Saturday, November 28, 2009

What's In Your Garbage Bin?

Left-over food, outer leaf of a cabbage, squishy vegetables, rancid fries……. you may not give it too much of thought, after all it is not everyday that you discard food, but then by oversight you missed that pack tucked away in the vegetable tray. You went out for dinner last night and what do you do with that little food from the previous meal. Many other plausible reasons. All valid. Or so you think. But just consider some thousands of families doing the same, and the food that is collectively going waste. That  really is food for thought.

Tristam Stuart is a freegan - living off food thrown in the trash can, and not because he cannot afford it, but to prove to the world that food fit for consumption is being thrown away in UK.  He is used to dining well from the food that supermarkets throw out. And the food he salvages is not dirty and inedible.  Each year 484 million unopened yoghurts;1.6 billion untouched apples; bananas worth £370 million; 2.6 billion slices of bread are junked.

In his book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal , he brings all this to light . He is appalled at the food going waste. 

 Consider these startling facts:

Supermarkets in the UK chuck out 1.6 million tonnes of food a year due to overstocking. They don’t see gaps in shelves as good business so often order more than they need.

Marks and Spencer requires its sandwich suppliers to get rid of the crusts and the first slices at each end of each loaf that they use. These four slices from each loaf amounts to one factory throwing out 13000 slices of fresh bread everyday.

A farmer supplying spinach to a supermarket had to waste a whole crop because blades of grass were found between the growing spinach.

Asda, the British supermarket chain owned by WalMart wastes 20-30% of carrots because they’re not perfectly straight. A British wholesaler had to throw away 5000 kiwi fruit away because they were each 4g below the EU minimum of 62g. last year.

The European Union’s bizarre legislation on the cosmetic quality of fruit and vegetables sold throughout the EU compounds the problem. For instance Class I cucumbers must "be reasonably well shaped and practically straight " - with measurements specified in most cases. Some of these laws were changed in November this year, but there are still 26 categories, including apples, strawberries, pears and kiwi fruit where this legislation still applies.

All fresh produce has a sell by date and anything close to that is dumped by major supermarkets.The sell by food label has nothing to do with food safety. So,effectively the food is not spoilt. This food goes into landfills so that gases like methane are not released into the environment! In places like Korea and Taiwan such food goes as pig feed, while in Europe, the pigs are fed with expensive feed that the farmer in such hardtimes can ill afford!

The FAO predicts that the number of people (especially in developing countries ) without enough to eat will exceed 1 billion in 2009. In India – millions of tonnes of vegetables are lost annually due to a poor supply chain apart from other reasons that are not likely to be under our control.

We can do our bit to control the food that we throw away.  Over-ripe fruits and vegetables can be converted into smoothies, pies, desserts, soups and even ice creams. Left over rice can be deliciously turned into a nicely seasoned product. As long as the food is edible and without compromising on food safety, there can always be way to convert the product into something edible. 
I have always admired the lovely looking fruits and vegetables that one finds stocked in super markets abroad. But now, I think I know better.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Woman Power

Margaret Thatcher is reported to have said – If you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman.

Arvind Singhal in his article writes that India has after China, the second largest number of women in the workforce. An estimated 480 million jobs are being performed by women. Till recently, most of these jobs were largely relating to physical, menial labour. And rather than helping in the empowerment of women, added to their exploitation since they not only had to be a wife and mother and homemaker, but also a secondary wage earner having little or no control on utilisation of what they earned through their hard labour. A silent revolution has since begun.

So different from what it was in the late ‘60s. My mother wrote to my grandfather. I have an offer to work in a bank. The children are grown up and I have some time to spare. I am contemplating taking up the job. Her father, gently admonished her, your husband is a senior government officer, what will people think? That he is not earning enough to keep you and the children happy? ( My father’s salary to be honest, was really a pittance as were the salaries of that time). Is that the impression you want to convey? I do not think you are doing the right thing. And heeding his advice, my mother never took up the job.

By the time I grew up, things had begun to change. Girls were educated, and many went ahead to do their post graduation too. For few, it was to bide time till their parents found a suitable partner. Some of us were lucky, we were allowed to work. There were not many opportunities, and it was not easy,

Now, it is a different scene altogether. There are an equal number of women working in any given organisation. Not just soft skills. They have entered areas that were once exclusively a man’s domain . The first woman on the shop floor is reported to be Sudha Murthy ( wife of Infosys Technologies founder Narayan Murthy). In 1974, she was upset when an advertisement for engineers in Telco ( now Tata Motors) specifically barred women from the post. She sent off a letter in protest to J.R.D Tata, and with due credit to the great man, she soon received a call for an interview and thus became the first woman engineer in their organisation. Women have since proved they can get out of their offices, work at project sites, get their hands dirty and meet deadlines with ease. Late hours have not deterred their enthusiasm either. And their multi tasking abilities ( hitherto proved at home ) stand in good stead along with their inter personal skills.

A surge of women working in white collar jobs will have a great impact on a number of factors in the coming years especially in urban India. An increase in dual income households. Women with lesser time to devote to the home. An increase in demand for ready-to-eat meals, of third parties who can take up routine housekeeping roles, a requirement for nannies, cooks, for online shopping and home delivered goods. Products targeting women – like formal wear, financial services, grooming centres will be sure to mushroom. That would mean no waiting at the ‘chakki’ centre to have whole wheat ground to flour, no pulses to be soaked for the next day’s breakfast, no tamarind to be soaked, no nappies to be washed, no peas to be shelled, no queuing up outside movie theatres on weekends, thanks to a host of conveniences that were unavailable to us few years ago.

With more freedom and confidence, women will probably look at their role in the home differently. As it is ‘marriageable age’ has undergone a huge change, a few grandmothers themselves ( having probably been home bound at a very tender age and living their dreams through their granddaughters) recommend that the children work and attain some level of financial independence before they get married. How often we hear people say, she is just 22, let her work and enjoy life , why burden her with responsibilities, a husband and children? Which may be a good sign but consider the impact it will have – late marriages, fewer children. The dynamics of the family in India will definitely undergoing a change. How well, we adapt to the changes and yet not let go of our family values will remain to be seen.

I am sure it affects every family. My elder one is married, but says babies can wait. The younger one who has just begun her career, says marriage can wait. I have no problems either. But there are issues. I worry when the younger one is still at work late in the night. And I am getting older too. Would I have the same energy to step into the role of a grandmother with ease many years hence? Can the nanny substitute the grandparent? We’ll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Odd.

Odd jobs -described as any of various non specialised, unrelated jobs, usually domestic, unskilled or menial.

All of us do odd jobs. And sometimes for others too. I am no different. And I would not have given it a second thought had it not been for my sis in law, who feels my services have been used for the oddest of odd jobs by family and friends. She is guilty too, but appreciative. So here I was  being requested to make slides for a presentation , copy editing, proofreading, booking air tickets,train tickets, hotel accommodation, movie tickets and even recently keeping a SIM card active.

I should have realised the enormity of the situation earlier. It only slowly started to dawn on me when I was being hounded by a credit card customer service executive. I said I did not need an extra credit card. She emphatically said I did, stating that there would be no transaction fee while booking online train tickets with this particular card. I said all the more reason, since I did not need one of those for sure. ‘But Ma’am, she continued, you have booked tickets worth 24000 Rupees last year!’ Whaaaat!!!! It was then that I realised the late night, last minute calls – Aunty can you please book my ticket – from my daughter’s law school friends, were what made me a potential target for the credit card company.

My daughter graduated this year, and I hoped that would mean the end of  online bookings, much to the disappointment of the executive. And to my relief. But that also was short lived. I promptly got a call from a distant land requesting me to book train tickets for the coming month.
Of course, I have lost money too. Maybe a small price to pay for the huge goodwill generated. I hope so, I mean about the goodwill. I have not been the recipient of many thank you speeches.

And well yesterday, I was in for a big surprise. I received an sms from the younger one, who is now working and away from home. Tickets booked, coming home for New Year. Tickets booked? And that too without my services!

I said– you seem to have changed your travel agent
And she promptly replies – I can afford to!

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