Everything passes. It has to. That's the beauty and tragedy of it.
When I was a kid – again, a reference to my boarding school days – there was this thing that was taught to us, no wait, instilled into us to the point that it became a second nature. “Food is God. Don’t waste food.” We were told. With a rod.
There would be a student on check-post duty outside the dining hall pantry, eagle-eyed and ready to pounce on anyone who so much as had a stray morsel of food left over on his/her plate. Even those who had eaten messily, leaving a lot of un-differentiable stuff on their plates like some vanquished soldiers on some obscure battleground, were not spared. Everyone who crossed their threshold were made to stand by and finish the remnants of their meal (with the exception of inedible ingredients that have served their purpose such as chillies, curry leaves, skins of fruits/veggies – you get the picture, right?) Only then were they allowed to stack their plates and clean their hands and mouths.
While this might have seemed like unbearable torture back then, it did two things. One, it made children realize the importance of eating in moderation – to take only what we really could stomach, not everything we thought we could. Two, it made us stop wasting food, by habit. It worked. And that is a big deal in itself.
Now, everything has the essence of divinity, food included. So maybe that is not the only reason one should consider wasting food a sin. There are many other, more immediate, more tangible, more earthly reasons to respect food, before one decides to push one’s plate away. Such as food being the very essence of life. Or how many people round the globe are not fortunate enough to get even one square meal a day while we are thoughtlessly squandering our good luck. Or the hard-work and sacrifices of people in the food industry; farmers who have to take bank loans to sustain their land, are at the mercy of the fickle Indian weather to grow food crops for the masses and do not get even a third of the earnings from their produce. Fruit & vegetable vendors who have to sell their commodities before they spoil, sometimes at abysmally cheap prices in the nick of time.
If nothing else, one should at least be respectful of the person who cooked the meal – our moms, dads or whoever was considerate enough to spend those precious minutes of their lives preparing life-sustaining food for someone else. If you yourself have cooked it, all the more reason to finish it. You are your own witness to your efforts. If that doesn’t count, well…
It appalls me to see many well-to-do, educated, young people waste food without so much as a second thought. The other day, at lunch time, my colleague who had brought packed lunch threw away pretty much three-fourths of her food. All on a whim.
“Aren’t you going to finish that?” I asked, looking at her aaloo-palak and matar-mushroom lying forlornly beside one full roti.
“No yaar…” She drawled, daintily crinkling her nose “I don’t feel like it.”
“Why not? Are you not well?”
“Naah…nothing like that” She drawled. “Feeling like having some good ol’ fashioned Punjabi food – makhan maar ke.”
There was this new Punjabi counter that had opened up in the office cafeteria and everyone was rushing to sample their stuff.
“But what you are having is as good as any Punjabi food. Even healthier since its home-cooked…” I countered, looking her in the eye.
She shrugged nonchalantly. “Anyway, my cook made this, not me. It’s okay, chill…”
It was not okay. And I couldn’t chill. Wastage of any kind, especially food, makes me bristle.
I knew I was poking my nose where it didn’t belong and it wouldn’t make her change her mind just because I said so. But I just had to tell her.
It doesn’t matter what we tell ourselves when we waste food. Whether we are doing it to keep up pretenses in similar company, or just because we changed our minds midway, it’s never justifiable. Wasting food is bad. Period.
People say “If you waste food now, you will go hungry in your next life”. That is the way most Indian advices and admonitions go. Fear of the next life. Karma. If you do something good or bad, you always pay for it or get rewarded in the next life. May be it works that way, may be it doesn’t. Who has seen “next life”? We have this life and we can make it count.
A single conscious thought, a well-placed guilt and subsequent self-discipline can slowly but surely transform into a habit, and then into a nature. The earlier in life we learn this, the better.
It is doable. It’s not rocket science. Take what you want to eat, but eat what you take.