|To the compost bin: Young people nowadays are more interested in drinking than eating, and often leave a large amount of leftovers on their tables. — VNS Photo Doan Tung
by Ha Nguyen
Food wastage is an epidemic that concerns the world not just because it contributes to greenhouse gases, but because it affects the natural resources and bio-diversity of a country.
Although Viet Nam is not a rich country, one can see food being wasted in restaurants, wedding parties or family get-togethers, both small and large.
Last week, I was invited to a wedding in downtown Ha Noi. The newlyweds were very happy but their parents seemed sad because after the party almost all the food was still available on the tables.
Tran Dieu Hong, 60, who sat next to me, said people, particularly those in cities like Ha Noi and HCM City, attend weddings, eat less and drink (beer or wine) more compared with the past.
"They all are afraid of getting fat and being affected by diabetes," Hong said.
She recalled a story during Viet Nam's economically subsidised period in the 1980s when the Government sold between 10kg and 13kg of rice to each person in urban areas. That was not enough for grown-up children like her six brothers and sisters in her family.
Her mother often asked her to save some handfuls of rice by putting it in a pot so that one could consume rice for several days till the end of the month.
"I often went hungry, because as the oldest, I had to save the rice for my younger brothers and sisters," Hong said.
The party owner, Le Hoa, admitted sadly that it was such a waste of her money because she had invested more than VND100 million for the food.
"How do we deal with such leftover food now," was her question.
It is also a headache for restaurants that serve buffets because guests often take too much food on their plate and then do not eat it all.
Nguyen Hong Quyen, a mother of two, said she reminds her sons to get just enough food when at a buffet. Despite that, each one brings heaps of food to the table.
After two hours, these two boys are so full that they leave the dishes on the table uneaten and later suffer from indigestion.
"I have had to rush one of my boys to the hospital for emergency treatment," Quyen said, warning parents to teach their children how much to eat before joining a buffet.
"Parents should tell their children how to enjoy the food, instead of wasting it, and save food, because there are thousands of children in remote and isolated areas who go hungry every day," she said.
The Centre for Action and Co-operation for Environment and Development in Viet Nam recently launched a project to stop wastage of food, the first venture of its kind in the country, which will last until 2017.
The project which was launched on social media with the name "Eat Up All", called on communities to reduce food wastage and natural resources.
The project's activities include mobilising restaurants and hotels to join the campaign to encourage guests to change their eating habits while calling personalities to become goodwill ambassadors and speak about effective ways to conserve food while providing meals to hungry and poor children, and based on that to engage in consultations with the government to launch a policy to limit this epidemic, Le Tran Khanh Vy, from the centre which is in charge of the project, said.
The project's two goodwill ambassadors are singers Ha Okio and Thao Trang who call on people to eat only what they want and post their photos on Facebook or Instagram.
Ha said, "It is an uphill struggle to save food because of our long and old habit of wasting it. We should change that now."
Trang said her family had to overcome many difficulties such as shortage of rice, so each member of the family has always respected food and tried every day to save some of it.
"I hope to help people step-by-step to change their habit of wasting food," she said.
The project is expected to partner with 30 restaurants and hotels in HCM City to raise enough funds for 2,000 meals for poor children in the city by the end of this year, Vy said.
In 2013's World Environment Day, the United Nations had called on communities pay more and more attention to stopping the wastage and loss of food.
According to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 30 to 40 per cent of global food produce is lost and wasted every year.
Each year the world wastes 1.3 billion tonnes of food or equivalent to total food produced in Africa, FAO said, adding that among each group of seven, one has to suffer with hunger and 20,000 children under five die of hunger every day.
UNEP's Achim Steiner recently called on countries to join its campaign themed "Let's think carefully before eating to reduce food wastage".
Viet Nam has about three million children and one out of every five is faced with malnutrition, Le Nguyet Minh, an official of Oxfam Viet Nam said.
It means that by the next decade the labour quality of three million such people will be affected, Minh said.
She suggested solutions to reduce such waste. That includes saving food and supporting farmers by buying their farm produce, saving energy and managing a balanced menu between vegetables, meat, fish, and fruits.
"Oxfam calls on the community to place importance on the role of farmers in ensuring food security by ensuring sustainable food usage. I wish we all can share the struggle against wasting food," she said.
"We should be responsible about our eating habits," she added. — VNS