It is a waste to use food to drive cars. It is a waste to use 10 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of meat. A food system that focuses on profits, rather than the health and wellbeing of people or the planet, will waste not only food, but also people and the planet. Indeed, half of India’s children are so severely malnourished that they are technically described as wasted. And, according to the FAO, the 70 percent of food not wasted but doused in pesticides costs $350 billion in health treatment every year: a waste of money.— Vandana Shiva, Who Really Feeds the World?
When it was time for the annual payment for my domain name this year, I realized how I had wasted so much time instead of putting down some of my many thoughts on this blog, and I wondered if I was going to make a commitment this year and if it was going to be worth making the payment again. I decided to give it another shot.
Earlier today was Black Friday, which is related to the topic of today’s post: it is a day that was anticipated in the US in the last few weeks, but turns out to be just as popular here now that I am back in Istanbul. On my personal social media feed, there is just as much talk about the nature of consumerism & capitalism on Black Friday, sometimes referred to as Just Friday or Green Friday to encourage less wastefulness and mindless shopping. I am definitely in favor of not being an unconscious consumerist but I am not going to lie: I have bought two things today, one definitely on offer due to the big sale, and a second item that I tried to purchase through one of the main websites offering sales, then somehow ended up on a website that was not offering a sale but happened to have just that item on sale. The first one is something I have used and liked before — an eyeliner, from a brand that doesn’t test on animals and is mostly plant-based so there’s a win there at least — and I am happier paying less for it, and the second item is a cast-iron stove top toaster. Our toaster has been broken for months and I was happy to find this healthier & more reasonable alternative to the non-stick PTFE coated electronic one we had.
Before I get more into the matter, which is going to be more of a reflection and self-assessment than solid advice to anyone, I want to mention a quick story. Over a month ago, while in Michigan following my mother-in-law’s passing, we had several close relatives visit us and after they left, there was an abundance of food, most of it takeaway, that I was not going to be able to finish. So instead of waiting for them to spoil, or throwing them in the trash as is, once again reminded of the amount of waste that occurs in a city, I decided that I was going to leave it out for the squirrels. They had come and eaten the leftover kalamari I had left out the other day without anyone noticing, so surely they’d do the same this time. Except when I came home later in the evening the food was still there, and at 1 a.m. in the morning, I started to smell skunk and hear funky noises. I was petrified of looking outside the terrace door. When I took a quick peek, I definitely saw a skunk around the food but I was confused as to why it didn’t sound happy. When I gathered up the courage to take a second look, there was a possum circling the skunk and it was like watching a horror movie. Now you might be wondering why I was so scared of wild animals fighting right outside our terrace. Actually, I was panicking more at the footsteps I could hear from our upstairs neighbor who kept opening and closing her terrace door, clearly aware of what was occurring. I was so embarrassed, I kept praying that God would ‘inspire’ the animals to go away immediately! Of course that didn’t happen until the food was finished, and according to my husband who stayed up after me, that lasted at least another hour of battling (he said two hours but I am assuming he was exaggerating). The first thing I did in the early morning was to get rid of any remaining evidence and vow that I would never leave out food again. Oh, and just a note on the kalamari from the first time — it might not have been an innocent squirrel after all because there was a souvenir of poop right next to the finished food tray, and do squirrels even eat kalamari? I guess not. Hey, I am from Cyprus after all and we don’t have squirrels over there.
Anyway, back to the topic of wastefulness. I guess I’ve been aware of the concept of wastefulness from my upbringing. My parents’ Shaykh was very big on finishing what is in our plate, which might seem contradictory to the discouragement of over-eating but may teach the person to take only as much as they’ll be able to finish in the first place. Composting is not an issue in our large garden back in my family’s home; something I struggle with in the city and have yet to find a solution for. My family have had cats forever and they help with leftover food, and the chicken help with the food scraps from the compost. Most of the contents of my trash bin are food scraps i.e. vegetable peels, inedible leaves etc., mostly from pesticide-free sources and it makes me sad to waste them when they could turn into such beautiful soil. There is actually a plot of empty land near my house, but I am hesitant to compost anything there even if in a discreet corner in case I am accused of emptying trash which has happened before when I tried to tell my neighbor who has chicken that her animals might make use of them; they like bulgur better apparently. (Yes, we have chicken roaming our in-the-middle-of-the-city neighborhood but I still can’t compost or garden here because I don’t have the guts and the courage/time to put up with defending my cause especially somewhere that isn’t my personal property).
Wastefulness is strongly discouraged in the Islamic Tradition and from many examples set by the Final Prophet ﷺ. We are encouraged to not waste water during ablution, just like when we are brushing our teeth and we are told not to leave the water running, even if we were to be by a running stream of water.
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, passed by Sa’d while he was performing ablution. The Prophet said, “What is this excess?” Sa’d said, “Is there excess with water in ablution?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river.”— Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 425
This teaching doesn’t stem from fear of exhausting resources, but rather it is based on respecting resources, the blessings that have been favored upon us as partakers on Earth with many other creatures, and not as the owners whose greed, disrespect and wastefulness has lead to the depletion of resources as well as our own oppression.
I like to think throughout my day, what the impact of my actions will be, and that includes what I am about to throw in the trash. At times it teaches me that I didn’t make good use of something that I could have dedicated more time and appreciation to before they spoiled, (maybe some excess veggies that I could have fermented or greens that I could have bothered to include in the salad) and that maybe next time I need to order less produce, or I need to waste less time procrastinating. At most other times, I am hopeless and just hope that they end up somewhere good. Whatever that means. Hopefully just in the landfill in the country I live in, or do they burn them and how much does that impact air pollution? — and I realize that that is not ideal, but maybe better than ending up in another country, or in the sea. I do separate my recyclables, and even though I see the local ‘çekçekçi’ picking them up, I still wonder what happens to everything. I’ve asked one of them if my separating them from the rest of the trash is helpful to their job at all, and he said it was.
Earlier today, I sorted through my kids’ clothes and I put together a couple of boxes; one for clothes that are now too small on my oldest as well as middle, and that my youngest will eventually be able to wear, and another set of clothes that are too small on my youngest and that I could make use of for our next baby (not expecting at the moment) or can pass onto a friend with a new baby. I would like to think this was one way of pushing back against wastefulness.
Another important consideration is where that blessing (food, clothing, toy, water, air) came from in the first place; first and foremost from the Most Generous, the Sustainer, the Provider, and then from a seed, from hardworking farmers, sewers, maybe not so fortunate factory workers… This type of consideration ought to make you think twice before you decide to waste something. It also leads to feelings of gratitude.
I am not satisfied with this level of wastefulness though, and even referring back to the quote from Vandana Shiva, whom I admire and who made me think of wastefulness even more, I get a lot of my food in Istanbul via delivery because that’s the only way I can access organic, wholesome and real produce in the middle of Istanbul. (No, I can’t just grow tomatoes on my windowsill. I have tried.) If I had to be kinder to myself, I could argue that it comes from one farm. I know the source, I know the workers are treated ethically, and I am not supporting large scale agriculture. I guess I am trying to find a balance in an imbalanced world. Ideally I would be growing my own food and having my own animals, both for agriculture as well as a food source, and I would have a clean water source near by, and I would use my own physical strength to obtain it all, or at least team up with a few others. If 2020 taught me anything, it is that I can’t live in a city for much longer. I might not be able to pursue a full-on off-grid lifestyle, but we need to live a more sustainable lifestyle, which is not only more safe and secure, but also less wasteful and better for our physical and spiritual health. I would say that as a family we are heading in that direction, at least in intention which is the first and most important step in any given task, but for now I will have to do with conscious decisions from a set of limited options in a metropolis.