Mention the word ‘food’ and everyone in the vicinity stands to attention.......mention the word ‘waste’ and no one wants to know.......yet the two, at least here in Pakistan, are so intertwined as to be inseparable.

The subject of food will enliven even the most jaded of gatherings as, suddenly, everyone has something to say: the best kebab place, the ultimate nihari place, juiciest burger, tastiest barbeque, pilau to die for et al. But the harsh fact that over half of this huge population of 180 million and counting, go to bed hungry every day will not be mentioned or, if a miracle happens and it is, then an eyebrow or two will be raised and the subject dismissed - tossed out along with a hefty percentage of whatever food happens to be on the ‘gatherings’ menu that day as, like so much else in this increasingly ridiculous apology of a ‘unified’ nation, serious matters are the responsibility of that invisible band of people called ‘someone else’.

‘Someone else’ is responsible for the incredible amount of food wastage generated right from the on-farm harvesting of crops, their haphazard packing for onward dispatch, first to a motley collection of slapdash wholesalers, who couldn’t care less about fresh produce as long as they reap a profit and then, from these regional, often rat-ridden centres, the ‘goods’ are transported again to the local sabzi mandis after which, yet again, they are back on the road to local bazaars and shops and, finally, from there to the kitchens that are, at least in theory, their final destination.

But the massive wastage of food incurred throughout this lengthy, in miles and time, process does not stop here, as the housewife or cook will, probably, throw going on half of the weight of any one fruit or vegetable into the bin due to it being damaged, past it’s best or simply, as a result of over purchasing,  letting it spoil before it can possibly be used.

It is estimated that somewhere between 45 percent and 60 percent of fresh fruit and vegetables indigenously produced in Pakistan are wasted during the aforementioned process due, basically, to an unforgivable lack of knowledge…....this from the rank of farmer right through to housewife…....absence of ‘correct’ harvesting methods, lack of decent storage facilities including cold stores, the ‘couldn’t care less attitude’ of handlers all along the way and ‘thrifty’ shoppers who, because something happens to be in season and the price is ‘right’, buy more than they can use or their families are prepared to eat of any one item.

‘Someone else’ is responsible for the legions of ‘rag-pickers’, many of them nothing more than mere children, suffering from serious malnutrition and a host of avoidable, if they were cared for, diseases and afflictions, who studiously and hungrily scavenge through garbage bins and dumps in the hope of finding something immediately edible, or which they can take ‘home’ to be cooked into some kind of dish to fill their swollen bellies.

And what they find is the largely, by now half-rotten, ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetables that criminally careless people have thrown away. They eat it anyway as they are desperate and when they die from diarrhoea related dehydration well - it goes without saying - this is ‘someone else’s’ responsibility too. 

For there to be such an incredible wastage of fresh food, leaving aside the staggering volume of cooked food that is wasted on a daily basis, in any country at all is absolutely criminal. And for it to be an everyday occurrence in a country where so many millions - this figure increasing on a daily basis too - are struggling to survive way below the poverty line and dying of starvation in the process is an unforgivable sign of a seriously sick society, indeed!

Pakistanis are known - and lauded - for being a nation of ‘givers’, yet when the facts, such as the aforementioned, are given due consideration, it is immediately apparent that something is badly wrong somewhere along the line, but…...., of course,…....that is ‘someone else’s’ responsibility as well.

It is not simply the inequitable distribution of wealth, and the sustenance that goes with it, which is at fault, it is the entire rotten structure, right from the very top all the way down through the middle layer and on to the very bottom - at which level, it could be said that the people know no better, but, or so it appears, no one else knows any better either. Thus, at least there is a modicum of equality after all - the equality of sheer ignorance.

The fact that this ignorance exists at all being, naturally under the circumstances, down to ‘someone else’s’ corruption, invalid rules and outmoded regulations.

As societal refusal to accept, let alone shoulder, any responsibility for desperately needed change continues on the slippery slide down into the depths of depraved oblivion, so to do the odds against the birth of collective commonsense mount. It appears increasingly likely that it will not be until after the whole sorry deck of cards that passes as Pakistan collapses completely, that the 180 million plus who call this home will finally look into the mirror of reality and understand that it is they, each and every single one of them without exception, who are ‘someone else’ after all.

 The writer is author of The Gun Tree:  One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.   Email: