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Food Waste Around the World, Episode 49: Egypt

Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle project to provide information and raise awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students from different countries to understand how this issue is tackled and perceived around the world. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the globe, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Today we're speaking with Mostafa Tarek from Egypt

But first, let's add some context

Egypt is one of the biggest generators of food waste worldwide, according to the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN), which has placed it at number 16 based on a study conducted. [1] Egypt's food waste figures per year have increased from 50 kg per capita in 2018 to 91 kg in 2021. Also in 2021, Egypt's total food waste was estimated to be at 9,136,941 tons. These figures have provoked action to be taken in order to tackle the food waste problem. In 2022, a bill was presented by Egyptian MP Amira Saber which would reinforce hotels, restaurants, and other providers of food service to donate their excess food by charging them with fines if they fail to do so, ranging anywhere between 100,000 EGP (US$ 5,412) and 500,00 EGP (US$ 27,060). [2] Additionally, several Food Loss and Waste (FLW) projects in Egypt have been developed to save vital crops from being lost at the farming and harvesting stage, such as wheat, grapes, and tomatoes. [3] What's more, an app was launched in 2019 by entrepreneurs Menna Shahin and Maxim Haartsen called Tekeya which resells meals that would otherwise by thrown away, yet another approach to help deal with the food wasted in Cairo. [4]


Hello, Mostafa! Thank you for participating in the interview. Before we start, could you please briefly introduce yourself?

Hi, I'm Mostafa and I'm from Egypt. I had been living in Turkey since 2014 but moved back home to Egypt about three months ago. I have a Bachelor's degree in Petroleum and Electrical Engineering and I am finishing a Master's degree in Offshore Engineering. I am currently working as a Field Engineer in Expro, which is a company that offers oil services.

Can you help give some background about the attitude towards food waste and sustainability in Egypt?

I think the food culture in Egypt is not the best. I think that people here waste a huge amount of food, even though there are many people in Egypt who are food insecure. There has to be more awareness on food waste, not just on an individual level but also on an organizational one. On the field where I work, for example, which is in the middle of the desert, a lot of food is cooked and then a significant amount of it is just thrown away in the desert, and what you see sometimes is animals, like camels, or even people, who come and take the food. So there is not system put in place to manage the food that is being discarded.

In your opinion, what challenges does Egypt face concerning the country’s sustainable development targets?

There are several challenges and, again, first and foremost it's the lack of awareness. There should be steps taken in order to educate people about food waste and sustainable living in general, because you cannot apply any idea or initiative without the general public being knowledgeable regarding the importance of changing wasteful habits.

What can we learn from Egyptians? Could you tell us about their values, habits, or recipes that we could adapt and learn from to reduce food waste?

A new trend which has appeared is that people are saving leftovers from their meals to be consumed a day or two later. What I've noticed is that this is specifically happening in households where both of the parents work outside the home, they tend to cook less. In a week, they would cook maybe three or four times and whatever is left from the meal is eaten the next day. So the lifestyle is changing, especially when compared to an older, or more traditional, family environment.

Do you know of any significant organizations that are tackling food waste? Who’s doing good work to tackle this problem? Who should we support and get involved with?

Personally, I've worked with two charity groups here in Egypt. The idea was to collect leftover food from households and then distribute it to food-insecure people. I think that as a concept it was good, but it failed at the execution as it was somewhat mismanaged. So on a communal level, there are groups of people who would do this kind of thing from time to time, especially during the month of Ramadan. But a better solution would be to tackle this issue on a much bigger, organizational level.

Based on what we talked about reducing food waste, what’s the most frustrating thing to you about food waste?

I lived alone for seven or eight years, and when you live on your own you tend to cook small amounts of food that are satisfactory for a single meal, therefore very little food is wasted. When I came back home, I began to notice not only the amount, but the variety of food as well, that was set on the table as one meal, food that you could eat in the span of three or so days. It's a nice sight and it makes me happy for a moment to see a lot of taste food all at once, but then I start thinking about what a huge waste it is. This is what bothers me, how we normalized overcooking and the needless overconsumption of food.

You're the first other Arab I've encountered at Sapient, and I want to ask you this because I know you'll be able to relate. Do you think that when it comes to food, our cultures' insistence on good hospitality outweighs the importance of being sustainable?

Yes, definitely, and this is what I've noticed too. Whenever the sustainability conversation focuses on food waste, culture is the main hindering factor. When we have guests over, for example, how do we treat them? With food, of course, and lots of it. It's our way of appreciating our guests and telling them, "I'm happy you're visiting." This is what we're used to.

Due to your perspective about reducing food waste worldwide, what do you recommend people do differently?

Food is important, but it should not consume your conscience at all times. I mean, I know some people who are constantly thinking about what they're going to eat next. It's unnecessary and unhealthy on different levels. You should eat because you're hungry, because you feel a lack of nutrition and energy. If you still feel full from your previous meal, for example, you can skip the next one and eat when you actually need to, it's not a big deal. It's important to change your habits and attitude towards food.

Thank you so much for your time and participation!

That was a conversation with Mostafa Tarek from our Engineering team at Sapient.

Interviewed: Mostafa Tarek

Interviewer and Writer: Rima Qayed


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