Food for thought


WASTE NOT: When we enjoy our meals, we should ensure none of it goes to waste.

THE venerable Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) has obtained information from the federal Ministry of Housing and Local Government on solid wastes generated in Malaysia. In 2005 alone, there were 7.34 million tons of solid wastes and – listen to this — 45 per cent of this was in the form of discarded food.

By 2020, the amount of solid waste is likely to reach 30,000 tons every day; more people discard rubbish along with leftover food. By the way, that’s when we are supposed to ‘achieve’ Wawasan 2020 lah!

Someone has worked it out that the solid wastes would be enough to fill 42 buildings the size equivalent to the Petronas Twin Towers in KL! How high are the towers?

Food, glorious food

Nobody can find fault with the tradition of inviting friends and relatives to the wedding party or birthday anniversary – both enjoyable occasions. One of the most important components of any such party is the enjoyment of food, but the eating part of it has become a wasteful habit, for many people.

We overeat.

That culture of overindulgence has created a negative perception amongst visitors to the country and the expatriate community. Many of them are under the impression that Malaysia is an affluent society, but Malaysia consists of many parts. Kuching is a rich city but Kuching is not Sarawak. That they don’t really know, do they? Perception is one thing, reality another.

I find it embarrassing having to acknowledge the fact that we Malaysians waste so much food. The French clean the gravy from their plates with bread while Malaysians leave the uneaten food on the plate to be relegated to the rubbish bin. Only a few take the trouble to tapau (doggie bag).

I have been trying to put up a spirited defence on behalf of the gluttons, citing the European (Spain) tradition of stamping on heaps of fresh tomatoes. I would point to the bizarre custom of throwing pies at each other during parties in America and to the wasteful Krystal Hamburger Eating contests. What about the Thais throwing water during their Songkram festival?

But I’m afraid I have to admit defeat when confronted with the reply that these events happen once a year while the Malaysian practice happens every day.

Against doctor’s advice

Every doctor I know of gives a standard recipe for good health: eat a balanced diet – less sugar, less salt, less alcohol, less red meat. Eat more vegetables, fresh fruits, and do more exercise. A list of cholesterol contents in common foods per 100 grams is given to gout regulars like me to avoid ox kidney (400 milligrams), cuttlefish (1,170 milligrams), yellow egg yolk 186 milligrams (white yolk 0 milligrams). Eat sea cucumber (0 milligrams) and rabbit meat (65 milligrams). But, Doc, I can’t survive on sea cucumber, egg whites and rabbit meat! Although uncle doctor is absolutely right, yet I don’t want to believe him.

Millions are going to bed with an empty stomach tonight

Were you at a party last night? Did you spare a thought for the millions of your fellow human beings who were going hungry and thirsty that night, tonight, tomorrow? News on the telly every evening shows hungry children in Africa, South America and Asia. Yes, it’s real, not propaganda like some other news items.

Many years ago, we village kids were told by our parents that there would be less rice for the villagers if anybody wasted rice. The sly pelanduk (mouse deer), acting as spy, would report us to the god in charge of agriculture, Pulang Gana, or old Ini Uli/Bulan who lives on the moon. The tricky little beast could pick up a grain of rice and stick it on to its knee. Then it tattled to the authorities concerned that we anak mensia (humans) had thrown away so much rice that it waded in it knee-deep!

As many know, pelanduk is notorious for exaggerating and, let’s face it, bluffing. Still, as children we believed what our parents told us. How we hated the mouse deer – we had no qualms of teaching it a lesson if we could find one in the jungle.

If our pelanduk ever gets to KL and sees the Twin Towers, it will send an immediate SMS to Pulang Gana recommending appropriate action be taken against those who waste food high enough to cover the edifice up to the bridge at 32nd floor!

That pelanduk reminds me of days long ago. At a party to which my parents were invited and I tagged along as was the custom, I was given a bottled drink (lemonade manufactured by Chong Kim Eng of Carpenter Street in Kuching).

As there was other stuff to eat and plenty of cold water, I discreetly hid my bottle of lemonade in my pocket. There was no point in drinking it there and then. I took it home and the next day I enjoyed its content, the flavour enhanced by the envious glances of my mates. I told them they should have kept their share for another occasion. But, understand this, each child got ONE bottle of lemonade, and that was considered a very generous allocation.

At a recent family party, I watched the children help themselves to soft drinks. They would leave a tin half finished and rushed off to get another flavour, a different colour. It hurt my feelings to see such waste and telling them about the story of the mouse deer did not convince them one bit. They laughed.

I’m fully aware that times have changed, that circumstances are vastly different. But the custom of not wasting food should still be valid, I think.

When I watch youngsters eat, it amazes me how they eat so much. Do they know what constituted my breakfast — hot rice washed down with black coffee with sugar.

They chuckle. That sugar and starch sustained long paddling, or walking from the village (Tabuan) to St Thomas’ school, a distance of 4km, double that, every school day; that breakfast had to hold out for afternoon soccer too.

Well, I’ve said my bit about food, now it’s your turn to think about it. Time for my favourite laksa – Laksa Sarawak.

We are an incorrigible lot. Admit it.