RECENTLY, I was shocked to read a newspaper report that Malaysians wasted about 3,000 tonnes of food daily, while the United Nations estimates that around 820 million people worldwide are starving, mainly in the areas where there is unrest.
The amount of food wasted by Malaysians can fill the stomachs of two million people.
The figure worsens with 15 to 20% more wastage as the festive season approaches, especially during the month of Ramadan. This amount of waste can and should be avoided.
Food is a basic necessity for every human being. It is an important component of measuring the cost of living in an area. If food prices become too expensive, then the cost of living will also increase.
Some of the reasons for rising food prices are due to limited food supply. When food supply becomes scarce, we have to import food from abroad, thus making food prices expensive.
With their high wastage of food, the rakyat cannot put 100% blame on the government if food prices continue to escalate. Various campaigns and promotions have been carried out by the government to reduce the wastage of food among Malaysians.
Among them is the “Appreciate Food, Avoid Waste” campaign that has been created in each state with the help of the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) to call on the community to value food and avoid waste.
According to a SWCorp study, a household with five family members spend an average of RM900 a month on food and a quarter of them are wasted during the preparation, cooking and the residue after eating. This means that about RM225 worth of food is thrown away and that amount to RM2,700 a year.
Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail intends to enact the Wastage of Food Act to regulate and address the issue of wastage of food. This in turn, indirectly helps to lower the cost of living.
This is an important step to prevent this wastage from becoming an ingrained habit. However, a comprehensive and detailed study needs to be done to gain the rakyat’s support in eradicating this wastage of food.
Education, adequate campaign and time are required before enacting this Act to ensure that the rakyat are aware of the consequences of throwing away edible food.
France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from removing or destroying unsold food, forcing the supermarket operator to donate it to charities and food banks.
The policy was initiated by the French people, followed by a grassroots campaign by buyers, non-governmental organisations, activists against food wastage, and eventually led to the petition, which was then tabled in Parliament.
In Turkey, with the support of the government and private sector, including top-notch hotel chefs, the wastage of bread worth 2.8 billion lira (RM1.9 billion) has been reduced in just one year.
Malaysia can follow in the same footsteps.
The food bank programme established in Malaysia in 2018 received overwhelming response. It aims to reduce food wastage by distributing it to targeted groups. The programme is now being expanded to the higher educational institutions in order to help students to cope with the rising cost of living.
Like a similar policy in France, the food bank programme in Malaysia can get the same benefit apart from getting a continuous supply of food. For those who work together to help make this programme a success, they should be entitled to income tax exemption.
Besides support from the government and private sector, what else can we do to avoid wastage of food?
First, list the foods that are always wasted. In this way, we get a clear picture of the daily food which is often wasted and find out why it is not consumed, in line with the saying, “cut your coat according to your cloth”, meaning do things within your abilities i.e. you should only buy and spend on things that are within your budget.
Second, list the food items you are going to buy before you go for shopping. This helps to focus on the food you want to buy. It can also help to avoid buying unnecessary items, or to be taken in by ongoing sale promotions.
Third, avoid buying everything in bulk. True, buying in bulk can save on the cost of buying goods, but can you finish the consumption of all the goods you buy in bulk within a short period of time? Buy items in bulk only if you are confident of consuming them, and you must read the expiry date before purchasing them in bulk.
Fourth, share your food. According to Mae Ooi, co-founder of Eko Natural Resources, urban residents waste more food than rural residents.
This is because the surplus food of rural people ends up being used to feed their livestock. For the urbanites, whether single or not, it is not a hindrance for them to share their food. From their neighbours to their office colleagues, the extra food can be shared with them, thereby strengthening relationships with them.
There are many more tips to avoid wasting food, but it should start with oneself. Discipline, focus and consistency are key in effecting a more visionary change.
In addition to technology, self-transformation is also essential to creating a progressive, thriving and competitive society. The rakyats need to be sensitive and rational to the circumstances surrounding them. Not all will have the same opportunities, but all are capable of changing for the better.
*Amir Jalal is a research associate at Emir Research, an independent think-tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on research.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.