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Posts Tagged ‘ramadan’

Photo: Amr Nabil/AP.
A man buys food at a popular restaurant in Cairo, March 22, 2022. The app Tekeya is working to counter food waste.

In restaurants around the world, especially in the fanciest ones, a lot of perfectly good food goes to waste because of some perceived defect. Can we find a better solution than throwing it out?

Eman Mounir reports at the Christian Science Monitor about a new app in Egypt to deal with food waste.

“Early one morning, servers at the Al-Aseel Al-Dimishqi restaurant began their usual preparations for the day. They laid out rows of baklava, kunafa, and other syrup-drenched, nut-stuffed delectables. But the offerings weren’t for customers who flock to the upscale New Cairo suburb. 

“Instead, within an hour, staff from an organization called Tekeya had arrived to whisk away 135 portions of perfectly edible dishes.

“The reason? The desserts – made a day earlier – weren’t considered fresh enough to dish up. 

“Throughout Egypt, which boasts a rich culinary history, such views aren’t uncommon. … Now, though, amid a global reckoning over the food chain and its role in the climate crisis, attitudes in Egypt are slowly changing. 

“The Al-Aseel restaurant is one of around a dozen across the Egyptian capital that Tekeya staff visits each day in a quest to stop fit-for-consumption food from being dumped. Restaurants pay a small annual fee that allows them to alert Tekeya whenever they have unsold food. Personal users of the app can then buy that food at half-price, or either the restaurant or the user can request Tekeya  deliver the food to a food bank or charity of their choosing. In total, up to 40 plates are saved from going to the trash each day. …

“Tekeya, which was inspired in part by the rituals around Ramadan, is the first such app in Egypt, where poor nutrition and undernourishment account for up to 55% of annual child deaths.  

“ ‘I’ve seen several platforms helping fight food waste across Europe. It’s uplifting to find one that does the same here in Egypt,’ says Al-Aseel’s manager, Ramez Abo Abed, who has been using the app for three years.

“In 2019, Menna Shahin had an idea particularly inspired by Ramadan, the Muslim holiday when the devout give to poor people and fast throughout the day. That prompts both celebration and waste. Since fasts are eventually broken with lavish meals at dusk, demand for food commodities soars by up to a third, and waste, in turn, also multiplies. 

“ ‘I would put so much thought into how to dispose of [food] responsibly without harming the environment, and how to minimize my excess usage,’ Ms. Shahin says. ‘I thought to myself, why not assist everyone to dispose of their excess food wisely?’

“Ms. Shahin ended up co-founding Tekeya along with her husband, Max Hartzen. By Tekeya’s second Ramadan, some 10,000 discounted meals were ordered during the holy month, with users choosing to donate roughly a quarter of those to charities.

“Now a 15-member team, Tekeya continues to face the stigma associated with ‘leftover food,’ says Aya Magdy, the startup’s account manager. ‘People presume that it’s food that has gone bad, making it difficult to convince them to buy or donate it.’

“Traditional Egyptian fare includes delicately spiced falafel served piping hot, while koshary, a staple street food, provides a hearty kick through mixing rice and pasta with fresh onions, tomatoes, garlic, chili, lentils, chickpeas, and a dazzling array of spices – these and other classic dishes almost all require freshly chopped ingredients. 

“But there’s a growing awareness of the impact of food waste on the environment. When food is thrown out, it rots and creates methane, a greenhouse gas that is almost 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide. To date, Tekeya counts at least 45,000 meals it has saved from ending up in landfills – preventing the equivalent of 133,000 kilograms (about 293,000 pounds) of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment, Ms. Shahin says.

“The team also works hard to guarantee the quality of the food it passes on, carrying out regular checkups amid stringent requirements. And because trust is such a big factor, if clients complain that the food from a restaurant is too stale or otherwise unsatisfactory, collaboration is immediately terminated.   

“The number of users has climbed steadily. The app now has more than 50,000 subscribers and 120 food suppliers in Cairo. And users tend to be conscientious themselves. Sara Harfoush, a teaching assistant in Cairo University’s Faculty of Economics and Political Science, was initially skeptical, so she conducted her own trials to gauge quality. After ordering off the app several times – and finding it satisfactory each time – she began buying food cheaply to donate to those in need. …

“The idea is catching on with well-known brands. Alban Khalifa, a dairy shop with multiple branches across Cairo, has been reducing food waste and financial losses through Tekeya for nearly two years. Regulars know they can snap up half-price puddings through the app at the close of day.

“That food would otherwise join the tens of thousands of tons of ingredients overflowing from trash cans on many streets of Cairo. In rural areas, heaps of discarded vegetables and harvests rot in the sun, attracting stray animals.

“There are other draws beyond environmental and sanitation concerns. Soaring inflation and another round of currency devaluation in March have further squeezed citizens in a country where a third of the population is classified as low-income earners. 

“Mohamed Refaat, a pharmacist in Cairo, says he quickly became a regular user after learning about Tekeya. The combination of contributing to saving the environment and getting good food at a discount is, he says, ‘very attractive to any user given the soaring prices and rising inflation rates.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
Lining up for tacos outside the Islamic Center of Santa Ana.  The ‘Taco Truck at Every Mosque’ event for iftar (evening meal that breaks the fast during Ramadan) promotes solidarity and understanding.

Community organizers are getting creative with ways to pull different groups together. Consider this California example.

Anh Do writes at the Los Angeles Times: “Activists Rida Hamida and Ben Vazquez wanted to find a way to promote unity among the region’s Muslim and Latino communities, so they came up with a novel idea.

“After daily fasting as part of the holy month of Ramadan, dozens of local Muslims joined their Latino neighbors Saturday night in the parking lot of the new Islamic Center of Santa Ana, taking part in the inaugural event of the campaign dubbed Taco Trucks at Every Mosque.

“Organizers said the idea is to demystify Islam through the sharing of food and to unite two groups, Muslims and Latinos, facing increasing discrimination. …

” ‘This is perfect timing. The purpose of this month is to give charity, to grow our character and our inner lives and to nourish our soul through service. What better way to do that than by learning from one another?’ asked coordinator Hamida, whose goal is to host food trucks that will serve halal tacos at every mosque in Orange County. …

“Even young participants such as Idrees Alomari, 13, were encouraged by Saturday’s event, which he said was a good way to show how people can appreciate their differences and similarities. …

” ‘All the way from the parking entrance to inside, everyone’s been like, “Welcome, welcome, we’re so glad to have you here,” ‘ said Dulce Saavedra, 24, [a] youth organizer for Resilience OC, a nonprofit created from the merging of Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color and Raiz, a group pushing for partnerships between law enforcement and immigrants.” More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

This initiative reminds me of an annual event that took place in Lowell, Mass. It was a gigantic soccer tournament with teams from the scores of immigrant groups in the city. I always admired the ONELowell initiative because it can be hard to get minorities to band together and realize they can collaborate to promote common needs. Sharing a sport loved by many nationalities seemed like a good place to start.

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Public Radio International’s “The World” had a delightful story today on a young Egyptian who looks like he might be a real “contenda” for a sumo wrestling title.

Clark Boyd reports, “His real name is Abdel Rahman Ahmed Shaalan. But in Japan, they call him Osunaarashi, or ‘Great Sandstorm.’

“Shaalan is 21-year-old professional sumo wrestler who hails from Giza in Egypt. After a few years of training at the club level in Egypt, Shaalan left Egypt to try to break into the Japanese professional ranks. …

“Osunaarashi is currently fighting in a tournament in Tokyo, but here’s the thing: He is also a devout Muslim, and this is the holy month of Ramadan. And that means Osunaarashi is fasting.”

The radio report goes on to say that although sumo has always been an intensely tradition-bound sport, the people at the residence where Osunaarashi is living with other wrestlers have made accommodations in deference to his religion. For example, a typical stew that sumo wrestlers are served to bulk them up is chock full of pork, but the chefs now make it with chicken and fish.

More.

Photo: Phlyz/Wiki Commons
Osunaarashi, the Egyptian sumo wrestler, after a Tokyo tournament in May

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Last year my friend Asakiyume, whose family is Catholic but who admires Ramadan, decided to fast for Lent the way people do for Ramadan — all day until sunset. She saw the fasting as a way to connect to people who have no choice about hunger.

Some members of my extended family observe Ramadan, but it’s their religion. And I knew a Somalian in Minneapolis to whom I once, in my ignorance, said, “Happy Ramadan.” He laughed and told me patiently that Ramadan wasn’t about “happy,” rather it was a time of reflection and sacrifice. I realized my blooper was a bit like saying “Happy Good Friday” or “Happy Yom Kippur.” One doesn’t say “Happy Lent” either. “Happy” is for the day before Lent and Mardi Gras.

Read about Asakiyume’s thought process and why she once borrowed another religion’s custom here. She writes a wonderfully eclectic blog full of deep thoughts and photos from her walks that suggest mythical vistas and fantasy characters to her.

light and shadow

(Today, of course, it is perfectly fine to say Happy Valentine’s Day! And if you missed getting birthstone-jewelry hearts for your Valentine at Luna & Stella, here, fear not! Mother’s Day is just around the corner, May 12.)

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