Penalty for wasting food: Can we follow the German example?

Efforts need to be taken to protect and preserve foodgrain for the benefit of the large number of poor in our society who are struggling to survive on a single meals a day

Germany is the fourth largest country in the world in terms of nominal gross domestic product (GDP). With a population of about 82 million, it has a per capita income of over $44,100 as per IMF estimates. It is the most developed country in Europe with technological leadership in several capital-intensive industries.  Despite all these riches, its people are active in conserving their national resources, as is evidenced by the real life example conveyed by an Indian who visited the country. The following is a first-person account of an interesting incident that took place in Hamburg, Germany. We too need to cultivate such consciousness to preserve our national resources for the good of our people.

Penalty levied for wasting food in Germany

When I arrived at Hamburg, my colleagues who work in Hamburg arranged a welcome party for me in a restaurant. As we walked into the restaurant, we noticed that a lot of tables were empty. There was a table where a young couple was having their meal. There were only two dishes and two cans of beer on the table. I wondered if such a simple meal could be romantic, and whether the girl will leave this stingy guy.

There were a few old ladies at another table. When a dish is served, the waiter would distribute the food for them and they would finish every bit of the food on their plates. We did not pay much attention to them, as we were looking forward to the dishes we ordered. As we were hungry, our local colleague ordered more food for us.

As the restaurant was quiet, the food came quite fast. Since there were other activities arranged for us, we did not spend much time dining nor did we consume the entire food that we had ordered. When we left, there was still about one third of the unconsumed food left on the table.

When we were about to leave the restaurant, we heard someone calling us. We noticed that the old ladies in the restaurant were talking about us to the restaurant owner. When they spoke to us in English, we understood that they were unhappy about us wasting so much food.  We immediately felt that they were really being too busybodies.

‘We have paid for the food that we had ordered, it is none of your business how much food we left behind,’ my colleague told the old ladies.

The old ladies were furious. One of them immediately took her hand phone out and made a call to someone. Within a few minutes, a man in uniform claimed to be an officer from the Social Security Organization arrived. Upon knowing what the dispute was, he issued us a 50 euro fine. We kept quiet. My local colleague took out and gave him a 50 euro note and repeatedly apologized to the officer.

The officer told us in a stern voice, ‘Order what you can consume, the money is yours, but resources belong to the society. There are many others in the world, who are facing shortage of resources. You have no right to waste the nation’s resources.’

Our face turned red. We all agreed with him in our hearts. The mindset of people of this rich country put all of us to shame. We really need to reflect on this. My colleague took copies of the fine ticket and gave a copy to each of us as a souvenir. This will always remind us that we shall never be wasteful.”

What is the moral of the story?

The moral of the story is loud and clear. Though our people rarely waste much food in restaurants, we as a nation waste a lot of food during marriages, festivals and other occasions without caring about the large percentage of our people that go hungry each day. The levels of poverty, hunger and deprivation are so high in our country and little attention is paid to this by the well-to-do citizens and the politicians of our country.

Otherwise, how do you explain the fact that the lack of proper storage facilities is resulting in rotting of foodgrain in our country? As per the media report dated 8 May 2010, the government has acknowledged that our country wastes Rs58,000 crore worth of food items every year due to lack of or poor storage facilities. The condition of the godowns in the country is not good and that is resulting in the rotting of good grain.

The Union minister of state for food and public distribution stated last week that the government’s food subsidy bill for the year is estimated to be Rs1.35 lakh crore and the government will have to procure about 62 million tonnes of good grain to meet the targeted public distribution system. If only the foodgrain wasted in the country due to lack of storage facilities was saved, the burden of subsidy would have come down to that extent and thus saved the tax-payers’ money.  But who cares?

Is there no solution to this problem?

The best way is to create awareness about the need to avoid wastage of food at all levels. But that alone will not solve the problem. There is a need to penalise people who are responsible for failure to preserve and protect the precious edible resources of the country as is done in Germany. This could have been easily done through the Food Security Bill that is awaiting the consent of the Parliament. But unfortunately, the Food Security Bill, in its present form, does not provide for any such provisions to penalise wastage of food, nor does it cast any obligation on the government in power to ensure that the people in charge should be held accountable for their failure to protect foodgrain produced in this country.

It is time to take note of the obligation of every citizen of this country to ensure that the food wastage is totally avoided. Efforts must be made to protect and preserve foodgrain for the benefit of a large number of poor in our society who are struggling to survive without even two square meals a day.

(The author is our regular columnist and he writes for Moneylife under the pen-name Gurpur’)

1 decade ago
An enlightening experience.
nagesh kini
1 decade ago
Hi Rakesh,
So you are a Bengalurian visiting Mumbai Money Life sessions!
What have you been offered other than tea and biscuits/cookies? How much have you found wasted?
I was present at a ML session at Bengaluru. Possibly you were not aware of it then.
If you are so very keen, just don't blow balloons in the air. What have you on your own for the matters that you want ML to investigate? Have you any concrete proof? Have you filed any RTI applications? After obtaining any information have you made effective use out of it? Have you filed any complaint under the Consumer Protection Act?
It is rightly said - "God helps those who help themselves" and this applies to MLF as well.
MLF has taken up public issues the matters of TDS and the recent RBI Discussion Paper on cheque disconinuation have been success stories.
Rakesh - cease to be an arm chair critic and get down to action yourself first.
1 decade ago
I can only say that their local host (must be an Indian) was stupid not to know the respect Germans pay to food, right since the World War 2 was over and food was scarce in Germany.

I know this from first hand working for a German Company ion India and visiting Germany on business very often.
1 decade ago
Do you know the amount of food moneylife wastes in their sessions. I have been to one such session in the past.
Why don't you start at home first and then point fingers at others
Sucheta Dalal
Replied to Rakesh comment 1 decade ago
Moneylife foundation wastes food? Even earlier, when we served more than biscuits, it was because people who registered failed to turn up. Even then, not a morsel was "WASTED". IT WAS DISTRIBUTED.
And you are clearly making nasty comments without attending a single session for over two years. We DONT serve food. Maybe some of our regulars would confirm this.

But let me end by asking you a question. Why does the fact that we conduct non partisan, financial literacy seminars hurt you so much that you pick on a small matter like FOOD -- where also, your allegation is wrong and false?
Replied to Sucheta Dalal comment 1 decade ago
Moreover i won't deny the fact that you are doing a great job in educating investors. But then you are more biased.
When people told your team to come to bangalore and investigate the scams going on in various Govt. organisations you turned a deaf year. Why such bias????
Sucheta Dalal
Replied to Rakesh comment 1 decade ago
Mr Rakesh

You have a problem. WE are a tiny team. Our revenue comes from a personal finance magazine. I am not sure you even subscribe for it. We simply do not have the resources to send a "TEAM" to Bengaluru to research any scam in govt organisations. If people like you support us, or subscribe, rather than indulge in false charges, we may grow big enough to oblige you.
Replied to Sucheta Dalal comment 1 decade ago
Since you put an article about food i thought it was appropriate to bring it forward. For your information i have attended couple of your seminars in Dadar last year.
Sucheta Dalal
Replied to Rakesh comment 1 decade ago
Again, pardon my insistence, but your charge is false. As any regular at Moneylife will vouch... we have been serving nothing other than biscuits / cookies for well over a year. Only in the first 6 months did we do more.
1 decade ago
We should make some practical law that no restaurants, marriages, large meetings should waste food. Not sure how to implement this but it is need of the hour.

I see many people going to buffet restaurants and filling their plates up and then wasting most of the food.

Religion could help in teaching people in this respect. Religious leaders should force followers to take food only as per their needs and not waste any food. Any excess food should be given away to self-help groups etc. A law could be made such that all marriage parties have to contact self-help groups before the event and after the event, all excess food should be given away. Also the benefits of fasting should be propagated. Myself have fasted for few days and can testify to its healing qualities. If each healthy person is motivated to fast for two-three-five days in a strech, just imagine the benefits. He/She will improve her health and the cumulative savings of food grains. Also people become more spiritual while fasting. Crime will come down too i hope.
Suba P
Replied to bhaskar comment 4 years ago
Sir, I completely agree with you, I have a lot more ideas like these. Would you be interested in partnering with me to start an NGO please.
Suba P
Replied to Suba P comment 4 years ago
How to contact you :( can you kindly reach me on [email protected]
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