Saturday, September 23, 2006

It breaks my heart every time I have to throw the fat parts at the top and the bottom of sliced bread in the bin so I don’t do it for ages and keep them in the cupboard thinking that I’ll take them and feed them to the ducks sometime but then when I don’t get round to doing that for a while and they get covered in powdery green dust and strange fungi, I’m left with no choice but to throw them away. Oh how I wish like in Iran, we had Namakis (Salt Men) in Oxford who would exchange dry and mouldy bread for crystal salt.
Bread has a lot of respect in Iran. Robab, my cousins’ nanny, used to say, ‘If you see a piece of bread in the street, pick it up, kiss it and then put it somewhere higher up like on a wall or a windowsill so it won’t get treaded on.’
Actually all food get a lot more respect there than they do here but bread in particular is much respected bordering on holly.
Growing up in Iran one of the first rules I ever learned was that ‘you finish everything that is on your plate’. When I see people leaving food on their plates, I feel so angry. Well it’s more upset than angry actually. To me it’s just sad that they see nothing wrong with wasting food. The funny thing is that from what I’ve seen, usually these are the people who are seen as righteous and whose behaviour is envied by others. Time and time again I’ve heard people (usually ones that are a bit on the chubby side) make comments such as, ‘Oh you are so lucky you’re able to leave food on your plate, I always have to finish everything, even when I’m full.’ And the other person, the rude one, the one Robab and my grandmother would not have hesitated to give a good telling off to, the one who has for many years been in charge of how much goes onto his/her plate but has not yet been able to calculate exactly how much he/she is able to eat, sits there with a massive grin on his/her face, looking very pleased with him/herself.
It’s like eating is such a bad thing that doing anything else with your food other than eating it is fine. ‘Just don’t eat it ok? Because eating will make you fat and that is bad’ seems to be the message.
Some time ago I was with a few friends; a couple of them with new babies, one with an older baby and me with no baby when I heard this (which I think is one of the strangest pieces of information and advise I’ve ever heard in my life), ‘It has been proven that mothers put on most of their weight from “let’s not waste”’ Said the older baby mummy in a knowing manner, ‘but you mustn’t think like that. As soon as you think your child has had enough, you must pour what’s leftover on the plate into the bin and pour washing-up liquid all over it.’
I felt the same look coming over my face as when people ask me questions like, ‘Just out of interest, exactly why do Moslems love to blow themselves up so much?’
‘Yeah I’ve heard that’ said one the new baby mummies, ‘I’ll definitely do that because I don’t want to get any bigger than this.’
The older baby mummy smiled and nodded sympathetically. I smiled and raised my eyebrows. Many questions were circling around my head. Some I figured I was better off not knowing the answer to (So is the washing-up liquid really necessary? Is it possible that if you don’t do that, you will at some point during the afternoon go looking through the bin for a little snack? And if you are the kind of person that does that, is a bit of washing-up liquid going to stop you?) and some I thought I would just get laughed at by asking them (Does it absolutely have to either go in the bin or be eaten? What’s wrong with putting it in the fridge and keeping it for later? It could make a nice little snack for you or the baby couldn’t it?) But most of all I was thinking ‘Exactly when did food lose all its respect in this country?’
Somehow between these girls’ grandparents’ generation (who without a doubt respected food after all the hardship they had gone through during the war) and now, it has become absolutely fine for someone like Gillian McKeith (of 'You are what you eat') to go to someone’s house, get a bin bag and throw anything sugary or fatty that she finds in the house in there, encourage the overweight person who has asked for her help to put muffins and éclairs on the floor and stamp on them, then set a table with all the things that person eats in a week (slabs of cheese, kebabs, burgers, cakes, chocolate, numerous glasses of beer and coke, biscuits, takeaways,…) and occasionally use other shock tactics such as making a chocolate gravestone and a human size grave covered entirely in chocolate bars.
I actually like this programme because it teaches people to eat well and be healthy but must they waste all this food in the process? Ok yes, cakes make people fat but cake is still food isn’t it? It has been made from flour, sugar, oil, eggs maybe milk, maybe nuts. These are all good food that our bodies need and should be treated with respect and not as the enemy. Yet people on this programme and others similar are encouraged to destroy them, throw them away and pour washing-up liquid over them, in short do anything but eat them. Maybe I’m being a bit naïve here but shouldn’t they instead be taught to respect food and try to control themselves so they won’t overeat?
Let’s say someone is a sex addict and whenever he/she sees a good looking person, he/she wants to…well you know. Anyway when he/she goes to get the help of an expert, does the expert 1- try to teach him/her to somehow get his/her desires under control? Or 2- tell him/her that whenever he/she sees a good looking person in the street, he/she should punch them in the face so they’re not pretty anymore and therefore no longer desirable?
This might seem like an extreme example but I’m sure if you were to put this scenario and someone destroying a skip full of cakes, cheese, bread and chocolate, to group of people in a famine stricken country, they would think that these were both equally ridiculous.

I don’t know what came first really; the wasting of food in our daily lives or in movies and television. But it does often feel like they are one step ahead of us, taking things to extremes. And it’s strange how they usually take every possible care to make everything appear so natural in movies yet when it comes to eating habits, they often fail miserably.
I’m talking about all the times someone buys a sandwich, takes one bite of it and throws the rest in the bin because he receives a phone call with good or bad news/sees a friend or enemy standing on the other side of the road/realises he’s late for something/has had amnesia for the past four years and then suddenly remembers (if what he remembers is that he doesn’t like pastrami and that’s what he’s bought, then I guess that’s understandable but it’s probably something lame like) he is a prince who everyone thinks has died in a yachting accident and now that his father has died, his evil cousin is about to be crowned as the next king unless he gets himself to the palace pronto. He could still eat the sandwich on his way there if you ask me. I would. I had to throw my half eaten tuna sandwich in the bin about a year ago because the bus driver said no food was allowed on the bus and I’m still thinking about that sandwich and cursing that bus driver every time I do. And it wasn’t because he had made me get on the bus hungry because the sandwich was huge and I had already eaten my fill (I was just keeping the rest for later).

There are so many examples of these unnecessary throwing away of food in movies and television that I could write a whole book on them. The depressing British soap operas (Eastenders, Hollyoaks,…) are full of them. No one ever eats on these programmes.
Scenario: A couple sit down to have dinner with plates of sausages and chips in front of them. Phone rings. The man picks it up (bad move), ‘Hello’
‘Your wife is cheating on you.’ Click, beeeeeeep
‘Hello, hello, who is this?’
‘What’s wrong Barry?’ Asks the wife, picking up a chip.
‘You’ replies the husband with an angry look on his face, ‘you’re cheating on me. I don’t ever want to see you again.’
Walks out. Slams the door behind him. Now the woman either starts crying and runs upstairs or starts crying and empties the plates in the bin. And I just think, Love, you cheating might have been shocking news to him but it’s not news to you, is it? So why not finish your dinner?

Another common scenario is this: A man/woman walks into a house. He/she takes care to come in quietly as it’s pretty late at night. He/she walks into the dining room to find a table set for two with two plates full of food that have gone cold and a flickering candle on its last breaths. In the living room, a woman/man sleeps on the sofa fully dressed, holding an empty glass of wine. She/he has been waiting for he/she to arrive and he/she is very late for their dinner date. Now she/he suddenly wakes up and starts rubbing her/his eyes and he/she starts to apologize for his/her lateness…Stop right there.
Let’s analyse this common scenario on television and movies for a moment. Would anyone in their right mind dish someone’s dinner and put it on the table before they arrive in the house? Because I’m thinking even if you have a date with the Incredible Timekeeping Man/Woman who always arrives at exactly the time he/she says he/she will arrive, he/she might still have a little something to do before dinner like washing hands, making a phone call or going to the bathroom. What if they want to have a little wine before dinner? What if on their way in, a neighbour starts talking to them?
The way I see it, it’s she/he who has done the wrong thing here. She/he has not only wasted all the food, but also finished all the wine. And now we’re supposed to feel sorry for her/him too?! No way.
If I were him/her I would give her/him a good telling off. If you can’t understand why I think what she/he has done is so stupid, let’s change this scenario a little for you. Let’s replace dinner with a baby or a puppy. Let’s say in the film, he/she was supposed to have come home at 7 O’clock to look after the baby/puppy so the other person could have a rest or go out. He/she arrives three hours late to find that she/he is sleeping with earplugs in (so not to be disturbed by the cries of the baby/puppy)/has gone out already and the baby/puppy is hungry and badly in need of a change/walk.
Again some might think this is an extreme example but I’m sure people felt exactly the same way when someone decided that animals should have rights (and a little further back,) that humans should have rights. So now what’s wrong with saying that foods should have rights?
The fact of the matter is that day by day, the food we eat has less and less nutrition in it on account of us overworking the soil so much. Apparently these days most of us (even the ones with a balanced diet) need supplements simply because there are a lot less vitamins in our food than there once was. But we still don’t think that food needs to be treated with respect.

There are always discussions about all the violence in movies and the effects of this on the society. Ok I agree; violence is bad. People die from violence. But every year masses of people are also dying from hunger while others are given standing ovations for stamping on éclairs.
It’s funny how it no longer seems to be acceptable to have a hero or heroine in a movie who smokes but it’s absolutely fine to have someone in a movie take one bite from an apple and throw the rest sexily in the bin or to have Brad Pit in Ocean’s Eleven, take one bite of a burger and then for no apparent reason, throw the rest away.
‘No food has been wasted during the making of this film’ that’s what I would like to see at the end of a blockbuster movie one of these days.
I would probably fight for this if I was a tad less lazy but unfortunately I’m more of a talker than a doer and so my height of Respect Food Campaign will probably be to glare disapprovingly at guests who leave food on their plates and maybe if I have a child one day, teach him/her to respect food too.


persianarchitect said...

Great post, honestly I couldn't stop laughing at, 'Oh how I wish like in Iran, we had Namakis (Salt Men) in Oxford who would exchange dry and mouldy bread for crystal salt.'
Anyway I got your point and you are right.

Shirin said...

Thanks Persianarchitect. It would be cool to have Namakis here though wouldn’t it? They might just have to rethink the design of their carts a little though for the British weather. The solution will probably be to stick a little tattered umbrella on top ;-)

Gazankhan said...

Another brilliant piece, I’m beginning to love you Shirin! It’s especially admirable when people manage to keep their mind free of all that too aggressive marketing and all the ads and propaganda. One of the things that pleased me during last week was the news of the brave European campaign against the big Lie: “The more thin worm-like you become, the more desirable you’ll be.”!!!!
By the way I was going to say that some clever filmmakers have used this common belief to make their main movie characters more real and more interesting by showing them eating ALL THE TIME! Like Brad Pit on the Ocean series, but as you said, Brad too committed the same stupid crime at last, in a moment of weakness! Too tempting I suppose.

Tamara said...

Wow, Shirin! This is the first time I've ever heard of Namaki's (I left Iran when I was 11); I love the concept! I'll have to look into this some more....

I have friends who throw away A LOT of food... BUT. Everything goes into a composting heap! :) As long as things don't end up in plastic bags... although even when they do, eventually (very eventually)... they do finally end up meeting their ultimate hosts: bacteria. So really, nothing ever goes to waster. First law of thermodynamics.

I hope this makes you feel a little better. :)

Anahita said...

yay to not wasting food....i always get my leftovers from restaurants to go....especially from chelo kabab even if its "embarrassing" to do deserves so much more respect -- we have it so easy now i think people take it for granted....and i feel your pain about the tuna sandwich....damned busdrivers!!

Amir Sharifi said...

You are right Shirin and food is one of the many many things that we take for granted and waste ... another one is the energy and oil for that matter... (Especially here in the U.S.)
I feel bad for our kids…
Good work gain.

asad said...

I remember the namakis and my mom picking up bread and putting it on windowsill. I once thought about doing a movie on breads of the world but then I got lazy.

One of the things I hate about eating out in US is the portions, they want you to leave food on the plates. So much food is wasted every night. I think if I go back to US I will have to order appetizers only.

BTW the waiter agrees with you

Shirin said...

Hi Gazankhan :-) Yeah it’s great what they’re trying to do. Someone should really do something about those skinny, near-death models. The thing is they look like that now but you just know that they’re only going to get worst (skinnier I mean) next year which is what has steadily been happening since the eighties by designers making their clothes smaller and smaller and models and celebrities trying to keep up so they can fit into them.

Namakis are cool Tamara :-) They go form neighbourhood to neighbourhood shouting, ‘Namakieh’ so people run out of their homes with their dried bread and exchange them for salt and sometimes plastic good like bowls and sieves and things like that.
Yes I guess it’s better to throw food on a compost heap rather than in a dustbin but I still think that’s waste in the way that if a family of four each eat a quarter of their roast dinner and throw the rest away (some chicken, a few pieces of carrot, some peas and some roast potatoes) then even if everything goes on a compost heap, a chicken has died for them and they’ve wasted a quarter of it, they’ve wasted the energy that was used to bring up the chicken and also the energy that was used to transport the chicken and the vegetables to their local supermarket and then to their home. That’s how I see it anyway.

Oh yes Anahita, the tuna sandwich ‘dast beh delam nazar keh khooneh’ ;-) It was a Subway sandwich and at the time we didn’t have Subway in Oxford. What annoys me even more about the whole incident is that later I found out that it’s hot food that is not allowed on the Oxford Tube and you can actually take cold food in with you :-( If only I’d known this at the time, I could have fought for my sandwich’s right to travel on the bus with me. Sigh

Amir, you’re right. It’s really bad the way so much energy is wasted but I guess I don’t feel like I need to think about that much because over here there is always so much talk about conserving energy that it kind of feels like something is being done about it. Maybe it’s just talk, I don’t know but it’s quite reassuring to hear it and then to go out and see people cycling instead of driving. Maybe in the US they need to think about making their roads very narrow like over here so people can’t drive down them ;-)

Asad, when I worked as a waitress I hated throwing all that food away. I wonder why restaurants don’t have different size portions (small, medium and large) going to a restaurant will be so much more enjoyable that way.
I liked the waiter’s story and I hope you make your bread film one day. If someone makes a film of sangak bread being made, I’ll watch it over and over again. They do a very cool dance as they make the bread :-)

Anonymous said...

I couldnt believe that people here dont like the ends and the crust of bread. at home in Germany thats so loved that people rather eat buns to have more crust (besides all the nice seeds are on the crust)!
food, what and how it is eaten, is rather cultural and educational, I blame these factors for how bad modern attitude towards food is.

Arsh said...

It's my first time visiting your blog.
It's a very nice and clear one.

I like your attitude and point of view.

solmaz said...

Somewhat I agree with Tamara,

I live in tropics and I have an avocado tree in my yard. Two years ago, we had a big harvest of avocados and some were as big as my arm if you believe me. Anyways, Avocados all ripen at the same time and there was noway, I could eat them all up. After giving away as much as I could about half of them rotted. I was very upset about wasting those delicious avocados, but then I thought hey bacteria have rights too. Not all food in the planet should be for humans.

Understand your point about chicken though, at least I do not have to lift any finger for the avocados to grow. Where as raising a chicken and delivering it to the supermarket pollutes the envirnment and wastes more than the chicken itself.

Chakameh Azimpour said...

Hey you sweet girl. I see you added my name in your friends' list. Foremost thanks a lot. And then, if you don't see your name in mine is because 1) I tried several times to make a "link" part in my site, it didn't work. So, I just ignored it. 2) I was so far too lazy to look it up in the internet. 3) It is such a shame on me as I used to design websites when I was younger :-))
Your new post was very true, as usual. Some of the people I know, believe it is more elegant if they leave some of their food in their plate. In fact, they believe it is impolite if you finish everything. In my family, however, we have been taught to finish everything we have. I remember my Mom, especially if we were out for dining used to serve us smaller portions, then if we wanted some more, we would get.

Shirin said...

Marieh, my problem with the fat part at the end is that it doesn’t fit in the toaster and the rubbish supermarket sliced breads that we usually buy aren’t really that nice if they’re not toasted. I would never throw one away if it had seeds on it though, yum :-) but they usually don’t.

Thanks Arsh and welcome :-)

Solmaz, I don’t really know what to say. Either I did not explain myself well or you have completely misread me. I’m saying I think food should be respected that’s all. yes I’m saying I think wasting food is wrong but I really didn’t think that then I needed to mention every single scenario to do with food wasting and discuss it on here and say things like, ‘It’s wrong to waste fruit but if you have a big fruit three in your garden and one year you have a particularly fantastic harvest and can’t eat all the fruit and so some end up rotting on the ground, then that’s ok.’ I mean I’m not trying to write Hallolmasaael here because who am I to say what people should and shouldn’t do. You know better than anyone else what you did was right or wrong and I’m not here to pass judgment on you or anyone else. But if you are interested in my opinion, I think there’s a world of difference between the wasting of food that I’m talking about in my post and letting some fruit rot in your garden. 1- As you said yourself not much energy was used to raise your fruit as opposed to a cooked dinner which at least for the making of and its transportation energy was used. 2- When your fruit fell from the tree and rotted there, they were going straight back to the ground which meant they not only did not waste energy, but also helped enrich the soil and that was the end of that whereas the cooked dinner that goes in the bin, still continues to waste. It wastes energy as it’s collected by the bin men and taken to a (wasted) grand space dedicated to rubbish. Then in some places it’s burnt which will pollute the air and in some places it’s buried and then yes at some point it will be broken down by bacteria and then enter the cycle again but (obviously I’m not a scientist so I could be wrong but) I really think there is a big difference between your avocados rotting on the ground and going straight back to earth and that dinner rotting away somewhere in a mass of plastic and metal and all the other things that people throw away.
Also, I’m well and truly jealous of you now. You have avocados in your garden the size of your arm? That’s just amazing :-)

You’re welcome Chakmeh. Yes I did notice that you didn’t have any links on your blog but after reading your post about emailing all those people and only getting two relies, I just put the absence of links down to a lack of friends rather than a lack of link creating know-how ;-) only kidding. I could tell you how to do that if you like. It’s pretty easy.