Conservation and thinking small: the food industry

World over, so many public policies, resulting from the confabulations of some of the best minds, still fail to generate the expected impact. Perhaps, while they think big, these policies fail to provide for doing small. The devil that derails is in the detail, in the small steps that can be taken on the journey towards realising the larger vision. These small steps are often invisible to those who focus single-mindedly on the goal. Take conservation, for instance. The debate is not #economyVSecology. As conservation scientist, T R Shankar Raman, evocatively makes the case in The Hindu today, you can have both.

But economy is not just about roads and dams. It is also about everyday essentials – like food and restaurants. In a rapidly urbanising world, investing in the food industry is a sure-fire winner. Which is probably why, on the 80-feet road where we reside, which is just about 1 kilometre long, we have half a dozen brick and mortar eateries, as many tin-sheet food stalls, an elite coffee joint, and a couple of roadside tea and tender coconut vendors. [The Food Standards Agency of India describes the food industry as: ‘… from farming, food production and distribution, to retail and catering’]. On a rough count, all the food joints on our road together serve 500 to 1000 customers a day [depending on whether it is a workkday or weekend]. All of them now use plastic to serve and package, and water and detergent to clean the utensils, where they are not the throwaway kind. Consider the multiplier effect it would have on conservation efforts and economic welfare were it made mandatory for all eateries to use only organic plates and cups.

Apart from the obvious advantage of conserving water and contributing to pollution control through avoidance of detergents and plastics, traditional knowledge of making plates and cups from a variety of raw material – banana and arecanut stems to leaves of a variety of trees apart from banana – would regain contemporary relevance. Since the leaves and cupsare consumables, there would be a surge in regular demand for these; the disposed items can be converted into organic manure – another spin-off industry; and there would be a need to plant these trees in large numbers as the demand for the raw materials would zoom. The effect on conservation and employment generation can be enormous, not to speak of the effect on health and hygiene.

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