Danish Memon, 29 and Ubaid Memon, 28, have been friends since their school days and share a love for food as well as an awareness of just how much of it goes to waste every day in Pakistan.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), about 36 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in Pakistan. This despite the fact that 43 percent of the country’s population remains food insecure, and 18 percent suffers from a severe food shortage.
It is with these shocking statistics in mind that the two Hyderabad friends decided to work together to find ways they could route unwanted food to those who needed it the most. Their discussions ultimately led to the creation of the Food Saver mobile app in 2018. But the app required the support of restaurants, which were needed to donate their surplus food.
It was not an easy journey; Danish recalls the restaurants did not initially respond positively to the idea. “They [owners] thought we would sell the surplus food,” he says.
Two friends in Hyderabad have teamed up with restaurants to offer surplus food to families that cannot afford it
“One night we received a phone call from the owner of Roopa Marri restaurant, Najeeb Soomro. He told us they had plenty of food left over from a wedding [that he was willing to give us]. It was enough to feed 500 people, and became the first meal we fed to hungry people in the slum areas of Qasimabad. We packed the food in plastic bags till dawn,” he recalls, adding that Soomro was the first to show interest in their initiative.
After that first successful intervention, Danish and Ubaid began to receive a decent response from other restaurants and hotels in Hyderabad as well. They decided to promote Food Saver and enlisted the services of Sindhi comedian, TV artist and YouTuber Asghar Khoso. They made a short film with him about their food service, highlighting the importance of surplus food, which raised Food Saver’s profile in Hyderabad.
“Our short film went so viral that our phones were buzzing round the clock, as people were trying to approach us to donate surplus food from their homes and hotels,” says Ubaid. “Then we decided to create a page for Food Saver and uploaded it on social media platforms.”
The response this time was far more positive.
“Once we received a call from a restaurant [about their surplus food] and our team rushed there, but the amount exceeded our expectations,” recalls Ubaid. “We spent hours and hours packing the food from cauldrons into plastic bags. In those days we had no loader facility for food supply. However, we decided to purchase our own loader and changed the packing process. We now use steel drums as it is a time and energy saving process.”
Surplus food is not the same as leftover food; the former is an extra supply of food that is still good to eat. Food Saver does not serve leftover food to needy people. If they have leftover food, they dump it in water streams near Hyderabad or in the Indus River for fish and other aquatic creatures to consume.
“If we provide leftover food to those who cannot afford a one-time meal, it means we are just giving alms to beggars,” says Danish. “Every person has the right to eat hygienic and fresh food, so we asked people not to give leftovers or stale food to poor people.”
The duo wants to serve widows, disabled persons and children in particular.
The process to register for Food Saver is simple but, to qualify, a family has to earn Rs 10,000 or less. A family can register using a phone number or email address, after which they are given a registration form to fill. They have to list details such as how many members are in their family and their source of income. So far, Food Saver is serving food to 90 families in Hyderabad.
All the collected food is transferred into a storage and baking facility (kitchen) where a certified chef properly checks the food before storage. After ensuring hygiene, the food is packed in lunch boxes for distribution among registered families. There are three riders for food distribution and Food Saver uses tiffin carriers instead of plastic bags, which are not environmentally friendly.
Ubaid and Danish attend to their jobs in the day — Ubaid works as a primary school teacher in Sujawal and Danish as a clerk in the revenue department — and work on Food Saver, at an office they set up in Qasimabad, at night. They have the support of family and friends; one of Danish’s friends, for example, pays for their office rent. Danish’s uncle, who lives in England, also supports Food Saver financially.
Their initiative has seen a lot of expansion. Riders supply and collect food from different areas of Hyderabad and Food Saver has installed refrigerators in different restaurants as well.
Aqsa* is a 36-year-old divorced mother of four children. She lives in the Kohsar area of Latifabad, where she works as a maid. Since 2019, she has been availing two meals a day through Food Saver.
“When my husband divorced me, it was challenging for me to make ends meet,” she says. “I heard about Food Saver and approached them and now we get two meals a day. Before this service, it was quite hard for me to manage food for the children. What I save on food is now spent on my children’s education. At least Food Saver is saving my kitchen expenses.”
*Aqsa is also learning skills to enable her to work in a beauty parlour.
In Pakistan, about 20 percent of the population is undernourished. This equates to nearly 40 million people who are not getting enough nutrients on a daily basis. This is nearly double the percentage of people worldwide who are undernourished.
“I do believe providing food is the state’s responsibility but, unfortunately, people in Pakistan are facing food insecurity and there are many families in Hyderabad who cannot afford simple food items,” says Sindhoo Nawaz Ghangro, a social activist and chairperson of the Sindh Action Committee. “The Food Saver service is trying to help them, so they do not starve.
“But we need self-sustainable women in society, who can earn money through jobs. This brings the sense of self-reliance,” she adds.
The young friends want to ultimately extend their services to deserving people nationwide, but for now they are focusing on strengthening services in Hyderabad and expanding to Karachi.
“We are in the process of setting up a new office in Malir [in Karachi]. We want to extend our service as much as we can because people need food in every city, and there are so many food-deprived people in Karachi,” says Ubaid.
Danish says they want to “maintain refrigerators in every plaza of Hyderabad, so residents can keep surplus food in the refrigerators. Even one meal is helpful for those who can not afford a single meal.”
The two friends completely believe in their own motto: ‘One meal can heal’.
The writer is a Sindhi fiction writer, blogger and journalist
Published in Dawn, EOS, November 6th, 2022
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