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17 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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food for Thought

Feeding the poor from wedding feasts

FAISAL MAHMUD
Feeding the poor from wedding feasts
RICH FOOD FOR THE POOR: This recent photo shows a volunteer offer excess foods from a marriage ceremony to a destitute man in Mohammadpur area of the capital. Photo: courtesy

In a typical Bangladeshi wedding, one might get caught up with the lights, decor, flowers, sarees, sherwanis and honeymoon plans, but what is often not on the checklist is ‘excess food’. But that is changing to some extent, it seems. Moin Khan, a university lecturer in Dhaka—Bangladesh’s capital—who got married recently said, “One thing that I did not want to have at my wedding was wastage of food. We were spending so much on everything, so why not research a bit more and find ways to use the excess food?”

That was when he came to know about a group of volunteers who were involved in the distribution of food among homeless people and underprivileged children. Before the wedding, Khan contacted them and told them that whatever food would be left over, they could collect it and distribute it to the needy.

The NGO, Prochesta Foundation, sent a group of volunteers and collected the food from his wedding.

“I felt good that I didn’t let the food get wasted in my programme,” Khan told The Independent.

A novel initiative

Food wastage is a universal problem, but Bangladesh as a country can afford it a whole lot less than many others. It stands on the 89th position in the recently published Global Food Security Index-2017, which is the lowest among the South-Asian countries.

A Bangladeshi wedding, even one hosted by a middle income household, fails to reflect on that statistic.

“One of the most disheartening sights at a wedding venue is that of kilos of food being scraped off plates into bins,” said Ikram Uddin Ahmed, the founder of Proceshtha Foundatoin,

“It’s not just leftovers—the perfectly good food that remains after the last of the workers have eaten is also thrown away.”

“It’s sad if you consider the fact that on the same night, many thousands of kids would go to sleep with empty stomachs,” he added. Ahmed, through his foundation, took up a project titled ‘Food Bank’ and opened a hotline so that their volunteers could be contacted for collecting food from wedding venues. “This is the first and as of now the ‘only’ initiative of collecting wedding food for the poor. We have over 50 volunteers working on our Food Bank Project,” said Ahmed. The first call that Prochesta received was from a small community centre in Khilhgaon.

“It was May 17, 2016 and I still remember the date. From then till now, we have collected wedding leftover meals good enough to feed over 60,000 people from over 250 weddings,” said Ahmed.

He said that the way they operate was very simple. “You go to our Facebook page, or our website. Call on our hotline (+8001618-002024), which is open 24/7/. Give us your address and we will be there on time to collect your food.”

Jagadish Chandra Roy, a Director of Prochesta Foundation who looks after its Food Bank project, told The Independent that in December and January—unofficially known as the wedding season in the country—they got five to six calls per day.

“Considering that the capital city alone has over 300 weddings per day during the wedding season, these numbers (five to six calls) are still very low,” he said.

Roy said the food is usually distributed among the street people very late at night as they receive the food from the parties around 1 or 2 am.

“We wake them (street people) up and most of the times they informed us that they went to sleep with an empty stomach,” said Roy.

Possibility of responsible catering

Roy said that collecting wedding food was a part of their campaign to initiate a responsible food culture in the country. “We are maintaining a database of how much food is being wasted in the weddings. That will give researchers an insight into the amount of food wastage in Bangladesh.”

As of now, there hasn’t been any formal study on how much food is actually being wasted in Bangladeshi weddings.

A study conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), in collaboration with Right to Food, Bangladesh (RTF BD) in 2016, said people in Bangladesh are wasting about 5.5% of the total procured food.

Talking with Asia Times, Dr Nazneed Ahmed, the BIDS researcher, who conducted the research, said that the study wouldn’t provide any specific information on the amount of food wasted in Bangladeshi weddings.

“For that, surveys have to be conducted on conventions centres and on wedding caterers, which I think haven’t been conducted yet,” she said.

When asked, Md Nasim Hossain, Managing Partner of Iqbal Catering, one of the largest and most famous catering services of Bangladesh, told The Independent that it was hard to tell the amount of food wasted ‘on average’ in a typical Bangladeshi wedding.

“We provide catering service all over the capital city and with our three decades of experiences, I can tell you that there is no such thing as ‘average food wastage’.”

He said guest attendance to weddings depends on a lot of factors including timing, venue, locations, weather and political conditions. “The hosts ask us to prepare food for a certain number of people. In atypical wedding that takes place in Raowa Club, there are always more guests than the dishes, whereas in wedding that takes place at the Bashundhara Convention Center or Golf Club, 30%–40% food remains because of the low attendance.”

Hossain said, in Bangladeshi weddings, there is usually no system of RSVP to let the host know whether the guest would come or not. “It would have obviously been helpful for the host,” he said.

“From our catering house, we have already trained our waiters about responsible catering. We trained them to monitor the tables and serve food there in accordance with the consumption at the table. We also make plans of placing some placards on the wedding venue about ‘not wasting food’,” he said.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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