Jul 5, 2016 by


Food for Thought is redistributing leftover restaurant meals in Pakistan to people in need.

(Photo: Courtesy Aatir Sohail)
Jul 4, 2016
Jillian Frankel, TakePart Daily


It’s a scenario that takes place in restaurants throughout the world: Diners are served enormous portions but leave part of their meals uneaten while hungry people rummage through Dumpsters out back, scrounging for scraps of trashed food. Solving this problem of food waste and hunger in Pakistan is the goal of Food for Thought, a new project in Karachi that gets leftovers to people in need.

Founded in February by Zara Nadeem and Zehra Hasan, 24-year-old friends who were fed up with seeing leftovers being tossed, the effort allows people to donate uneaten portions to those who don’t have enough to eat.

“For a poverty-stricken nation like our own, where the disparity between different income groups is so vast, the amount of resources that are being wasted is appalling,” Hasan wrote to TakePart. “Furthermore, what’s even more disturbing is the fact that a certain population of our society can afford to pay the same amount for a single meal that would be sufficient to buy months’ worth of groceries for a lower-income household.”

Hasan and Nadeem both grew up in Karachi, where 49 percent of the population lives in poverty. Between 2014 and 2016, 22 percent of the Pakistani population as a whole was undernourished, the equivalent of about 41.4 million hungry people.

(Photo: Courtesy Aatir Sohail)Punjab-eat---awareness-campaign

After bringing two other staff members on board and partnering with several restaurants, the duo realized that their food redistribution idea wouldn’t work if they didn’t have buy-in from the public. Taking home leftovers is sometimes taboo in Pakistan, particularly at pricier establishments, which makes it more likely that uneaten meals will be tossed, Hasan wrote. To combat that mind-set, the campaign initially focused on educating consumers through posters in restaurants about the harm of wasting food. Items chucked in the trash tend to end up in landfills, where food breaks down and produces methane, a greenhouse gas more devastating to the climate than carbon dioxide.

The way the program works is simple: Participating restaurants are given Food for Thought boxes in which staff place the uneaten portion of meals if customers decide not to take it home. The involvement of the consumer doesn’t end there.

“We took it a step further by requesting the customer to take on the responsibility of handing the food over to someone in need personally, since we believe that involving the public in the process is essential in bringing about a change in mind-set,” Hasan wrote.

For the month of Ramadan, which ends July 5, Food for Thought is also running a side project dedicated to ration distribution. Through donations, the group has supplied each of 45 families residing in highly impoverished Karachi neighborhoods with a bag of monthly groceries that costs about $22.

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“It was during visits to these locations when we were truly able to get a glimpse of the overwhelming problem at hand,” Hasan wrote. “The cyclical problems of unemployment, lack of education, and poor housing conditions all culminate to form a depressing view of the situation we collectively face as a nation. It is for this reason that the food distribution process is one that is usually disorderly and even dangerous many of the times.”

Hasan estimated that Food for Thought distributes food to about 150 to 200 people daily in a handful of communities in Karachi. The organization plans to increase the number of people served as more wedding halls, hotel chains, and restaurants sign up to participate, which will allow the project to expand to between 500 and 600 people. But some locals have raised concerns about whether handing out leftovers makes those receiving them feel undignified, Hasan wrote.

Food distribution in Karachi. (Photo: Courtesy Aatir Sohail)Bakra-Piri,--Lyaari-distribution

“Here you need to understand that the group of people this food is going to are those who, at times, have to scrounge through garbage just to find something remotely edible to eat, and for such people, even leftovers are welcomed and seen as a blessing,” Hasan explained. “To such people we would also pose the question of whether they’d rather that this perfectly edible food be thrown out as opposed to being utilized as a meal for someone in need?”

The group aims to reduce food waste at restaurants, bakeries, and buffets, as well as events where uneaten food routinely gets thrown away, such as wedding receptions. At the typical wedding in Karachi, the average food waste is equal to at least 300 individual meals, wrote Hasan.

The group maintains regular contact with community leaders in various organizations, who help to identify the most deserving people in the area and plan food-distribution logistics.

(Photo: Courtesy Aatir Sohail)food-for-thought-kids-inline

Hasan and Nadeem want to establish a sustainable model within Karachi before considering expansion to the rest of Pakistan, especially because much of the work involves physically going to locations to pick up and drop off meals. They have also started a social media campaign on Facebook to inspire people to give away leftovers and draw attention to the unequal access to food in their community.

“Many of our online posts consist of statistics that give a picture of how rampant the problem of food wastage is,” Hasan wrote. “We constantly reiterated that in a country like Pakistan that is unable to provide a chunk of the population with basic necessities, wastage is simply something we cannot afford.”

To continue the series of ration distributions, in July, Food for Thought will launch a special initiative: “Sponsor a Family.” It plans to post profiles, demographics, and the living conditions of roughly 30 families it regularly visits. Karachi residents who want to volunteer can then take on the responsibility of covering the costs of the monthly groceries of these families for a set period of time. The Food for Thought team will handle getting items and delivering them to the designated households.

“Almost everyone we have spoken to has offered to contribute in whatever way they can,” Hasan wrote. “Pakistan is a highly philanthropic country and the willingness amongst the general public to help such causes is something we’re experiencing now firsthand.”

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