Zero Waste Ramadan
Eliminating, substituting and/or reducing the waste resulting from our greedy, hungry and demanding stomachs in the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
It’s that time of the year!
Much anticipated by Muslims and foodies alike, the fasting month of Ramadan has come around again. While some of us will be preparing for a spiritual experience, most of us, let’s admit, will be preparing for the gastronomic delights that the month brings in its wake.
Ironically, the fasting month, in which Muslims do not eat from dawn to sunset, sees astronomical amounts of food go to waste (and we’re talking in the hundreds of thousands of tonnes, or billions of ringgit’s worth!). And that’s not even factoring the packaging waste!
Hunger makes you do all kinds of things, including vastly overestimating the amount your stomach can handle and losing control at the sight of yummy things after a long hard day of starvation.
But guess what? The whole point of Ramadan is to control, overcome and manage your hunger (as well as other baser impulses), so the following are a few things you can do to help cut down (if not eliminate altogether) the amount of waste you produce during this holy month.
"Buy only what you need. Avoid waste. If you can afford it, buy extra and give to your neighbours". Hear, hear!
Prepare or buy only what you can and will most definitely eat
Easier said than done, of course, but a lifetime’s worth of experiencing your own eating habits (or your family’s eating habits) will inform you of how much you can actually ingest in a sitting. Decide upfront the amount of food that you usually consume, and stick to it while shopping at a grocery store or at a Ramadan food bazaar.
You will surely face temptations to buy almost everything you see, because you are starving, but instead of hoarding all the food on that day, space them out over a few days. Remember: Ramadan goes on for a month, which means the bazaars also go on for a month, so schedule the curry puffs for Tuesday and the ‘ikan bakar’ for Wednesday and the Roti John for Thursday, and so on.
Get this printable planner at Modest Munchies
If you find yourself over-cooking or over-buying on the first day with lots of unfinished food on the table at the end of the night, no worries. Recalibrate your estimates and shop better the next day. Continue to improve until you hit the right spot of having ‘just enough’.
Share food over potluck iftars/ buka puasa
If you break your fasts alone, it can be hard to regulate the amount of food you buy since a lot of it comes in packs of threes or fours, or in portions decided by the seller that may be too much for you by yourself. If cooking instead of purchasing, the recipes you cook may be designed for four people instead of one, which leaves you with 3x more food than you actually need.
In this case, share your food with others by hosting and rotating potlucks amongst your family and friends. You get a lot more variety spread over more people.
Forget the 'after party', go to an 'iftar party'!
(See what I did there??)
Even better, go break your fast at a mosque! Ramadan is the best time to connect with fellow Muslims over iftar at your community mosque - the food is free and you benefit the sponsors of the meal with blessings for their good deeds! You don’t have to cook - the only thing you are responsible for is taking a reasonable portion of food (so others can also have their share) and finishing what you put on your plate without wasting anything.
Use up leftovers
Leftovers from the iftar or buka puasa can serve as a pre-dawn meal before you fast again the next day. That’s what my family usually does. Whatever we didn’t finish the night before reappears on the dining table at 5 am in the morning when we wake up for ‘sahur’.
Alternatively, use up leftovers as side dishes or turn them into new dishes for the next iftar or buka puasa. Use leftover veggies in a stew. Stir fry leftover rice or make rice pudding. Turn stale breads into croutons for your salads. The options and ideas are endless.
This book may be of help!
Whatever food waste that still trickles out after you've done all of the above can be composted. If you don’t know how to compost, no worries, I’ve got you covered: Make Compost, Not Waste & Make Your Own DIY Composter.
Cook more, bazaar less
Cooking at home gives you better control over portions (and nutrition!), which allows you to adjust to exactly the amount you need without unnecessary food waste or leftovers. Cooking your own food is also typically healthier with less risk of food poisoning as compared to buying from street vendors at the bazaar.
In addition, cooking at home means you skip out on all the packaging waste that comes with buying food - the flimsy tupperwares, the plastic cups, the straws, the itty bitty cutlery that break the minute you try to break apart a piece of French fry… So as much as possible, prepare your meals at home - you’re better off that way.
Bring your own container
The above being said, there is definitely room for the occasional trip to the Ramadan bazaar to try out the myriad of foods being peddled to the hungry. After all, Ramadan is the time when all kinds of food from every corner of the country (and the world) are made available and it’s a shame to miss out on the fun!
In fact, the previous tip notwithstanding, it’s also perfectly fine if you actually shop from the Ramadan bazaar every single day. Since it is already a habit and you know for sure that you are going to be buying food from outside, it is easy to prepare your own containers for this purpose. A tiffin container, a reusable bottle, a few reusable silicone bags and a reusable shopping bag or two will suffice.
Get yourself one of these cuties
If you break your fast at a community event or a mosque, and they use disposable cutlery, you can proactively bring your own plate, cup and cutlery (you can even prepare a lunchbox kit for this purpose!). Encourage your family and friends to do the same. Even better, talk to the administrators of your mosque or the caterer, and encourage them to switch to more sustainable and less wasteful options.
They may be reluctant because throwing away plates and cutlery are way easier than having to clean them for reuse - but easy does not mean better, and there is a price to pay for convenience. Brainstorm ideas to break down the barriers: why not place the responsibility of cleaning on the consumer? Get everyone to clean the plate, cup and cutlery they use - it’s part of the free meal!
Here's a printable sign to get you started in your campaign
Other zero-waste shopping tips that have been previously covered also apply when buying food at a Ramadan bazaar - check them out here if you haven’t already.
‘Duit raya’ envelopes
Not sure if this applies elsewhere in the Muslim world, but where I come from, packets of money are a tradition, given to younger children at the end of the fasting month and in celebration of Eid, much like an ‘ang pao’ for Chinese New Year. Money is placed in appropriately themed Eid or Raya envelopes, and handed to children, who spend less than two seconds tearing the envelope apart to get to the moolah inside.
I remember, as a kid, having piles of torn envelopes at the end of the day, which received far less attention than the money that I extracted from them. A lot of them are made from plastic, which are difficult to recycle, and end up being thrown after being useful for roughly half a day.
Traditions are hard to break, but here’s a better option for you to consider: Online transfer! Most banks now offer instant money transfers for special occasions like Eid or Chinese New Year. It gets the job done and generates absolutely zero waste.
Not an endorsement of the bank, merely an example of existing 'duit raya' and 'ang pao' options!
However, some of us find there is no romance or a loving human touch in bank transfers, and prefer to give out money by hand (besides, not all kids have their own bank accounts!). In this case, consider giving the money in its naked form, meaning without an envelope. That’s what the children really care about anyway.
If you don’t want kids to blatantly see the amount you’re giving (because who wants a kid to say right to your face: “What, only ten ringgit???”) and insist on money envelopes, use paper envelopes rather than the shiny, plasticky ones. Make it easy for the recipients to reuse the envelopes or recycle them.
Did I miss out on any Ramadan- and Eid-related waste? Hopefully not, but if I did, let me know!
Wishing all Muslims a blessed, fruitful Ramadan, and all non-Muslims a merry, food-posioning-free food orgy!
RATE YOURSELF: RAMADAN
Achievement Award: Regulate your waste by getting just the right amount of food, and bring your own containers to the bazaar so you don’t end bringing home thirty tiny useless plastic bags and twenty straws. Finish your leftovers and compost any food waste that manages to sneak out.
Points For Effort: Cut down on the amount of food you throw out little by little each day, and opt for reusable packaging whenever possible.
Um, Maybe Not: Your eating and bazaar habits are as sacred as the month of Ramadan? That’s okay, continue as you do, and find some other waste to eliminate! Check out other recommendations here.