they do a bit of cooking for charity, too.

Siti says when some of the food they have in the department’s kitchen is about to expire but is still good, the students look at how they can use up those ingredients.

Last Sunday morning, for instance, they had tomatoes and meat that was about to expire, so they made and packed spaghetti Bolognese for 300 people and an NGO they work with distributed the food to the needy that day for lunch.

“We have been doing this since 2007. The students understand the need to pay it forward and give back to society.

“As a chef, these are the easiest things that we can do. It doesn’t take much because the ingredients are all right there at the school. Students get to volunteer, engage with organisations and cook for kids or whoever needs it.”

The Lost Food Project: Getting food where it’s needed
The Star 29 May 16;

EVERY Tuesday and Thursday a few volunteers from the Lost Food Project get in their cars and head to the side entrance of Bangsar Shopping Complex in Kuala Lumpur to pick up bread, fresh fruits and surplus food donated by Jason’s Hall supermarket for the needy.

The volunteers sort the food based on the needs of the five organisations they are working with – Lighthouse Orphanage, Kechara Soup Kitchen, Women’s Aid Organisation, Malaysian Social Research Institute and the Alliance of Chin Refugees – then deliver the food that very evening or, at the latest, the next morning.

“Most people think that food nearing its expiry date has gone off or doesn’t taste very good. That is a complete misconception. Some of the food is of very good quality and it is a real sin that it is thrown away,” said Suzanne Mooney, founder of the Lost Food Project who was at Tuesday’s MySaveFood Forum organised by Mardi (the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute).

“What we do is collect surplus food from the supermarkets and different manufacturers and simply redistribute these foods to those in need. So in effect we are actually a logistics organisation,” she said.

The group’s focus is to address food waste issues.

“We feed people. We feed them a very nutritious diet. Almost half of the food that is thrown away is fruits and vegetables. These are most often the foods that go off. And this is the kind of food that many of the organisations that we are giving food to lack. It is nutrition as well as feeding people,” Mooney said.

The project’s efforts are expanding rapidly since they began in February. Their main donors currently are Jason’s and Campbells; they have started working with Sime Darby and are looking to work with Cold Storage and other supermarkets and hypermarkets in the near future.

In fact, they are already talking about needing warehousing space to store donations while sorting and arranging delivery. The two refrigerated trucks they recently received will also help with that.

“We know there is a lot of food out there. People are approaching us now and we have to logistically organise it so that the food goes to those in need,” she said.

One of the reasons the Lost Food Project works well is because it has watertight contracts drawn up that protect the supermarkets and manu­facturers that provide the surplus food.

“We believe hotels, supermarkets, shops and restaurants are very concerned about giving away food for various reasons. They are worried about the health issues and the whole issue of logistics and the economics of it.

“This way, they know that they are not going to be sued because we are doing this. We are following legal standards to the highest degree. They are not going to get in trouble with anybody.”

Mooney also said the Lost Food Project has professional food safety officers on board.

“Our SOP is very important to us so that there are no problems, issues and sicknesses because we store everything following professional standards.”

She hopes eventually there will be similar efforts nationwide.

“That is what happens in other countries and I don’t see why it can’t happen here.

“We are reducing waste, cutting down the environmental bill and feeding people who need it. It makes sense.”

Not the time to waste food
SHAHANAAZ HABIB The Star 29 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR : During the fasting month Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki is “definitely not” going to be hosting any Ramadan buffets at a hotel.

The deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department who is in charge of Islamic affairs expressed concern that the spirit of Ramadan is being distorted by putting a lot of emphasis on “food-related activity” such as the Ramadan buffets and the bazaars.

He said people were going overboard by spending extravagantly on food, buying too much, over-eating and wasting.

“Sometimes people have a misleading perspective of Ramadan as if it is a ‘Festival of Food’. It should be a ‘Festival of Ibadah’ (worship) and a test period. It is the month of rituals to enhance your spritual attachment to God and it is a platform to train your lust and desire.

“It helps make one’s personality better when people go through the whole month of Ramadan with moderation and a clear understanding of the philosophy, principles and spiritual dimension of the holy month, they would step up their good moral behaviour to other fellow human beings.

“Your stomach shouldn’t be full at night because that will make it difficult to perform all the rituals. And there are additional rituals like the terawih prayers performed only during Ramadan.” he said.

Dr Asyraf said whether or not it is the fasting month, the basic principle in Islam is not to get your stomach full.

“The Holy Prophet always kept his stomach one third empty. That’s why the philosophy behind eating in Islam is that you eat only when you are hungry and and stop before you are full.”

For him, the spirit of Ramadan is being distorted by marketing and the promotion of Ramadan buffets.

“This needs to be rectified because the culture we have at the moment leads to negative behaviour such as the wastage of food,” he said.

He feels very sad when he sees people piling up so much food on their plates during the Ramadan buffets but not being able to finish even half of it.

“It is as if we are not really concerned about our fellow brothers who are poor and needy. We have already lost our humanity and we are not performing what God prescribed upon us. We shouldn’t waste food like that. It gives a misleading image of Islam and is not what the religion taught us!

“The Quran tells us not to act in an extravagant manner. The throwing away of food and wastage is not condoned by the religion.”

Dr Asyraf advised Muslims not to waste their money on buffets. And if they do go for one, they should be modest and moderate in whatever they consume.

“Whenever you want to spend hundreds of ringgit for a Ramadan buffet , always think about the other people who are poor and in need and who would cherish RM1 of your money. That can buy something precious to them.

“This is actually how Ramadan trains you to be humane, not just to be a good Muslim that worships Allah but a good Muslim who takes care of other people and those in need,” he said.

Research shows Malaysians waste enough to feed millions daily
DANIAL ALBAKRI The Star 31 May 16;

PETALING JAYA: Every year, an average Malaysian household throws away more than one month’s salary on food they don’t eat, research by Solid Waste Corporation Management (SWCorp) concluded.

The food that Malaysians waste not only affects their pockets, but it is estimated to be enough to feed millions daily.

The research found that about a quarter of the food is wasted by Malaysians during preparation, production and consumption.

“In one study conducted by SWCorp, a household with five people spends an average of RM900 on food alone.

“If we take into account the fact that a quarter of food is wasted during preparation, production and consumption, the value of food thrown into the trash can every month is equivalent to RM225,” said SWCorp Technology Research Division environmental control officer Agustina Fithri Kasmaruddin.

This would total a whopping RM2,700 a year, which is more than RM2,400, the mean monthly salary for an individual in an urban area, according to the Department of Statistics’ Salaries & Wages Survey Report 2014.

Another study conducted by SWCorp showed that Malaysians generated 38,000 tonnes of solid waste daily in 2016, of which 15,000 tonnes was food waste.

It found that 20%, or 3,000 tonnes, of this food waste was avoidable.

Avoidable food waste, Agustina explained, was food that could still be eaten when it was thrown, adding that “people rarely finish the food on their plates.”

“Based on SWCorp’s study, the average weight of an individual’s meal is 0.45kg a meal.

“15,000 tonnes of food waste can feed 11 million people with three meals a day,” said Agustina.

Avoidable food waste, using the same logic, could feed 2.2 million people three full meals a day of perfectly edible food.

“It’s very worrying. Looking at the economy right now, people are suffering. Some can’t even afford to eat,” said Agustina.

The issues of food loss and food waste are becoming more and more prevalent as key matters for leaders to address as Malaysia’s food security becomes increasingly a national concern.

Food loss here means the loss of food between the farms and the retailers, in the case of the produce damaged during harvesting and transportation.

Food waste, on the other hand, is the food that is discarded by retailers and consumers, for instance unsold food that is destroyed by a supermarket after they pass their expiry date as well as uneaten food at hotel buffets.

“The issue of food waste is relatively new in the Malaysian context. It was very recently that the FAO said that food waste was important to food security.

“If we can reduce food waste, we can improve the food security situation. After post-harvest losses, the main issue in food security is food waste,” said Mardi’s Economic and Social Science Research Centre director Dr Rozhan Abu Dardak.

But what can the average Malaysian do to reduce food waste?

According Dr Ainu Husna M S Suhaimi, head secretariat of the MYSaveFood Initiative, it is all about proper planning and awareness.

“It all starts with planning, if you plan your shopping well, you can reduce food waste.

“Use a basket instead of a trolley, use cash instead of credit card.

Dr Ainu also said that overeating was itself a form of food waste and that reduced portions were encouraged.

“Malaysians believe it is better to cook more than being insufficient, but it should be the other way round,” she added. Leftovers should be frozen for later consumption and whatever that remains can be composted or fed to pets.

Passing this information on was part of the MYSaveFood initiative agenda, she explained.

“The MYSaveFood initiative gathers a network of government agencies, private companies and NGOs and informs everyone that everyone wastes,” she said.

They do this mainly through awareness programmes and forums such as the forum that was held last week in conjunction with the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry.

Initiatives by other agencies have also helped to bring food waste into the forefront, including the Lost Food Project that was recently launched.

The project introduced a food surplus collection service in partnership with Jasons Food Hall that pools together products and delivers to five charities twice a week.

“Everyone can do our own bit. Food waste is definitely a change of attitude and mindset, while food loss is more about technology,” said Dr Ainu.

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