According to the international Food Aid Foundation, there are almost 800 million people around the world who do not have enough food to lead a healthy and active life. That equates to an estimated one in seven of the total global population. This statistic is all the more shocking, given that experts suggest that we throw away around one-third of the food that we produce every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes. This profligacy, coupled with the very danger posed by world hunger, should be a source of shame for everyone.
Of course, tackling food waste and the hunger problem are two complicated issues. However, a restaurant in India has started taking radical steps to encourage its customers to be more conscientious, whilst at the same time looking to help local people struggling to find enough food.
Since 2016, Pappadavada, a restaurant in Kochi, India, has operated a working fridge outside its front door, encouraging patrons to leave leftovers for passersby who may be in need. The policy, which is the brainchild of restaurant owner Minu Pauline, is nicknamed “nanma maram”, or “tree of goodness”, after the branches of a sapling that overshadows the fridge.
The fridge plan is simple, yet effective. Rather than providing traditional “doggy bags” for guests to take home their leftovers, Pauline encourages guests to place what they haven’t eaten inside the fridge - labelled with the date that it was placed there. The fridge is then left open and unlocked 24-hours a day, seven days a week, free to use for anyone who needs a free meal, no questions asked.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Pauline explained how she had found inspiration for the idea after watching a woman searching a bin for food late at night. She was deeply troubled that “That the woman had been sleeping and was woken up by her hunger, so she had to go in search of food instead of sleeping.” Pauline became even more concerned after she realised that her restaurant had made plenty of food earlier that day that could have helped the woman. Angry, but determined, she decided to act.
Pauline’s motivation comes from her belief that, while money is yours to do with what you will, society’s resources should never be wasted. As she explained to the Huffington Post, “Money is yours but resources belong to society. That’s the message I want to send out. If you’re wasting your money, it’s your money, but you’re wasting the society’s resources. Don’t waste the resource, don’t waste the food.”
Pauline only has one rule for putting food in the refrigerator, encouraging guests to only put their leftovers inside, rather than buying entire meals. While she describes this as “really generous”, she adds that she would “rather people put their excess food they already bought but aren’t going to eat in the refrigerator instead of the trash bin.” Nonetheless, even by sticking to this policy, Pauline estimates that she generated between 75 and 80 portions per day. Maybe this is an example that the rest of the industry can look to learn from.