Nigella Lawson has said that Christmas is a time for feasting, not fasting. But though we complain about food wastage at festivals and celebrations, the truth is a lot of perfectly good food gets thrown out every day.
According to the Solid Waste And Public Cleansing Management Corporation, Malaysia wastes 15,000 tonnes of food a day – 3,000 tonnes of which can still be eaten, and that works out to three meals a day for 11 million people. The Food And Agriculture Organisation Of The United Nations estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food – a third of the world’s total production – goes wasted every year.
In October 2016, Plaza Merdeka mall in Kuching found itself in trouble over its “biggest bowl of Sarawak laksa” stunt to get into the Malaysia Book Of Records. All the food that took 15 cooks and 18 hours to prepare – 600kg of noodles, chicken, prawns and over 1,000 eggs – was ultimately inedible. Hopefully, the fallout from that finally forces an end to such wasteful “food events” in Malaysia.
But here are five other festivals, celebrations and competitions from around the world that seem like fun, but the only record they’re setting is how much food is going into the bin or down the drain.
Yangzhou Fried Rice
Yangzhou was historically among the wealthiest cities in China, but now it is famous for its gardens, ancient shrines and religious relics. It is also infamous for its record-breaking attempt at cooking the world’s largest serving of fried rice. In October 2015, as part of the city’s 2,500th anniversary, over 300 cooks used shrimp, scallops and sea slug to prepare 4,000kg of its popular Yangzhou fried rice. But the day after their Guinness World Record effort, officials discovered that a whopping amount of the food was inedible, and that everything was sent to pig farms as animal feed. This was a clear breach of Guinness rules and their record was revoked – not that the hogs complained.
Every last Wednesday of August since 1945, this tomato flinging festival has been held in the town of Buñol, Spain. At the last count, officials estimated 20,000 people participated in the festivities, which involves revellers chucking over 100,000kg of overripe tomatoes at each other in the streets. In recent years, there’s been an attempt to rationalise this cultural event. But it doesn’t change the fact that perfectly edible fruit is literally going down the drain instead of into pots of cold Spanish soups like gazpacho.
Not content with tossing tomatoes, Spain has this grape throwing festival on the last Friday of August in La Pobla del Luc, Valencia. The roots of the event go back to the 1930s, when farmers marked the end of the harvest by throwing excess crop at each other. Nowadays, that’s about 100,000kg of Spanish Garnacha Tintorera grapes getting squashed under people’s feet for no good reason. Ironically, the celebration is meant to promote the wine-growing tradition of the town. Shame that it’s not ending up in a nice bottle of vino instead.
Battle Of The Oranges
Another massive food fight, this is the highlight of the February carnival in Ivrea, Italy. No one knows how it started, but it involves participants hurling 200,000kg of oranges as they re-enact a 12th-century legend, about a miller’s daughter who decapitates a tyrant when he tries to rape her before her wedding, which leads to the townsfolk revolting against him too. It wasn’t always oranges. Until the 19th-century, they used apples. But all that fruit – leftovers from the winter crop carted in from Sicily (they don’t grow oranges in Ivrea) – still gets turned to pulp on the city’s streets.
Major League Eating Competitions
Major League Eating is an actual organisation that governs all the competitive eating contests in the US. Basically, challengers stuff their faces with as much food as they can stomach in the fastest time they can swallow. Across the US, there are competitions for hot dogs, hamburgers, pizzas, pies, pancakes, sausages, ribs, bacon, pickles, tacos, burritos, butter, mayonnaise, cakes, doughnuts, candy bars and Twinkies. The act of gorging on all this food to win a prize is evidently an American tradition, and 33-year-old Joey Chestnut is a celebrated repeat offender who has gobbled 79 tacos in eight minutes, 205 buffalo wings in 12 minutes, and 2.25 gallons of chilli in six minutes. Who knew food wastage could be so entertaining? – Additional reporting by Abirami Durai