“You are three people. Order two portions for now. If you need one more, you will get it in a second,” said the waiter to his customers in a traditional Saudi food restaurant in Jeddah, a Saudi city located in the Western Region. It is a good sign -- there is a priority besides making profits -- reducing food waste!
A year ago, a study by the Saudi Grain Organization (SAGO) estimated food waste in the Kingdom at around USD 10.6 billion. After announcing the findings, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture (MoEWA) and SAGO Eng. Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli, launched a joint food conservation campaign to raise awareness and help people adopt new habits to reduce food waste. The Ministry of Municipality and Rural Affairs has mandated all restaurants, hotels with dining facilities and wedding halls to handle leftovers and unsold food in cooperation with the Saudi food banks like Ita’am.
With more forward-thinking people in the Kingdom, the footprint of food consumption is being taken into consideration, extending the anti-food waste practices that might help lead to a carbon fingerprint reduction for the food shopping and cooking process. Majalla spoke to both Saudis and expats to learn more about how they are boosting re-use and re-cycling at home, and even when they eat out.
FIXING THE SHOPPING LIST
“The lockdown started around this time last year. I used to cook more than my family consumed. Food leftover management used to be my ugliest nightmare. I decided to track the origins of the problem. Buying the groceries that I only need helped me cook the right portions with no or low food waste,” Sarah Saleh, a Jeddah-based full- time teacher, told Majalla.
“With too much free time during the lockdown, cooking & eating helped us fight boredom. However, the food waste was huge. Throwing food in the garbage makes me feel guilty,” she added.
Bad shopping habits, especially with fresh fruits, vegetables & meats, lead to preparing bigger portions, and eventually ending up with more leftovers & waste.
Setting a budget for groceries has made it easier for Abdullah, an Arab expat in his early forties, to reduce food waste.
“I stick to the shopping list I prepare with my wife. Now we have very, very few leftovers. It all starts from the shopping list,” said Abdullah.
Some people have no problem heating or microwaving leftovers on the next day. However, more & more people are using food leftovers to make something new for dinner or the next day’s meals.
Alaa, a Saudi mother of two, has found a solution for the food that is not eaten at lunch or vegetables & fruits that are expected to be rotten in a few days. For example, she makes home pizza with mixed vegetables for her kids from the leftover beef & vegetable stew. She also makes apple pies from the apples that are not consumed fresh.
When tomatoes start to wrinkle a bit or become softer, Alaa peels them, makes tomato paste and puts it in jars to be used later for cooking.
BREAD FOR FEEDING ANIMALS
“A few years ago, I asked my wife to dry the leftover bread on the balcony. I take the bags of bread & give them to shepherds, who later soak the bread in water to feed their animals,” said Hamdan, a Jeddah-based teacher.
Hamdan goes the extra mile by spreading awareness among his students about the importance of food waste management, especially bread.
Before the lockdown, the teacher used to feel sorry after the school breakfast breaks. Many students ate only half of their meals and threw away the rest.
“It took me too long to save the bread waste. It is better to teach little kids and ask them to guide their parents if they are not aware about how to deal with bread leftover,” added Hamdan.
Fatima, a housewife in her forties, dries the leftover bread and grinds it into powder that can be used for fried chicken!
Khalid, a young university student, has a different way. He feeds the street cats with the leftover chicken and meat.
REUSE OF SHOPPING BAGS
After shopping and putting the groceries in the refrigerator, Muna, a local part time employee, stores the plastic bags in her kitchen cupboard to be used later as garbage bags.
“Why throw away the plastic shopping bags? I stopped buying garbage bags a long time ago,” said Muna.
The same applies to glass jars. They can be used to prepare pickles instead of buying new jars.
“Saudi is a rich country. I am making good money. It is not about saving money. It is about saving the environment. Re-use of plastic bags and glass jars helps a lot,” explains Muna.
DINING OUT AND TAKEAWAY
Saudis love to eat out. They are open to new cuisines & tastes. For those who order large quantities out of hunger, there is a solution for the leftovers -- taking them away with them.
“I always tell waiters ‘I want to have this takeaway’ when there are some leftovers, just to avoid waste,” said Abdulrahman, a Jeddah-based government employee.
He gives the food to workers or janitors or takes the extra food home to be consumed on the next day.
“Some people think it is not appropriate to take food home after dining out. However, I am proud of not wasting a single rice grain! The mentality is changing and more people are taking the leftovers than before,” concluded Abdulrahman.