In Dhaka, civil society initiatives prevent Ramadan food waste

DHAKA (Arabnews): Bangladeshi civil society organizations are trying to prevent food waste during Ramadan, organizing special collections of unsold items for orphanages and poor communities.

During the fasting month that teaches moderation and charity, excess food, especially from iftar events organized at hotels and restaurants in the Bangladeshi capital, is collected.

Bidyanondo Foundation, one of the largest social welfare organizations in the country, is operating a special Iftar Car to collect and distribute unsold or leftover items as well as raise awareness about food security.

“Ramadan is a month of compassion and fellowship. Any wastage of food is contradictory to the spirit of Ramadan,” Salman Khan, the foundation’s communications chief, told Arab News on Saturday.

“Our Iftar Car collects food from donors immediately and distributes it among the destitute people … every day, we are receiving iftar food for 600-700 people.”

Iftar Car pickups take place in the early afternoon and after people break their fasts at dusk.

Donors are obliged to keep the food cool so that it remains fresh before volunteers redistribute it a few hours later.

“We need to be prudent to prevent food waste in society. Everyone should keep this in mind as this is the true lesson of Ramadan,” Khan said. “Instead of wasting food, we should share it. We believe in this spirit of sharing.”

Besides the Iftar Car, Bidyanondo is also in touch with restaurants, caterers and food delivery services. Some have regularly supported the foundation beyond the fasting month.

“Sometimes, people cancel the ordered food, which is already paid. We have a collaboration with Food Panda, and during night hours around 10 p.m., our volunteers collect food from their local hubs,” Khan said, adding that Food Panda records dozens of order cancellations every day.

“Every night, we distribute this food to the people who sleep on the streets. From Food Panda, we receive burgers, pizza, sandwiches and biryani. These sorts of dishes underprivileged people can’t even imagine affording.”

Awareness of food waste is high in Bangladeshi society, and individual restaurateurs, as well food stores, also join efforts to prevent hunger with their own local initiatives. At the White Hall Buffet in Dhaka, whose all-you-can-eat service is especially popular during iftars, staff make sure to minimize food waste.

“People take a bunch of items during the iftar period. But an empty stomach after day-long fasting can’t consume so much … our restaurant staffers immediately sort out the leftover food and pack it for distribution,” Russel Biswas, the restaurant’s manager, told Arab News.

“We don’t need to travel far to distribute the food packets. As our restaurant is located next to a busy road of the Dhanmondi residential area, we find dozens of underprivileged children and beggars in front of our restaurant building.”

In Mohammadpur, another part of Dhaka, Sadeeq Agro, a grocery store chain, gathers unsold food and delivers it to nearby orphanages.

“Usually, our vehicles collect the unsold items from the outlets by 11:30 p.m. every night, and by the next hour, they reach the orphanages with the food,” said Salma Suraiya Asha, the company’s marketing chief.

“Any sort of food wastage is not acceptable at all. We don’t allow it.”