Dashain- ‘Food for thought’

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As we bid goodbye to a long summer and get set to welcome autumn, we realize that the festival of Dashain is knocking right at our doors this year too and Deepawali is also right around the corner.Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar falling on the month of September or October, celebrated by Nepalese people throughout the globe with galore of delight and enthusiasm. The tenth day of the festival is the ‘Dashami’. On this day, a mixture of rice , yougurt and vermillion is prepared which is known as “Tika”. Elders put this tika on the forehead of younger relatives to bless them with abundance in the upcoming years.

In the context of Dashain when we are busy with our families and friends feasting and having fun, let us also have a look at the  FAO reports 2015, according to which about 795 million people in the world do not eat enough to be healthy.  That means that almost one in every eight people on Earth goes to bed hungry each night. In the developing world, one child in four is stunted, meaning that their physical and mental growth is impaired because of inadequate nutrition. That is why, I am quite skeptical of the way we celebrate Dashain by putting rice tika on our foreheads in this country where millions have no alternative but to sleep with an empty stomach. The practice of putting rice tika on forehead during Dashain may have had more significance in the past as the time in which the festival falls marked the ending of harvesting season in Nepal. As most people were dependent on Agriculture in the past, rice production was also abundant in most parts of Nepal. However the point to note is that, we had plentiful rice in the past but today in this age of food crisis we might be wasting a lot of food in the name of tradition. I guess, in this country where roughly 80% are Hindus, not less than 10 million people waste almost a handful of rice each by putting on their forehead when people in most parts of this country don’t have rice to put in their stomach. As I recall back the moments from the past years I remember that in my house and in all the houses that I visited I could see rice spread on the floor all over the house and this thought immediately struck my mind that this must be the same scene in almost every house of Nepal. I quickly did some Math and the rough figure that I came up with was alarming. We are indeed wasting a lot of rice even if it is just on one single day in a year.

The rice that we waste during Dashain as part of our culture by putting on our foreheads is just one side of the story while in another side of the story, even more food is wasted in the Kitchen in the name of feasting and festive celebrations throughout the week. We take great pleasure in welcoming our guests with plates full of meat, rice and other delicacies and not surprisingly most of the food we serve in the plates end up in the trash bin. I visited a friend for lunch last Dashain and he was talking about this tradition in his family in which they consider it an insult if the guest doesn’t leave a little bit of food in his plate at the end of meal. He said that in such a situation, it is considered as if the guest didn’t like the food much and did not ask for enough or the hosts didn’t serve enough food for the guest. So the host would force to serve the guest more than what they can eat. Apparently, I put forward my point taking excuse from their family practice so I didn’t throw any food though but I had a tough time stopping them from piling up more food than I could eat on my plate. Figures show that Urban kitchens in Nepal dispose 512,000 tons of food that is considered edible, as waste every year while point to note is that a man requires around a kilogram of food–including lentils, rice, meat, milk and other items—on an average every day. The amount of food wastage sky rockets specially during festivals like Dashain when the whole country is busy feasting.

Since the world population is shooting up the graph at an alarming rate and we have even more stomachs to feed every passing second so every single rice grain wasted by putting on our foreheads or by throwing away in the kitchen trash is really not worth it. We should give a second thought on the way we celebrate our festivals either it is Dashain, Eid or Christmas. We could still celebrate Dashain with equal enthusiasm using just red vermillion tika without the rice. We could be more cautious in the dining table by serving in our plates just as much as we can eat. We should stop forcing food on people’s plates to the extent that they have to loosen their belts and open up their pant buttons!  We might have been lucky to be born in the part of the world where we don’t have to worry about our food now but we should think about the 795 million people in the world who are not as lucky as us. Going by this same trend, sooner or later we are also going to be affected with this global problem of food crisis so better be aware and play our part before the problem enters our kitchens as well.

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