Arwa Aburawa looks at the food we throw away every Ramadhan, and easy ways to stop us from scrapping leftovers into the bin
Let me paint you a picture. It’s Ramadhan time. Somehow, and you’re not sure quite how, the holy month has managed to sneak up on you and catch you completely unprepared. You have meals to cook, people to invite, a spring clean to sort, and you also want to leave plenty of time for going to the mosque for Taraweeh prayers and reading Qur’an. The last thing you need is extra work on your plate. As such, embracing a green and food-waste-reducing iftar is probably unappealing. However, green Muslims, such as Sarrah Abulughod, insist that Ramadhan is the perfect time to look at food waste and ways to do something about it.
“In many Muslim communities, Ramadhan has become a time of great waste, not only of food, but of our natural resources as well,” explains Sarrah. “It is very easy to picture the after-iftar rush to prayer where you pass piles and piles of styrofoam overflowing from the trash bins. This scene is so opposite to what we as Muslims should be reflecting on during this holy month. As a response, a small group of people decided to take a stand, and introduce the concept of Green or Zero-Trash Iftars.”
In Washington DC, one small group of ‘Green Muslims’ has been hosting Eco-Iftars for the last couple of years, and they are keen to get more Muslims thinking carefully about the food wasted during Ramadhan. Indeed, the group’s formation was catalysed by a zero-trash potluck iftar that was held during the Ramadhan of 2007. Sarrah Abulughod, who volunteers with the organisation Green Muslims, explains that the main aim of the Green Iftars is to raise awareness of how much trash we produce and food we waste in a single meal. With this in mind, you can then reflect on how much garbage we produce as a community of Muslims during Ramadhan alone.
Indeed, whilst the statistics on food waste in Ramadhan are hard to come by, the ones available are worrying to say the least. In the United Arab Emirates, it is estimated that food waste peaks in Ramadhan with 500 tonnes of food thrown away every day. In Bahrain, 30 per cent of all food purchased for Ramadan will be thrown away. In fact, it is believed that most households buy 30 to 40 per cent more household products than they need at this time. And yet, there is little effort to stop this waste, despite most Muslims being aware that throwing food away is a sin. It states in the Holy Qur’an:
“Eat and drink but waste not by excess, for God loves not the wasters.” (al-A’raf:31)”
The Zero-Trash Iftars promoted by Green Muslims are actually relatively easy to implement at home– it’s the larger and more public iftars that are problematic. Even so, Sarrah states that Green Iftars can work on lots of different levels. For example, guests are asked to bring a dish to pass around in a potluck style, but participants can take it to the next level by bringing local or vegetarian food. Everybody is asked to bring their own dishes and cutlery, so that plastic and paper plates and cups are not used and then dumped in landfills. “Depending on your audience, it is often fun to take the idea just one step further to help people understand the idea on a deeper level,” says Sarrah.
“During the meal, we often discuss our impact on this planet and reflect on the many ayat in the Qur’an that speak of Believers as the vicegerents of this Earth.” The end of the iftar is another key part of the process. Unlike most iftars when the trash is the last thought, at a Green Iftar the group measures how much trash they actually produced as they clean up together, and separate the trash from the compostable and recyclable items. “It is often very eye-opening and going through this exercise together as a community is helpful in starting people on better individual habits,” adds Sarrah. Fundraising at the Green Iftars has also enabled the Green Muslims group to purchase their very own set of travelling dishes, cups, and cutlery that can be borrowed out to various groups. The group remarked that the Green Iftar set, which caters for 500 people, will hopefully educate communities about the ease of going green and reducing waste during the month of Ramadhan.
3 Simple and Practical Tips to Cut Food Waste
Reduce the amount of food you buy in the first place. If you think about it, it is deeply illogical that most Muslim households feel the need to stock up on food during Ramadan– the month of fasting. So, shop as you normally do, and don’t feel the need to buy more for Ramadhan. If in doubt– leave it out (of the shopping basket, that is).
Food leftovers can be a tricky thing to deal with, as some people refuse to eat even one day-old food. One way to deal with this is to limit the food you cook (be on special guard when cooking
during Ramadhan) and the second is to think about what foods are more likely to be eaten as leftovers. Personally, I find that lasagnes, pastas, soups, and certain curries taste just as lovely the next day. So cook accordingly, and serve up some creative remixes of leftovers at Suhoor when everyone is too sleepy to notice.
Composting food leftovers can be a tricky process and something you may not be willing to invest in. However, one small trick is to compost small amounts of food in tightly sealed plastic bags, and then use the compost to boost growth of what you have planted in your garden.
Wishing all our readers a Green Ramadhan and ‘Eid Mubarak!
Arwa Aburawa is a freelance journalist based in the UK who writes on the Middle East, the environment, and various social issues. Arwa is also the Eco-Islam Affairs Editor at Green Prophet, the leading news site on environmental issues in the Middle East.
: Top image via Hamed Saber/flickr.
:: This article was originally published in SISTERS Magazine/July 2012.