GEORGE TOWN: A consumer group has urged those setting up free food stalls during the upcoming Thaipusam festival to take measures to minimise the wastage of food while serving devotees.
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) education officer NV Subbarow said year after year, piles of half-eaten food would be left behind after the festivities.
He voiced doubt that it would be any different this year, adding that he expected at least 3,000 tonnes of food to go to waste in Thaipusam festivities across the country. This is nearly equivalent to the reported national average of daily food waste.
Thaipusam, which begins on Jan 21, will see stalls set up for the distribution of free food and drinks as a form of service to devotees.
The festival is typically celebrated for three days, with Penang expected to have at least 120 refreshment stalls.
"While it's nice to see more and more people offer free food to the devotees and the masses that attend the Thaipusam festivities, we must be mindful of food that goes to waste.
"We should not be handing over food packets to just anyone who walks past. Let those genuinely in need of food come and help themselves.
"And those taking food from stalls should take what is needed and save the food for later if they are unable to finish it," Subbarow told reporters outside the Waterfall Temple today.
He said those who attend Thaipusam festivities tended to show a mentality of greed.
With plenty of free food available at different stalls, devotees often appear to be "collecting" samples and tasting them before discarding the ones they don't like, he said.
"It is better that we feed people who are genuinely hungry than see the food go to those who are just greedy.
"Thaipusam is a sacred occasion, therefore it is incumbent upon devotees to show respect for the food they consume. After all, in Hinduism, devotees are expected to respect food as it is godsent," he said.
Subbarow also reminded stall operators to hand over uneaten food to the National Food Bank so that it can be handed out to the less fortunate.
According to the Solid Waste Corporation, Malaysians generate 16,687.5 tonnes of food waste on a daily basis – enough to feed 12 million people thrice a day. During festivals, there is a reported 15-20% increase in food waste.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had said Malaysia produces 15,000 tonnes of surplus food daily. Of that amount, 3,000 tonnes are still safe to eat.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, one-third (1.3 billion tonnes) of food, worth RM4.4 trillion, is wasted or lost every year.
The World Economic Forum noted that last year, 850 million people in the world lacked food and nutrition, compounded by the effects of the increased cost of producing food and lack of access to nutritional food.