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Waste Not, Want Not

By Jassie Singh Sunday, January 8 2017

We must all know two adages that are constantly repeated: Waste not, Want not, and A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned.

It should be recognised that Food is the most important item that is needed to sustain life…we may possess all that the world has to offer, but it is few of us indeed who can live without being able to eat food. I believe we can survive without a house, however grand or humble; without means of transport, be it airplane or box cart; without clothing, shoes or jewellery, but survival with only air pies and water is near impossible.

Massimo Montari, a culinary historian, in his book Food is Culture, says that everything to do with food represents a cultural act. He points out that the availability, digestibility and nutritional value of the food chosen by our distant ancestors led to the development of social structures and traditions.

In a recent newspaper report, Dr. Wayne Ganpat, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Food and Agriculture at the St. Augustine campus of UWI, examines new ways to grow food, and his department is engaging schools in a competition to see which one comes up with the most innovative method of producing food. He says, “It is extremely important that we learn to farm smarter.” One smart idea he proposed was peeponics (Bioponica)… using filtered urine to fertilise plants. So no waste is actually wasted, since the dung of animals, and in some cultures even human excrement, is used as a fertiliser for plants from which we reap our food.

Food then should be given the respect it deserves, as the sustenance of the human race. In all cultures hitherto, food has been used during religious observances, acknowledging the importance of food to mankind.

Food, Fasts and Feasts

In any given year, at least four of the religions to which Trinbagonians subscribe observe periods of fasting, followed by feasts. In the first quarter of the year, Christians refrain from eating meats, choosing instead a simpler diet for the 40 days of Lent. Easter is celebrated with feasting on lamb, chicken and ham, as well as lots of specially baked bread. The celebration of Christmas is essentially a celebration of food: turkey, ham, goat and chicken are all prepared in various ways, and breads and cakes are made and consumed in abundance.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from all food and drink for a 12 hour period, between sunrise to sunset. At the end of the month, when the moon is sighted, it is an occasion of great joy, and fasting gives way to feasting after prayers are said at the mosque.

The Hindu calendar is replete with days on which it is required to observe a fast, either from solid food, grains, or salt, or to consume only fruits. In all instances, the diet is vegetarian for the period, like during the weeks before Divali, or for the nine nights of “Navratri”. Divali is celebrated with a variety of vegetarian foods, and the number of sweets served is limited only by the constraints of time for making them, or the household budget.

Spiritual Baptists observe periods of fasting, and there are days on which feasts are prepared. Mourning Periods can be as little as three days, or more than seven days, during which the member prays and fasts. For Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Harvests and Baptist Liberation Day, celebration includes great feasting, with offerings of the bounty of the earth beautifully laid out.

Waste Not, Want Not

One of the reasons fasting was important in ancient times was to conserve food when there were droughts, floods and wars. This is how methods of food preservation like dehydration and freezing were developed, to ensure food security during times of scarcity. Even animals are able to store food during times of plenty in order to keep themselves fed during hibernation.

When so much time, energy and resources are devoted to growing food, how is it possible for individuals to waste as much food as is wasted on a regular basis? We have to be cognisant of how food wastage affects us as a nation, and as individuals. If food is eaten, it is not wasted. If there is gluttony, on the other hand, that is wastage. It is said that in the United Stated of America more food is wasted than can feed starving nations. That there is this imbalance in food distribution is disturbing.

In Trinidad, it is the norm to cook a huge Sunday lunch, and for the rest of the day, the food is left out on the stovetop, available to any member of the family to have seconds, or even third helpings. In the evening, any leftover food is then refrigerated. This tradition is a recipe for over eating, and engenders spoilage. There is a better way to handle food, which will be discussed in subsequent articles.

Jassie Singh is chef and author, who has a passion for food preparation and a knack for ensuring that food is never wasted.

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