Dubai: Thousands of needy residents are feasting on quality leftover food from posh hotels, supermarkets and homes, thanks to a joint initiative by a Dubai-based charity and Dubai Municipality.
NGO Ro’yati Family Society in Dubai, which has taken upon itself to collect and distribute leftover food under the Dubai Municipality’s supervision, said in 2012 it fed over 70,000 needy residents with leftover food collected from less than a dozen sources.
From succulent kebabs, uzis and biryanis (Arabic meat and rice dishes) to mouth-watering kunafas (cheese pastry) and umm ali (bread pudding), workers and families get to party on a sumptuous spread of ready-to-eat foods that is otherwise often beyond their reach.
“This year we expect the numbers to double as we are already close to the 70,000 mark,” said Lina Kilani, project manager at Ro’yati Family Society.
She said the society distributes leftovers among 500 needy families, besides workers in labour camps.
“These families, which have around eight to 10 members each, have become so used to our supplies that they call to enquire if they don’t see us for a couple of weekends.”
Kilani said she works on a well-organised schedule as some hotels inform her of their events and potential supplies in advance.
“Supermarkets and residents who have parties at homes also call us. We have a dedicated team of five paid staff who with the help of volunteers collect, transport and distribute the leftovers.”
She said weekends are peak time as most parties, events and functions are held on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Ramadan iftars also generate large quantities of leftovers.
Bobby Krishna, principal food studies and surveys officer at Dubai Municipality, said: “On an average, a minimum of 30-40 per cent of food gets left over at big functions. There are many reasons for this (see box). At one iftar last week, only 500 of the 1,200 guests turned up. So you can imagine the amount of food that went waste.”
Even on a daily basis, the wastage is significant. One four-star hotel said it generates one tonne of waste everyday, of which 60 per cent comes from the kitchen. With recycling mechanisms like compost yet to catch on in the UAE, the wasted food ends up in landfills.
Under the circumstances, the largesse helps in greatly reducing the waste. But as Shamsa Garib Suliman, principal awareness officer at Dubai Municipality, said, not all leftover food can be passed on.
“We have very strict guidelines on the kind and quality of foods that can be passed on and the conditions under which they should be transported. Our inspectors carry out random checks to ensure there is full compliance. Hotels also have their PICs (personnel in charge) who are trained to meet these criteria.”
Kilani said as a general rule, seafood, salad, ice-cream and creamy desserts are not passed on. “We don’t touch these foods as they may not be fit to eat by the time they reach the families. Even with fruit, we stick to whole fruit and dried varieties. Leftovers that can be safely given include meat, rice, bread and dry desserts.”
Uzma Chaudhry, hygiene and safety officer at the Dubai World Trade Centre (WTC), which is a regular source, said: “What gets left over depends on the menu. Arabic dishes like aishu laham and harres are most commonly left over. But what’s important is that the food is handled rightly and kept at the right temperature. Handlers have to be careful and use hair nets and hand gloves. They must use clean containers.”
She said DWTC is responsible for the quality of food as long as it is in its kitchen. “We take a disclaimer from the charity when they leave from here. They are responsible for the safety of food thereafter.”
Suliman said: “People should be more conscious of what they choose on the menu. We must stop wasting food. Excess food is not just a financial drain. It is also a health and environmental burden.”
Kilani, who teaches Islamic economy at Zayed University, said: “I am concerned about consumption. Some people don’t care about what and how much they buy, eat or throw away. We need to create greater awareness and minimise waste.”
‘culture of wastage begins at home’
An average of at least 30-40 per cent of food gets left over at weddings, iftars and other functions, according to Bobby Krishna, principal food studies and surveys officer at Dubai Municipality.
The reasons are many.
“As a society, we take pride in cooking and serving in excess. It is ingrained in our culture,” he said.
A huge spread is considered a mark of the host’s social and economic status.
“The bigger the menu, the better the person – that’s the general perception.”
Lack of planning and co-operation from guests also takes its toll. Krishna said there is no practice of confirmation in the UAE. Even where they exist, many don’t show up in the end.
Another reason for waste is the choice of foods. “A lot of the food we serve is not recoverable. No one touches it, yet it has to be thrown away.
“Also, people are becoming picky about what they eat. They are more conscious about their diet these days. They don’t want to go on a binge,” he said.