The holy month is a time to empathize with those in need, providing a perfect opportunity to develop habits that prevent wasteful consumption.
Globally, one-third of all produced food–which equals 1.3 billion tons annually–goes to waste. The estimation includes both “lost” and “wasted” food, the former term referring to food destroyed during harvest, transportation, or production, and the latter describing food that is fit for consumption but ends up in a trash bin. Sixty-one percent of food waste is attributed to retail and individual consumption.
Individual habits, namely buying more than one can eat or throwing away half-finished products, play an important part in the global picture of food waste. Another crucial culprit is the consumer’s aesthetic expectation: Supermarkets need to always have perfectly looking products in stock, which results in the destruction of edible produce because it does not fulfill the supermarkets’ beauty standards.
In Morocco, a staggering 45.1% of food purchased by households goes to waste. Cheap and perishable products, such as fruits, vegetables, and bakery products, are thrown away the most often. The cost of the wasted food is not considerable–although agricultural subsidies do make an impact here–the moral implications of such waste are. Food donations are still highly needed in Morocco, which was never clearer than during the 2017 food distribution stampede in the southern coastal city of Essaouira.
Food waste is also a massive environmental problem. Production and distribution of alimentary products are land, water, and energy-consuming. Throwing away edible crops is like sitting down and ripping off new clothes, just because it is doable.
Single-use plastic packaging, which in contemporary times is a norm, adds enormous amounts of non-recyclable plastic to landfills and oceans. Scientists warn that this decade is the last chance to halt the rapid destruction of ecosystems largely caused by human activity since the Industrial Revolution. The clock is ticking, and the changes everyone can make are easy and, with time, can become instinctive.
Ramadan poses a greater threat to food waste than COVID-19
Right after the lockdowns were announced in Europe, the continent saw a wave of panic buying that temporarily stripped shops of some essential supplies. Food waste then rapidly increased as people bought more than they could eat. Although similar, panic-related shortages–and the ensuing waste–happened in neighboring Algeria, Morocco managed to avoid overbuying thanks to the government’s efforts to quell public anxiety.
The governmental response consisted of ensuring Moroccans that there are enough food supplies for months to come while simultaneously clamping down on anyone disseminating fake news.
Food waste in Morocco during COVID-19, along these lines, has likely been maintained at the approximation of 45.1%. In contrast, a big challenge to the alimentary spillage is on the horizon: Ramadan, which should start on April 25 in the North African country, was quoted by many Moroccans as a time where more food is thrown away.
Eighty-four-point-eight percent of participants in an FAO-supervised survey admitted that during Ramadan, large quantities of prepared meals end up in the trash because nobody eats them.
There are many little changes to individual habits that can have a far-reaching impact on reducing household food waste. Paying closer attention to consumer attitudes helps to connect better with human health. Respecting the food that we eat also extends to showing respect to people around us.
Not only does the respect imply appreciation for the efforts of those involved in the production or distribution of food, but also extends to the most vulnerable members of the society. To notice their struggles is a big step. To appreciate what one has, and why one should not be wasting it, comes with gratitude.
A guide to saving food in the household
The rule of thumb to preventing unnecessary waste in any household is: Reduce, reuse, recycle, in this particular order. The most important is to try to reduce the quantities consumed by buying exactly what is needed. “Reuse” refers to single-use packaging, but also to food that normally would be considered leftover.
Recycling is the last step because once something is already produced, it is not so easy to recycle it. Currently, only 9% of the plastic produced worldwide gets recycled, and it can only be re-used up to seven times.
Reducing the amount of food wasted in a household comes down to memory, consideration, and good planning. Pay closer attention to the food you buy and consume every week–perhaps there is a product that always ends up in the trash can. Remember the expiry dates of the products you buy and eat them in advance.
It is important to know the difference between “best before” and expiry dates. For non-perishable foods, such as wheat, flour, rice, or even coffee, “best before” refers to the date before which the product retains most of its qualities. It does not mean, however, that it needs to be thrown away the day after the “best before” date.
Although dates of expiry are naturally important, so are our senses: An examination of food with senses, such as checking the color, the smell, or taste, serves as a reliable benchmark for the freshness of the product.
To avoid cooking more than can be eaten in a household, you can turn to careful planning. Boring as it sounds, planning does not imply spending long hours trying to plan meals for an entire week. With some practice, it is easy to estimate how much food will be needed a few days in advance.
Although it is tempting, meals from previous days should be finished before cooking fresh ones. This way, nothing gets forgotten at the bottom of the fridge… which may potentially save some cleaning.
A freezer is humanity’s best friend! Almost anything–vegetables, fruits, herbs, meat, ready-made meals, or soups–can spend some months in the freezer. It provides a quick fix in case of cooking too much or buying too many fresh products.
Finally, it comes in handy to learn the specifics of certain foods. Again, such knowledge comes with practice–or with Google. Some basics include: Fresh herbs can survive up to two weeks in the fridge if covered in a wet cloth; bananas should not be put too close to other fruits as they cause them to ripen too quickly; and onions and garlic should not go in a fridge.
After reducing unnecessary purchases, carry them home consciously
To reduce the amount of plastic you consume, it helps to get used to bringing your own plastic bags to a marketplace or a supermarket. It is as simple as remembering to take them shopping. Then, no additional plastic bags are used and thrown away immediately. One further step is to buy pasta or rice in bulk. Supermarkets such as Marjane offer this option, which is highly impressive as it is still hard to find bulk shops in Europe.
The rule of thumb is “the most sustainable is what you already have:” It is counterproductive to buy cotton or nylon bags designed specifically for “reducing waste.” Not only are they more expensive, but their production requires vast amounts of water and energy. A plastic bag works perfectly fine, as long as it is used multiple times.
Reuse, it is easy!
In a circular economy, leftovers are not treated as waste, but as a misplaced resource. A kitchen can be a perfect laboratory for delicious experiments with what would usually be deemed as food scraps. For example, you can cook an avocado seed together with tea in a kettle. It can do wonders for the skin and the blood circulation, and it adds no additional taste. Coffee grounds are the best natural peeling: They leave the skin refreshed at no additional cost.
Potato peels can be washed, sprinkled with sunflower oil and spices, and baked, turning them into delicious homemade chips. Any vegetable peels, together with leftover bones, can be brewed into a stock. The stock serves as a base for various soups or stews, and the homemade one has the advantage of not only tasting exactly how you like it, but also being preservative-free. Stock poured into reusable food containers or jars can survive in the fridge for up to two weeks and in the freezer for up to six weeks.
If you are not a fan of vegetable stock, vegetable scraps can also be used for composting. Natural and pesticide-free, leftovers constitute the most healthy supplement for indoor and garden plants.
There are some rules on what can be composted: Generally, animal products should be avoided as they may attract stray cats to the compost. The option to compost is more feasible for those with their own gardens, but with some effort, it is possible to arrange to compost with neighbors or community gardens.
“Reuse” is an all-time crucial for plastic packages. The name “plastic” comes from the plasticity of the material: It is durable and can have multiple uses, so there is no excuse not to treat it as a free resource. Plastic packages work fine as plant pots for a windowsill herb garden or as food containers.
Plastic bottles can be cut in half and used as bathroom shelves. Admittedly, they are not the prettiest, but children or younger siblings can enjoy beautifying them. Providing quality family time and preventing waste, reusing plastic brings double advantages.
Take the change step-by-step
Changing habits takes time and, at first, some conscious mental effort. It is normal to keep on forgetting to bring plastic bags to a supermarket or leaving some food to rot in the fridge. The most important part is to continue trying without any feelings of guilt if success does not come immediately. After some time, the gradual changes will become part of your everyday routine and will help to create a fuller, more conscious and respectful lifestyle.
The editorial team of Morocco World News would like to wish our readers a happy, healthy, and thoughtful Ramadan!