Wednesday, June 7

Waste not want not


OCCASIONALLY, I get invited to a dinner at a posh restaurant. Last Saturday night was such an occasion, the 80th birthday celebration of an ancient Thomian who has made a good grade in life.We started with the Cold Dish. That was snapped up in no time. Then came the Prawn-in-Butter. That too disappeared without a trace. The third dish was of foreign origin — cold water cod. Delicious. Everybody nodded, chopsticks still twirling around their mouths.

The fourth (Yam Basket) and fifth (mixed vegetables) were a beautiful display of art by the chef. But the focus on food had slackened. By now the conversation had become more and more animated and noisy.

As the spirit flowed, the five boys (ages ranging from 30 to 70) competed with one another as to who could tell the funniest joke.

Invariably, conversation turned to politics of the day and natural disasters in Indonesia, Samoa, the Philippines, Vietnam Laos and Cambodia. We smote our chests and counted our lucky stars, being outside the Ring of Fire.

The ladies were immersed in the welfare of their respective children and grandchildren — the smart ones, the naughty ones, the ones good at sport and that girl with talent for singing.

As more and more food came, there was less and less interest shown despite the urgings of our gracious hostess.

The fried rice in an enormous plate was followed by the gula Melaka.

Out of curiosity, I enquired from the girl who waited upon us if she was allowed to take home the fried rice. This was the sixth course in the menu, hardly touched except a spoonful by my wife.

The girl replied it was the hotel’s policy that no leftovers should be taken away; kitchen staff members are provided with meals, courtesy of the management.

Before departure and after the usual pleasantries, I asked our host what the ‘damage’ was like. He refused to reveal the amount, patting my back, saying, “No problem, thanks for coming. See ye again.”

Since that sumptuous dinner, I have been thinking about the fate of that plateful of fried rice. Nobody took it home. That’s from one table, what about the other tables, at least 30. That halffinished basket of yam, half eaten fried chicken — who ate them?

That’s the situation that evening in one restaurant. And there are many restaurants in Kuching alone. Repeat the habit of food wasting in Sibu, Bintulu, Miri and weigh the amount of food left uneaten.

What a waste of perfectly good food. That plate of Nasi Goreng would be enough to feed 10 hungry youngsters. The fried chicken and the basket of crispy yam loaded with vegetables of all descriptions would last for a few days for my workers. I almost asked permission to tapau the stuff but for my wife’s disapproval look.

This was not an isolated instance of a wasteful custom. I have been to many celebrations — wedding and birthday anniversaries — over the years. The habit of food wasting has not changed. We cannot change.

We are overeating

News on the telly the following evening about hungry children in Africa and Asia was an anti — climax. My guilt was palpable and conscience pricked. We in Malaysia are overfeeding ourselves.

Almost every medical doctor has the standard advice: eat a balanced diet — less sugar, less fats, less alcohol, less red meat, less salt, more vegetables and more fresh fruit.

Fear of heart problem, obesity, stroke, high blood… “No, it won’t happen to me.”

Downside of our culture

Nobody faults our tradition of inviting friends and relatives to celebrate wedding or birthday anniversaries. Fine custom. But we overdo the eating part of it and the wasteful culture. A culture it has become. That’s the downside.

Foreign visitors’ Perspective

That culture has created the negative perception amongst the tourists and the expatriate community that Malaysia is a country full of wealthy people. That’s the perception, not the reality. Occasionally, I am introduced to tourists from Europe. It is embarrassing to hear them comment on our food wasting habit. To be discreet, they speak in their native tongue, but I could understand their body language. For particular German or French words to describe our food habit, I’m aided by my reliable sources.

We disapprove of the bizarre tradition of stamping on tons of tomatoes in certain parts of Spain, the throwing of pies in America, or the wasting of water during the Songkram festival in Thailand. What about the Krystal Hamburger Eating contest? Heaps of meat are thrown away — half-eaten by the competitors.

But these happen annually. It seems that what they can do in those places, we in Malaysia can do better.

Spare a thought

The gluttons, please spare a thought for those millions of our fellow beings who will go to bed tonight, with stomachs empty, without any assurance there will be something to eat the following morning or the day after.

Amidst the affluence there exists poverty, absolute and relative. Relative poverty is more dangerous in the sense that it is more difficult to minimize let alone eradicate, if the gap between the rich and the poor gets wider and wider. This is the blight of developing countries — a perfect factory for political and security troubles.

That’s the way of the world in which we live; any idea how to change it?