We cannot afford to be indifferent

Picture of Syrian kids in a refugee camp, waiting in a queue for food.

Disclaimer: I do not claim copyright of this image. It is used here only to show the state of mass starvation world wide. This image was taken from:<http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/shared/npr/styles/x_large/nprshared/201310/228844734.jpg>

I shifted to a new job recently. On my first day, I was elated to know that my office provides free lunch everyday. Because, now I don’t have to worry about what to eat at work. For someone who has been cooking for last many years, this is a blessing. However, I was saddened to see how people fill their plates with a lot of food and do not care to finish it. It deeply affected me to see the wastage of food on such a big scale. I tried talking to some of the people about it, but they flatly retorted me with, “The food is not delicious”. My friends at work didn’t share my concern, instead they asked me why I care, it’s the company‚Äôs money after all. I didn’t know how to respond to it, I couldn’t understand, why nobody cares? I started to think about my life experiences, which helped me to be considerate about food.

I was a stubborn kid. I used to be picky about food. In spite of having many healthy food options, my favourites were the junks. Anything nutritious was too bland for my taste buds. I was a lactose hating kid. To much of my parent’s horror, I hated milk, cheese, butter, curd, cream etc,. At the age of four, I stopped eating meat, fish, and egg; it was because of my own wish rather than any religious or medicinal reason. I was too young to comprehend even the meaning of vegetarian. When people asked me why I don’t eat meat, my answer was always ‘because I don’t like it’. As I grew up, I realized ‘not eating meat because I don’t like it’ was too silly for people to understand. They used to insist me to try a small amount. Some would even serve me a little meat, saying it would do no harm. My objections were always brushed aside. So, I started telling people that I am affectionate towards the animals and it hurts me to eat them. This reason worked for about 2 decades of my life.

My parents were worried about my eating habits. Their sole concern was to give me the required vitamins and minerals, as I was very lean and thin. I was an energetic kid and loved almost all kinds of sports. So, it became all the more necessary to make me eat healthy and energy giving food. My dad took every opportunity that came his way to sermon me on the benefits of different food items. Fishes are good for proper functioning of the brain, carrot is good for eyesight, gooseberry is good for the skin and hair, milk is good for healthy bones and so on.

My mom, who was an unmumsy mom, took my food habits a bit sternly. She never ran after me around the house with a plate of food, trying to feed me. She never lured me with tasty desserts when I won’t eat. She never let me watch the television during meal time. She never tried to coax me in finishing my meal, nor she would prepare my favorite foods to make me eat without any tantrum. Instead, she started adopting the ‘eat whatever is served to you or stay hungry’ policy. Because of this, many a times I would go to bed without eating, only to cry at night of hunger. This was my life’s first food lesson. At a young age, I learnt that getting a plate of food is a blessing, and one must appreciate it. I learnt that it is better to eat what you don’t like instead of staying up hungry all night.

I took part in a 10-days trekking program from school, in my 8th standard. Many of my fellow friends and seniors also participated in it. Our base camp was an army hostel in Darjeeling, and our incharge was a colonel. He was very strict and disciplined. Early morning on day 1, he had announced that everyone must finish their meal completely without even leaving a grain of food on the plate, or else will face consequences. Of course nobody took him seriously until breakfast that day.

We were served two seasonal vegetable, 3 chapatti, big bowl of dahlia and one glass of milk, and we were instructed to finish it all properly. We had the liberty to refuse anything that we don’t like, at the time it was served. Colonel himself stood at the place where we were instructed to wash our plates after finishing our meal. When I walked up to wash my plate, the colonel stopped me and asked why I didn’t finish the vegetables and dahliah. I said I didn’t like it. He looked at me in anger and warned that until I finish everything I won’t be allowed to leave the mess. I was terrified. With tears running down my cheeks and silent screams of ‘I am done eating’ on my mind, I went back to my seat. I sat there thinking how I am ever going to finish everything on the plate. It took me all my guts and several glasses of water to gulp down everything. Finally, I faced the colonel with a triumphant smile and walked out of the mess successfully. This was my second food lesson. To take only what you can eat and to finish everything that is on your plate, no matter how tasteless it is. This incident left a deep impact on my mind and food habits.

In 2014, I started living with my siblings in a rented apartment in Delhi. The decision was taken more at our parent’s behest than our own willingness. Since, all of us were in college and had study obligations, we decided to share the workload around the house. However, things didn’t run as smoothly as we expected. There were times when we all neglected our responsibilities. There were times when brother would forget to pick up the groceries while returning from college; I would refuse to cook because I had to study for a test the next day; sister would not clean the house because of her hectic schedule.

Cooking seemed to be the most daunting task of all. After making dinner and doing the dishes every night, I would be so exhausted that I cannot even study. This was very frustrating especially during exam times, when I had so much to study and so less energy. I hated cooking and would crib about it everyday. Then one day, while watching a documentary on poverty, I saw how some people live in extreme poverty and they do not even have the basic ingredients to cook food. This realization opened my mind. I suddenly felt ashamed for carrying such an attitude towards cooking my own meals. I learnt how lucky we are to be able to buy our own food. How lucky we are to have all the things one needs for cooking. That day I decided not to crib about it ever, and to cook food lovingly and happily as long as I live.
These learnings are too common, and I know many of us have had these experiences. Yet, we fail to inculcate these lessons in our day to day life. ‘Food is our basic necessity’- it is one of the first lesson we all have learnt in school. Yet, we fail to value it because we can afford it. We believe, since we can afford to buy it, we can afford to waste it as well. What difference will it make?

Well, it can make a lot of difference. Think about millions of children who die of hunger every day. Think of those people who beg so that they can eat. Know, that every plate of meal you throw into a dustbin can feed a hungry person. Many toil on empty stomach so that they can feed their family. There are many disabled persons who cannot cook their own meal and there is noone to help them. Know, that every time we waste food, we are wasting a farmer’s hard work and a bread earner’s sweat.

We alone cannot solve world hunger or poverty issue, but we can all play our part. Let’s start with valuing food and try not to waste it.

Stubbornly optimistic, a listener of the universe and follower of my dreams. Coffee, smell of new books, long walks, old melodies, good sense of humour, and poetry light me up. I want to be happy when I grow up.

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