Food – Waste Food
-Telugu Original by Dr K.Geeta
-English Translation by Madhuri Palaji
“Oh my God! Apple Tree,” I almost ran towards the tree.
“I always wanted to see an apple tree. I imagined each apple hanging from each branch like a mango tree. But this looks like a Guava tree. But the bunches of apples blooming like Indian gooseberry! Very funny!” Surya laughed seeing me blabbering with excitement touching the tree.
For every apartment here, there is a leasing office in that compound. The rents of the apartments also depend on the common swimming pool, gym, club house and other facilities available in the apartment complex. Swimming pool is the only facility available for our apartment. Still the rent is high, I wonder why! May be because it is close to big shopping complexes.
By the way, the apple tree is behind the office in our apartment, and on the other side of the swimming pool. Since there were no fruits, I didn’t know which tree was it. I felt very happy seeing that fruit-bearing apple tree suddenly.
“There are so many apples.. What do you think they will do with them?” I asked thoughtfully.
“You don’t pluck them. Plucking fruits and flowers without permission is forbidden here,” said Surya.
“One apple,” I looked pleadingly, but he said no.
Actually, these were small apples, no bigger than Sapodillas. I felt bad seeing them fallen to the ground and hundreds hanging from the tree. After Surya left for the office, I couldn’t find peace until I plucked four apples after getting permission from the apartment leasing office. Though their taste was not great, I was satisfied just by eating them.
“Shall we go to buy groceries?” asked Alicia.
I agreed and took my car out. We went to the ‘Cost co’ four miles away from home. On the way, she showed me the fallen lemons and oranges outside the houses and said, “Did you see?”
“Yeah, I don’t understand why they leave them like that here,” I replied.
“May be because there are more trees and less people to eat,” she said.
“Why don’t they give them to people like us?” she said again.
That is the problem here. People here don’t talk to each other. The social life is very limited. How will they know the needs of the others? Even if the owner of that house wants to give them to others, she won’t know who will accept.
I told Alicia the same thing. “The trees here are like Bonsai trees in the vases. They are only for the beauty of it. Do you know what happened the other day?” I told her about the story of the apple tree. We both laughed at it.
I showed my membership card at the entrance of the Cost Co. Alicia came right behind me taking the card. The security lady at the entrance asked Alicia something in Spanish. She paused for a minute and replied to her.
“What’s she saying?” I asked.
“She asked if I work for you, I said, yes,” she replied.
“Why did you say that? You could’ve told that we are friends,” I said.
“Don’t bother. Nobody will believe if I say we are friends,” she laughed.
“My grandsons love the special bread here, waffles and meat. But, what can I do? Fifty dollars for the yearly members is too much,” she sighed.
“That’s okay. Our membership here is really useless for us. You can happily use my card,” I said.
She pointed towards the distance and said, “Did you notice how they threw heaps of bread in the dustbins?”
“True, may be it has expired… but still,” I was saying something.
“It makes me feel sad seeing how much food is wasted in this country. There are many people who came to this country risking their lives only for this food,” she sadly said.
“I can understand, you don’t know about my country. There are many people there who crave for bread slices like these,” I said.
Even I felt very sad.
“Is there such poverty in your country, too?” she was surprised.
“A lot, the roads are not empty like this. Can we see food items like this anywhere else? This country is weird. Still, there is a lot of food wastage in my country, too. Food wastage in weddings is much more than that the guests eat. It shows in the unnecessary expenses spent by rich people. They can fill hundreds of poor people’s stomachs with the food they waste in these weddings. Even here, why don’t they give all this food to hungry people?” I said thoughtfully.
“I will show you a place tomorrow,” she said.
Next day, I parked my car on the other side of the road at the place where she took me. She asked me to stay in the car and she got down and stood in the line.
After ten minutes, I walked towards the office in that compound to see what it is all about. That is food center run by the community center.
Community centers here help the needy. Huge stores donate food to community centers like this. By donating, they get tax benefits. I read somewhere that there are lots of conditions to get help from these community centers. Not everyone is eligible for these kinds of things. The eligibility depends on the types among the people with low income and the number of kids.
They charge five to six dollars for six months and provide groceries for free every day. But that shop is open only for two to three hours in particular time.
The clerk who helps people with queries, how to fill the forms and which documents to bring, looked at me questioningly.
I smiled and said, “I just wanted to know the details.”
I sat in the chair.
I could see the line where Alicia stood from here.
There were not more than thirty people in the line. Only one or two were old people. All the others wore make up, clean clothes and looked strong and healthy.
Only Alicia wore moderate clothes and ordinary slippers among them. Majority were Mexicans, some who looked like Chinese, a few Americans with grey hair, black people, one man looked like he is from neighboring countries of India.
Since Alicia didn’t come even after thirty minutes, I came out and stood under the tree near my car.
The lady who came out first from the line in that compound had three kids who were chubby. She sat on the bench in the lawn and gave pastries and muffins to them.
After that, they took out a half liter milk carton from her bag, drank from it, threw it aside and started playing. After an hour, Alicia came out of that store murmuring something and got into the car.
“Did you see how much food is wasted here?” she said. A man pushed a cart full of long French breads into the bin that was already filled with bread slices, right in front of our eyes.
“Look at the groceries I got. All these expire in a day or two. They throw away the food that expires today by the time they close the store. All that is wasted. Only people who stood in the line first get quality food like milk, cakes, etc. By the time it was my turn, only this bread, canned vegetables and some cereals were left. But we have to take whatever they give. My kids don’t eat this cereal at all. What am I going to do with these noodles?
Actually, we need more bread. They throw away like this, but they won’t give some extra bread depending on the family size. Crazy restrictions. They don’t calculate, how many people are there, and how much is wasted.”
I was surprised.
“Do you see this rice?” she showed me a half kilo packet, “Can anyone eat this cheap quality rice? Even if we ate, will this packet be enough?” sighed Alicia.
It reminded me of the broken rice and the cheap quality rice mixed with stones in the ration shops in our country. I thought of the ration system that pretends to be helping the poor a great deal. Looks like it is the same here.
“It’s better. The rice in this packet is only rice and not added stones,” I said.
“You saw them standing in the line, right? Do they look like they are in need?” she sighed like she vented out the thoughts that she had been hiding from a long time.
I wanted to ask her, “Why did you come here?” But, looking at the despair in her face, I kept quiet.
What can she do? I thought, they can spend some money once in a month in the name of good food, but how can they spend every day?
“I can’t come here more than once or twice. There is no bus to come here. I have to get down at a far off place and walk till here. You know about my back, right? I can’t carry weights. I brought you here today to show you how food is wasted at places like these. Food donated by the stores goes into the dust bin here, that’s not donated into the dust bin there. That’s the only difference. You had to wait for me for so long. Sorry about it,” she said.
“That’s okay,” I said, “I wish we could bring everyone that is hungry to America.”
“The day we take over America’s immigration, we will definitely do that,” Alicia said, “Can you please stop here for a moment?”
I drove into the church compound at the corner of the road. She dropped the food that is not useful for her, like canned vegetables, into the donation box there.
In our country, the ration shop people buy the food from their shops themselves.
After getting into the car, Alicia said, “My children are used to junk food. How can kids who eat sodas, chips packets, burgers, pizzas like this kind of food? Only me and my husband eat the traditional food I cook like rice and beans. Our kids spend the money they earn for food after paying the rent.
If I donate the food that I won’t need, I feel satisfied for not wasting it,” and laughed.
“Can you take me to Safe Way? I would like to buy cheese packets, meat, lettuce and tomatoes. My kids love sandwiches for the evening snack. They will be hungry by the time they reach home because of the low quality food the schools provide in the name of free food,” Alicia said.
I asked if the money will be sufficient to buy all that. She said, “It won’t cost more than 200 hundred dollars per person for an entire month. But house rent is the biggest expenditure here. Priya! Why do we earn? To fill our stomachs, right? Here we are!” she said seeing the Safe Way.
I turned the car and said, “Yes, Ma’m!”
“You’re my darling. You came to America only for me!” she said looking at me with wet eyes.
Madhuri Palaji is a writer and book reviewer from India. Her book “Poems of The Clipped Nightingale” is available on Kindle. She writes book reviews for various publishing houses like Penguin Random House, Meerkat Press, Hot Tree Publishings, Bethany Publishers, etc. She is one of the top 50 book reviewers in India. Her reviews are available at http://www.theclippednightingale.com/