In an earlier article, I told you how I learnt to value money after reading my father’s diary. Another habit which we children developed by observing our parents — both of them — was to respect food. We did not learn it by reading their diaries or eavesdropping on their conversations. As a family we used to eat together, and day and night we watched and observed how our parents never wasted a single grain of food. This is one of the reasons that I always stress that children learn by observing their parents and follow their example, whereas lecturing almost never helps.
Sometimes I have to take lunch in students’ mess, and I am appalled at the amount of food that is wasted there. In fact, in one mess, the secretary has put up a board where he writes in bold letters how much food was wasted and thrown away the previous day, in an attempt to shame the wasters and try to awaken their consciousness. In my own student days, on watching me eat, several fellow students and colleagues used to ridicule me for not wasting food. ‘You are eating everything because you paid for it, aren’t you?’ I never understood what does it have to do with money. See, eating was an activity that I had been doing three times a day for 26 long years, and in that period even the most absent minded people would know how much hungry they are. Come on, you can see the size of the roti, and the amount of rice, and of course, you should know yourself! Don’t argue that mess food was bad that is why you left food. Good or bad, mess/canteen food is always consistent. If it is good, it is good always; if bad, it is always bad. This is one talent of mess workers that they have the ability to cook the same food in the same way, day after day and year after year, achieving the same taste! When you took food in that mess for the first time, you may not have liked so must have left. May be second day also, and the third. But in one week you should have understood that these cooks are programmed and are following a computer algorithm to achieve ‘consistent consistency’!
There was a small window connecting the mess and the room where a man washed the dishes. Structure of the rooms (location of tap and basin in that room) was such that we seldom got to see the man at work. But once in a while when I put my plate there, the man would come to the window, look at me and smile; I would smile back and wish him. One day he himself revealed his thoughts — ‘Just by looking at the plate, I know that it is you. You never waste a single grain. Otherwise, you know, it is so painful to throw such large amount of food every day.’ I just thanked, smiled and remembered my parents.
Then come the over-eager hosts who insist their guest to take more and more food, and even more food, in order to demonstrate their hospitality. We are not cattle that could swallow and chew later. In my opinion, forcing food in this way much beyond the capacity and desire of the guest only demonstrates the rudeness and callousness of the host. The guest just has to praise any of the food items served, and the torture begins! This is one of the reasons that I try to keep away from parties and nearly always turn down dinner invitations, however rude that may sound. It is my health and I have to shield it from ‘hostile attacks’. If for some reason, I do have to attend any party, I keep alert and try my best not to praise any item for the same reason. If they insist on feedback, I just say ‘OK’. Cooking is considered an art, and as all artists, the cook also wants to get the feedback. However, respect for food comes first and foremost, and if they don’t respect the food and the guest, I am sorry to say, they haven’t learned their first lesson. They have read somewhere that the path to a man’s heart goes from his stomach and they are simply using the same formula to ‘win friends and influence people’. They miss the point that the exit out of people’s hearts also follows the same path only.