Waste not, want not: How two girls are tackling the food waste challenge

They try to bridge the gap between demand and supply of excess food.

Haniya Javed June 23, 2016
The project entails customers collecting their leftover food from restaurants, parcelling it and distributing it among the needy. PHOTO: COURTESY FOOD FOR THOUGHT

KARACHI: It was in February this year, two friends, Zara Nadeem and Zehra Hassan, troubled by the difference in food consumption in Karachi - the rich having too much and the poor not having any - went about understanding the psychology of waste. With so much food wasted at buffet restaurants and at weddings, food that is good is often thrown away. In order to rectify this, the two girls put their heads together and devised a clever strategy.

Nadeem and Hassan partnered with some upscale restaurants in the city in an attempt to start a social movement. "The motivation came from the realisation that this is a situation that exists around us. The problem was how to act on this," says Nadeem, who is a graduate from the Lahore University of Management Sciences and currently employed at a multinational company. The two visited high-end restaurants located in different parts of the city and learnt people opt not to take the leftovers home. "It is like social suicide for them, something that is looked down upon," shares Nadeem, adding people refuse to take parcels of food for which they pay despite insistence from the restaurant staff.

"What we have is a very stupid problem," asserts Hassan, an Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture graduate who is currently working for TCF, while talking about the gap that exists between the food supply and demand for food. "What we have tried to do is to mediate the gap between the excess supply and an overwhelming demand for food in the city," she says.

Branding their boxes 'Food For Thought', they started a social movement by distributing these packages in restaurants. "So when customers say they do not want to pack leftovers, the food is put into these boxes and the customer is requested to give it to someone in need," explains Nadeem. That is entrusting them with a responsibility. The reason these customers are asked to give away the box themselves is because Nadeem believes, this way they are spreading awareness about the disparity. "You have to involve people, only then can one expect them to follow [by example]," she adds.

Since people tend to become more philanthropic in Ramazan, the duo has become more active in expanding the reach of the campaign. Their target is various restaurants that offer buffet deals during the holy month. "When we learnt the number of people who can be fed with wasted food, we were very disturbed. Wastage from two to three restaurants can feed as many as 100 people easily," shares Nadeem.

When talking about challenges they have faced thus far, Hassan feels they are more logistical in nature. "Following up with people and preserving the food so that it doesn't go bad are some of the things we have to be extra careful about," she mentions.

For Hassan and Nadeem, an ordinary day starts with their day job and by late afternoon they begin scouting for new locations to introduce their feeding Karachi campaign. Presently, their drive has moved to Ranchore Line, Azam Basti and recently Lyari. Besides keeping up with the generosity of the month, they are also calling out for people to donate money for rations (Rs1,500 per package comprising wheat, rice, daal mong, basin, sugar, salt, red pepper, turmeric, tea, oil and sherbet) and distributing these among people in different localities.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2016.


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