If you’re well versed with the latest news, or even have a Twitter account, you’ll surely have come across the Government’s proposed bill on food quantities in restaurants. No doubt, most of you would’ve been pretty outraged. There were many opinion pieces, blogs and newspaper articles condemning this, accusing the current Government to stop being dictators. All of this outrage, however, was misinformed, thanks to Donald Trump’s favourite whine, “fake news”.
Yup, we’ve all been victims of a clickbait frenzy, started by an article in HT (which was later corrected). As a liberal, I believe that dissent is the most important part of a democracy, but facts are the most important part of any Government. So now, let’s all calm down, take a moment and look at the actual facts of the matter.
Last week, PM Modi expressed concerns over the wastage of food in his Mann ki Baat radio programme. Soon after, Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan announced that there would be a discussion with all stakeholders and their representatives on the matter, after which an advisory board will be issued.
However, mainstream media reported this as yet another “ban” similar to the ban on beef, and the proposed bans on alcohol in various places. Firstly, this is nowhere close to the Government being dictators; they are merely opening a discussion. In fact, Paswan, in an interview with TOI even clarified that they just want a specification of the quantity, and won’t interfere with the pricing of each dish, while promising that nothing would be binding.
Secondly, this is not another ‘emotional’ appeasement of the public by the Government. The ban of beef is something I’m personally opposed to. Religious opinions should not come in the way of any person’s freedom, and we cannot take a step back and start curtailing liberties in the name of God.
This, in stark contrast, is a completely different and a very practical issue. It is not pandering to any emotions, but to one of the biggest social evils in our country – poverty. And even in a poverty struck country where millions die of starvation, we waste 67 million tonnes of food items every year. To put that in perspective, this amount of food is enough to feed the whole of Bihar for a year.
The monetary value of this wastage comes to Rs 92,000 crores. To put that in perspective, it’s 2/3rd of the cost to feed India’s 600 million poor under the National Food Security Act. According to the Global Hunger Index, 200 million Indians go to sleep starving on any given night. According to the UN, 17% Indians are undernourished.
In such a scenario, asking restaurants to specify the quantities seems like a logical move. From what they’ve announced till now, they are opening a discussion which doesn’t involve reducing quantities of food–but specifying them.
Let’s take an example using the most popular ‘restaurant’ in our country: a person whose lunch involves 2 Aloo Tikki burgers will be wasting food if he orders 2 Maharaja Macs. The Government is proposing that the restaurant come up with standards to specify that the second burger is twice the size of the first, which is pretty logical. (The only thing that lacks logic in this example is the person choosing to eat an Aloo Tikki!)
The Way Ahead
Wastage of food especially in a nation where millions starve is criminal, and measures taken to prevent it should be encouraged. I will go as far as saying that any helpful dissent in this case shouldn’t involve pointing fingers, but should explore whether there are other provisions that could complement this one, or should analyse whether this is the best option.
Surely, regulations to ensure that every restaurant donates their food to the needy at the end of the day, would be even more helpful? The major reason for wastage is not someone ordering more prawns than they could finish, but our poor infrastructure. Wastage happens because of lack of agriculture training and improper handling. The Government would be well advised to look within and focus on better transportation and storage before shifting the onus on restaurants.
Wasting of food is a long process, and should be abated at all stages, not just the final one. This is a collective problem, and hopefully we reach an optimal solution instead of just pointing fingers and digging our own grave with a knife and fork!
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