While Ramadan is a time for giving and gratitude, it can also be a month of over-indulgence and waste, with far too much surplus food being dumped into the garbage bins.
In July 2010, Dubai Municipaity reported that approximately 500 tonnes of food were thrown away every day in Abu Dhabi, and 1,850 tonnes were wasted daily in Dubai during the month of Ramadan.
One Muslim scholar, Assad Bashir, expressed his displeasure on the ever-increasing manner in which excess food is being thrown away. "Wastage of food is a sin and a violation of the very concept of Ramadan," he told Rohama, the formal website of the Union of Islamic World Students, urging Muslims to be more careful.
Rather than cooking the required amount to feed the family and guests, most people tend to overcook every day for the entire month."They cook as much food as they can and a big portion of it later goes to the municipality's garbage bins. It's so sad," Bashir adds.
Others have also spoken up. Abdul Aziz Al-Masri, an Al-Ain religious scholar, said very clearly and openly that the act of throwing away food is a complete contradiction to the philosophy behind fasting. "It is not permissible at all to gather unnecessary food and it's a sin to waste the surplus," Al-Masri said.
Several initiatives have been set up to help curb the problem of food wastage.
In Abu Dhabi, the Environment Agency has launched the 'Think Before You Waste' campaign, which aims to raise awareness against the issue. Majid al Mansouri, the agency's secretary-general told UAE newspaper The National: "Culturally, there is much emphasis on providing bountiful meals in celebration of this special month, but the impact of the wasted food is not really considered."
"A simple way to reduce food waste is to cook less in the first place, or to think twice before piling up one's plate at the Iftar buffet," he adds.
The 'Think Before You Waste' campaign also reminds Muslims that the Quran says food waste must be prevented, pointing to a passage that says, "Eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess."
This charity asks people who hold big events not to throw away any safe surplus food, but to contact them instead.
Here are five quick tips to end food wastage:
- Do not shop when you're hungry: Many tend to feed their hungry eyes and not their stomachs. If you shop while you're hungry, you’ll buy far more food that you require. Stick to the items on your shopping list.
- Store leftovers: By placing any surplus food in a cool, dry place it will last longer, and can be eaten later.
- Cook less than you think you need: More often than not, you will over-cook when you're hungry and end up with more than you need. Cut the amount of food you think you need by a third.
- Steer clear of those bargain shelves: Avoid the 'buy one, get one free' (BOGOF) and the 'buy two and get one free' bargains. Instead, stick to the amount you need, considering how many mouths you have to feed.
- Plan ahead: Lastly and most importantly, plan ahead in case you have any leftovers. Do you have a charity or mosque you can donate your surplus foods to? Do you know a family that you could contribute your safe leftovers to? Can you turn them into a different dish for the next day?