This month (September), the UN released the latest statistics on world hunger. Despite the march of human progress, the number of hungry people continues to rise – it is now over 815 million. In real terms, that means one in every nine people do not have enough food, and millions of them will die of malnutrition.
This is unacceptable when we know the volume of surplus or lost food produced is actually enough to feed every hungry person four times over. It’s not just countries in Africa or the Indian subcontinent – Malaysia, too, has many people suffering from lack of food.
The good news is the new government of Malaysia has woken up to this reality. New initiatives are being discussed to strategically ensure lost food can be re-distributed to the poorest and most needy in our society. This is to be applauded – and I believe we will see big changes within the next two years in terms of food donations to food banks.
I am hopeful that if we can make this work well in Malaysia, in the longer term, we can perhaps even share a blueprint with neighbouring Asean countries that really suffer from widespread hunger. Indonesia and the Philippines, in particular, produce enormous amounts of items that end up as lost food. The poverty in these countries is far worse than in Malaysia. We can really help them – if we can professionalise food-banking across the country and prove how simple it is to develop a system to feed a nation at a very small cost.
Interestingly, the US and Europe are more advanced because they have been operating in this field for so long (over 25 years). Their motivating factors were not primarily to address hunger; instead, the industry grew out of concern for the environmental consequences caused by the food disposal, and mainly, from the enormous financial cost to both government and businesses. Since the financial crash of 2008 and the continuing austerity measures that have been put in place, many people in these countries are also facing hardships. In Britain alone, there are over 2,000 food banks. A recent poll commissioned by The Independent newspaper showed that one in 14 people in Britain have been forced to resort to using a food bank due to financial hardship.
Even one of the richest countries in the world, Denmark, has a thriving food bank. Last month, the World Food Summit took place in its capital, Copenhagen. Themed “Better Food For More People”, it gathered together a mix of global CEOs, government stakeholders and other key decision makers. When you look at the people in the room, you know the world is now taking this issue very seriously.
This is the third time Denmark has hosted this event. Copenhagen is becoming a gastronomic capital in Europe, and the Danes care passionately about sustainability. The government prioritises food, both in terms of the importance of the ministry within government and the importance of this annual summit. The Prime Minister and Royal Family play key roles over the two days.
For me, Malaysia is the gastronomic capital of the world! I have lived in several countries and have never experienced the diversity and cultural importance of food that exists in every corner of Malaysia. We should leverage on this and follow Denmark’s lead in becoming strategic leaders in gastronomy sustainability.
Our neighbours in Singapore play host next month to the regional meeting of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The WBCSD is made up of 200 CEOs from some of the world’s largest companies. It is great they are coming to our region. Singapore is certainly now addressing sustainability issues, particularly in relation to the environment. However, with a smaller and richer population, food-banking is not as important. With a little effort, I can see us becoming gastro-sustainable leaders of the future – and hosting future regional meetings.
Next month, we honour the most important day in our annual calendar. October 16 is World Food Day. It’s a day to focus on food security issues. The Lost Food Project uses this day to raise public awareness about these problems, and real world solutions. We work with any mindful corporates that want to use this day as an opportunity to engage with their staff as a CSR activity. One of our key partners, Unilever, will be holding a Superbrand Day with Lazada. Unlike other Superbrand Days on Lazada, this is the first time there is a CSR angle and a charity beneficiary. From every sale of a Unilever product on that day, Unilever will donate a meal. One For One. We hope enough products will be snapped up during this inaugural charity promotion to provide 100,000 meals to help needy charities in Malaysia.
To raise awareness on the issue of zero hunger and food waste, we will be attempting to get into the Malaysia Book of Records for most meals finished. It’s called the #MYCleanPlate Challenge. We are challenging everyone to eat all the food on their plate for one meal on World Food Day and share photos of their clean plates on social media tagging them #mycleanplate #WFD18 and #zerohunger. We are involving companies, universities and schools. If you are a company and want to get involved, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and if you’re a school or university, please e-mail email@example.com.