Be a hunger warrior and donate a smile

“Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.”- Saint Augustine

According to a recent report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), global hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row. While 783.7 million people were affected by hunger in 2014, by last year the number had risen to 820.8 million. In the Global Hunger Index of 2017, India stands at an appalling 100th position out of 119 countries among which the study was conducted. While ensuring food security for their citizenry, China, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are in a better position than India. And, and Pakistan is just six points behind. The FAO website says that one-third of all food all over the world gets lost or wasted.

If this doesn’t shake us up, then let us take a look at this. FAO reports that about 194.4 million people are undernourished in India (The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2019 report). The India Food Banking website states that 51.4 per cent of women in the reproductive age of 15 to 49 years are anaemic while 37.9 per cent children below the age of five have a stunted growth and 20.8 per cent are underweight when compared with their height.

The starkness of malnutrition is the same whether it is in a corner of a small village in Bihar, on the streets of our so-called affluent city Mumbai or on the footpaths of San Diego, where I had witnessed a young American woman with welled up eyes, an about eight year old daughter and a bag of piled clothes begging for alms not far away from its famous five start hotel, The Hyatt. Hunger hits everyone hard and in the same way.

It isn’t that there isn’t enough food in India. There is. It is just that we often do not care. Really, we just don’t care. A report in the CSR Journal in October last year says that Indians waste ‘as much food as the whole of United Kingdom consumes’. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), says the report, up to 40 per cent of the food produced in India is wasted, which includes about 21 million tonnes of wheat. The report also says that according to the agriculture ministry, food worth Rs 50,000 crore is wasted in the country every year.

While food loss can happen anywhere in the food chain owing to various factors including market dynamics, water shortage, pest infestation, transportation, inadequate infrastructure or handling, packaging and storage, it is the wastage of edible food by all of us as a collective Indian populace that we are focusing on now. We are also not going into the details of how adversely food wastage impacts the economy of our nation. Right now, let us look at the innocents mouths that you and I can help feed but are callous to do so.

So where does all this wasted food go? It goes in the dustbins of our homes and hotels, and in the garbage bags at weddings, family and social functions. This is nutritious food that can save someone from dying or falling ill that you and I just throw away. It can be our leftover food. It can be packaged food that is yet to expire but we mindlessly discard after buying the fresh stock. It can be the food we order or buy at restaurants, hotels and other eateries but leave because either “we are full”, “we have over-eaten” or “we did not like the taste”. Remember, somewhere in some corner, a child whose skin is pressed against his/ her ribs due to hunger could have benefitted from this food. But we just do not make the effort to think beyond our garbage bins.

But then, there are a few kind souls who have risen to the occasion and made us all realise that there is a silver lining in these dark clouds. Roti Bank, launched by Former Director General of Police, Maharashtra, is fast catching momentum in Mumbai. The Akshay Patra Foundation of Bengaluru is focused on eliminating classroom hunger by providing mid-day meals in government and government-aided schools. It is supported by film director and screenwriter, S S Rajamouli, chef Ramasamy Selvaraju and actress Shraddha Kapoor. Action Against Hunger (Fight Hunger Foundation) works in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan at present. Actress Sonam Kapoor is its brand ambassador.

The Robin Hood Army, modeled on Portugal’s Re-Food Programme and founded by Neel Ghose and Anand Sinha, has endeared itself to people who care. Its volunteers, called Robin Hoods, rush to the places (hotels, restaurants, family or social functions) from where they get calls, collect the left over freshly cooked food and distribute it to those in need. The NGO works in about 150 cities.

Then there are other organisations like Odisha-based No Food Waste, Telangana-based GlowTide, Isha Vidhya’s Skip-a-Meal (in Coimbatore with many offices in India and abroad), and Chinu Kwatra and Akshay Mandhare’s Roti Ghar, a free food service for underprivileged children and women in Thane East. Feeding India, which associates with Zomato, has over 22,500 volunteers in over 95 cities and has served 35 million meals till now. Bangalore’s No Hungry Child runs a nutritious meal programme without any government funding. Haryana’s Mera Parivar Food Bank, Jaipur’’s Annakshetra and Mumbai’s bhookh Relief Foundation too are among the many NGOs that are helping people satiate their hunger. Most of the organisations have their centres in many cities beyond the cities they were launched in.

India Food Banking Network (IFBN), headed by Sam Pitroda, brings the government, private sector and NGOs together to create a network in fighting the menace of hunger together. A lone warrior RB Shivakumar in Bengaluru, a school dropout, feeds about 1000 poor and hungry people every day from leftover wedding food. There are many organisations that have begun community fridges too from where the poor and hungry can just pick up food and eat. The government too has many tie-ups with various NGOs to tackle this huge challenge.

Many of these NGOs have an amazing network of volunteers who ensure fresh food gets picked up and distributed in time. Many ask you to donate – and often, their expectation is very less.

Each of the above stories is an inspiration. And there are many more such inspiring stories and initiatives all over the country.

But where are we all in this story? Why are we missing? Why does our heart not bleed for fellow humans? Why do we not take steps, albeit small ones, to enable and empower these hunger warriors? Each of the above stories reminds us that we need to do a wee bit more. If we cannot donate, it is alright. If we cannot travel to distribute food, it is ok. What we can do is: every time we cook more than is needed at a family function or, have much leftover food after a social event or wedding, let us just pick up the phone and call the food Samaritans well in time. They will do the rest. Also, let us buy only what we need and avoid impulsive stocking of food. If we have money to stock our home with unwanted food that we know will go waste, let us buy it and distribute it among those who are forced to fast for days for want of food. Let us try and sponsor at least five meals a week.

Let’s take these small steps first. And those who can lend a helping hand in a more effective manner, please do so.

Free Press Journal is beginning this fight against hunger. It is launching an initiative of free food for all. For this, it needs your help so that no child or fellow human goes to bed hungry. We can join this fight, can’t we?