Food for thought
This month as the world celebrated ‘World Food Day’, with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) announcing the addition of another 100 million people to the list of hungry this year, the marriage season in Kashmir was its peak.
The WFP says some one billion people - one in nearly six - are malnourished or hungry. This is the highest number in four decades.
Understandably, on the World Food Day celebrated on 16 October in a year marked by global financial meltdown and soaring food prices, the rising number of world’s hungry was a prime concern. Hunger and malnutrition are now a greater risk than AIDS, malaria and TB combined.
High food prices, lower incomes and lost jobs have resulted in the increase of the world’s hungry. The high prices which caused food riots last year in various parts of the world remain prohibitive especially in developing countries and are likely to stay the same.
The UN has set a high level task force- bringing together the heads of many UN agencies, as well as leaders of the World Bank and the IMF- to promote a unified response to the food crisis.
Unmindful of the crisis, wedding season in the valley of Indian administered Kashmir is in full swing. Kashmiri wedding are lavish affairs, marked by overspending, overeating, and wasting plenty of food.
One can smell a Kashmiri wedding in a locality from the food littered on the roadside. People dump the food waste either on the roadsides or in some dumping sites outside the localities.
The elaborate weddings involve grand feasts over three days. The event is marked by the Kashmiri wedding cuisine Wazwan prepared by the Waza- the traditional Kashmiri Chefs. The dishes are prepared over the whole day. The chefs - wazas donning white uniforms, prepare wazwan in copper vessels over wood fires.
Food is served in a large round copper plate called ‘traem’ which is shared by four people sitting around it. The guests sit in double rows across a white cloth laid on the floor for the feast. The practice of eating together is based on the spirit that people should forget their differences and eat together. But it has become a major reason for increase in the waste as the food served is much more than the four can stomach.
The big copper plate is brought with a large serving of rice on it decorated with least five meat preparations and placed before the guests. Two or more chefs make rounds across the room, serving more varieties – mainly of meat- one after another. As a norm, all the varieties (generally four pieces of each) are served on the big rice plate, and because it accounts for much more than someone can eat, much of it is wasted. Depending on the host, some seven to 30 preparations are served.
While around 2.5 kg of mutton, and a chicken is served for each trami of general guests, for the groom’s party it is almost a double serving.
Besides mutton, serving of pickles, salads, and chutneys are additional. In case groom’s party, (The groom and the people accompanying him are treated to a feast by the bride’s family) about a dozen chutneys can be served.
Vegetable preparations are very few. The dishes are prepared with a variety of spices and other assortments like curd, dry fruits etc. The dishes are served one by one with the chef moving from one plate to another till the last dish is served which is gushtaba a large round meat ball prepared in curd which is rightly called the full stop.
The number of dishes served is at times ridiculously high. “It has now became a status symbol a way of showing off wealth even though it results in more and more wastage and that too in these tough times when the whole world is in recession,” said Shakira Shawl, a college teacher in Srinagar. Shakira adds that Islam forbids wastage of food as well as its disrespect. But that doesn’t not stop the mainly Muslim Kashmir to stop a lots of food (both rice and meat) ending up in the sewers.
Not has the two decade long armed conflict help to stop this practice, though for some time the conflict did help put a bar on the increasing numbers of preparations served.
“In the peak of insurgency, in 90’s even some militant groups tried to enforce austerity, but that was short lived. Though most people would argue for lesser lavish feasts, when it comes to practice nobody wants to seen wanting,” says Muhammad Ali, a resident of Srinagar.
The average number of guests on the wedding day itself can be anywhere around 400 to 600. Even more in the rich families. That means more than 100 kg of rice, and 300 kg of meat is cooked.
“Almost 50 percent of the served rice, and 20 per cent of the meat served ends up in dust bins,” said Showkat Ahmad, a government employee.
Although some of the potential wastage is saved by a traditional practice of taking along one’s share of meat servings in a pouch. This practice is common among female guests.
“Women generally take some of the servings home, where children and other members of the family relish it. This practice though reduces wastage, but the practice itself has curbing of monstrous servings,” said Ahmad.
A few years back a state minister tried to implement a ban on lavish weddings thorough an act called the guest control act. But before it could be implemented it was challenged as an intrusion in private affairs, and more so for some of the unrealistic clauses in the act.
The huge food waste from marriage ceremonies poses a serious problem of disposal, as the main city Srinagar already faces severe problems of solid waste disposal and management. The marriage seasons adds to the burden.
Manzoor Ahmad, Solid Waste Management Officer of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, says Srinagar city produces 370 metric tons of solid waste annually waste out of which 60 % is biodegradable which also includes of the food waste.
Recently the municipality offered a paid service to people for disposal of food waste on weddings. “Lots and lots of food is wasted in our weddings and people throw this food on streets or in the nearest water bodies. We offer people to take away this waste for a small fee but then we also have to dump it in our dumping grounds as there is no waste disposal system yet in place. We are in the process of building one but it takes time,”said Manzoor.
A dozen or more preparations of meat are served in on go at Kashmiri wazwan, many times challenge for professional eaters too. But for others, even a try at the all the recipes can an invitation to gastric disorders.
Of the world one billion hungry two thirds are in the Asia Pacific region alone. The South Asian region with countries like India Pakistan and Bangladesh subcontinent itself is one of the impoverished regions of the world. Though Kashmir doesn’t have a large undernourished population, and boasts of very few hungry people, the region isn’t rich either.
But nothing stops Kashmiris from cooking and lavish food wastages, not even the global recession, or the soaring food prices.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.