A study conducted by the Government of India states that around 20% of what we buy in urban India ends up being thrown away, and an astounding 40% of the food produced in India is wasted. A UN report explains that the wastage of rice in particular has serious ramifications for the environment as decaying rice releases methane, a potent global warming gas. The government of India is taking the necessary steps to reduce the wastage, but the movement might be successful only if all of us ingrain the concept of not wasting food.
If we look at rice eating communities, various traditions and myths have been formed around the wastage of rice. Japan, which reports suggest wastes the maximum amount of food, introduced, or rather, revived the concept of Mottainai, which is an old Buddhist word with ties to the Shinto philosophy that believes every object has a soul. Mottainai as a cultural practice has also become quite popular internationally. Every culture has such traditions or practices, which deter people from wasting rice.
In Japan, the concept of not wasting food is taught to children and foreigners with the saying, “Every grain of rice has seven fortune gods.” So, you better not disrespect them by not eating them all! This suggests that wasting even 5-6 grains of rice angers or displeases around 35-40 gods. The saying and concept encompass the idea of respecting the farmers and resources that made the rice and reminds us that there are people in the world who don’t have any rice to eat.
Similarly, Chinese folklore states that if children do not finish their rice, their future wives or husbands will have pimples on their face and will be ugly. The roots of this story are based on the concept that children should be taught not to waste food at an early age and scaring them in this manner will make sure that they form good eating habits.
Interestingly, Vietnam also has its own version of a horror story to ingrain the value of food in children’s minds. They say “Every grain of rice you waste becomes a maggot that you have to eat in Hell.” Quite disturbing, because the rice and maggot image is one that lingers in your mind. Another story comes from the Philippines, telling us that rice is considered a gift from the gods, making it a sacred item that should not be wasted.
Whatever the stories may be, the basic aim of this folklore is to inculcate the habit of finishing what you have on your plate and reducing food wastage. Of course, making the exact amount of food is not always possible and leftovers are very common, which is why in this episode, Vikram Doctor is talking about the various ways that leftover foods can be reused to make something new.