Each day while driving to work, I come across hordes of children begging on the streets; some as a profession, others for money, and the saddest ones, for food. Seeing these little souls scavenging for food in rubbish bins outside eateries is a harsh reminder of how much food is wasted across restaurants, hotels and even homes each day. In this dark depth of wastage, there are sporadic rays of hope where individuals or groups like The Robin Hood Army have started campaigns of collecting food from the ‘haves’ and delivering to the ‘have nots’. To streamline such a process, some intervention is required from regulatory bodies who would ensure that leftover food from big hotels and popular restaurants is channelized and delivered to the needy in a systematic manner.
In all my travels, I have come across wastage in some form or the other, but the most shocking eye opener was last month during my visit to Saudi Arabia for Umrah (a mini pilgrimage). Whilst visiting the Prophet Muhammad’s resting place in Medina and the Holy Kaaba in Mekkah, I noticed that there were many families/couples who seemed to have parked themselves at the Mosque seemingly financially incapable of paying for a hotel or a place to stay. Of course, this was a humbling experience seeing believers who are willing to leave the comfort of their homes and inconvenience themselves in the heat to follow the path of their belief. But at the same time, I did wonder what facilities the local government was providing to such pilgrims who were sleeping under the open sky, and probably had very little in their pockets.
On the other hand, the hotel we here we were staying was plush, comfortable and cool compared to the heat outside. Most of the guests staying in the hotel were from the Middle East which was apparent from their language, their coloring and their attires, while the rest were a smattering of guests from other Muslim countries. My first day in Medina, the holy resting place of Prophet Muhammad was a humbling, peaceful and calming experience, till the time I entered the breakfast room the morning after we arrived!
The breakfast spread was a gastronomical treat catering to people of all palates; hot and cold, sweet and spicy, heavy and light. Whilst heading to the serving counters, I had to pass by tables full of people; couples, families and generational families, and as I mentioned earlier, most of them Arabs. As I weaved through the tables, I noticed one very common occurrence which stunned me! Each table had plates and plates piled high with food which could possibility not be finished by the people on the table. As it was my first ever visit to that country, I did not think too much of it till we checked into the next hotel in the second leg of our journey. The bread and cupcakes were piled as high on plates in the second location as in the first! On the third day I couldn’t control my curiosity, and I summoned a nice Pakistani waiter to our table and questioned him about all that food. He enlightened me that most guests visiting the Holy land have a similar characteristic of filling their plates to the brim and leaving three fourths of that each time. He also informed me that the hotels have no policy of food collection and whatever is left over in plates, is put straight in the bin! I was shocked and saddened at the wastage as all the leftover food could be enough to feed an entire African village! Also the fact that this was happening in the holiest of lands was a greater setback for me as what good is all that praying if people nearby are sleeping hungry. I guess the richer the nation, the greater the gap in this understanding.
If I could, I would recommend to all the five star hotels in the area to have volunteers pick up the leftover buffet items, and place them in kiosks near the mosque. Without a doubt, there would be many weary, yet grateful travelers who could have their fill of the scrumptious food and give thanks to the rich owners of the establishments.
I came back home somewhat spiritually closer to the Maker, happy that I had gone and hopeful that my prayers would be answered. But each time I remember my journey, I cannot but help remembering the poor sleeping on the marble pavements in the open and the plates piled high with excessive food!