Food Culture

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FOOD
WASTE
REPUBLIC

CUltURE

adise
Dirty secr
ets of a food par

Who? Me?

I WASTE?
It is tough to draw the
line between sociocultural practices and
food wastage
EstEllE low
MIak aw

A

lmost once A month in

Zainah Anang’s five-room
flat, her living room turns into
a visual feast, literally.
Plates of rice, curry fish, vegetables,
dal char, chicken biryani, murtabak, beehoon,
and 10 other dishes are laid out on a
long white mat for her guests of 30,
mainly family members, to tuck in for
the kenduri (a feast that comes after a
half hour prayer session).
The 47-year-old business
administrator always ensures that there is
enough food to go around. “It’s a shame
to the family when you let your guests
go hungry,” she says.
The Asian culture of profligate
hospitality is about providing an
abundance of food to guests.
“When that happens, you can’t tell
the capacity your guests would consume
and this would lead to excess food
provided,” says Edwin Khew, 61, chief
executive and managing director of food
waste recycling company IUT Global.
IUT Global collects more food
waste, mostly from hotels and
restaurants, during the festive period.
This chimes with a December 2009
article by The Straits Times that
reported a 30 per cent rise in food waste
during festivities.
FOOD WASTE REPUBLIC

the untouched spread During the Hungry Ghost Festival, food offerings are usually thrown away when displayed in the open air for long hours.

PHoto | MIAK AW

1

| 25 March, 2010

CUltURE

Restaurant consultant and food
writer Guy Hoh, 37, attributes this
to a culture where people like to see
food in bounty. “I’ll bow to the side of
abundance if I’m a businessman. It’s a
lifestyle choice,” he says.
At social events such as Chinese
wedding banquets, it is common to see
hosts offering an eight or nine-course
dinner, more than what their guests can
usually finish.
“It’s a matter of face,” says Mr Khew.
“If your guests clean up everything, it
means you’re not providing enough.”
A former banquet waitress at Hilton
Hotel, Toh Xin Yi, estimates that 30
per cent of the prepared food would be
thrown away. During her one-year stint,
the 19-year-old had noticed that most
of the people were there to socialise,
not eat.
Guests who attend dinner and dance
events waste even more food than
banquets, says a banquet manager who
has been working with a four-star hotel
for over 20 years. “They will be busy
watching the show, leaving the food cold
and barely touched.”
Social functions aside, religious
events such as the Chinese Hungry
Ghost Festival sees a lot of food being
dumped too.
At Kong Meng San Phor Kark See
Monastery, an average of 20 large trash
bags of cooked food are thrown away
daily during the Hungry Ghost Festival,
says Madam Lau, a helper who has been
working in the temple for 11 years. She
does not wish to disclose her full name
and age.

During this period, thousands of
devotees offer food to their ancestors
in the Chinese temples. But some are
convinced that it is bad luck to consume
the food offerings after prayers, so they
leave the food there to be discarded.
Housewife Ng Kum Hong, 60,
believes that these people are just lazy to
bring the food back home. “It’s the same
as eating the food offerings when we pray
at home,” says the Buddhist devotee.
In an email interview, food waste
researcher and American journalist
Jonathan Bloom, 33, says, “It’s not my
place to judge cultural practices, but I
would say that it’s ‘unfortunate’ in that it
creates so much waste.”

NUMBERs at a GlaNCE

570

Eyes bigger than stomach

BESIDE PROVIDING ABUNDANCE, THE

popular food culture in Singapore
encourages greed.
Buffets, which gained popularity
in the 1990s, are the best places to see
copious amounts of food blatantly
wasted. Its all-you-can-eat concept
encourages customers to over pile their
plates with food.
“We take more...
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