The most common complaint from people living in Karachi, the city of lights, is: “There is nothing to do here but eat.” When Karachi Eat, Pakistan’s most trending food festival, hit the crowds with their great food, outdoor breeze, lights, crowds and action, it was rapture. Now the city could eat from a range of creatively-designed cuisines, plus stay outdoors with family and friends, with the music and the open sky, something they longed to do.
Festivals such as these started trending in the past few years, moving to other large cities in Pakistan with similar success. It seemed like a state of euphoria had set in until some online critics starting to discuss the downside – the food wastage. This criticism seemed unnecessary at first – a deliberate attempt to dampen spirits. Then, it got people thinking. In a country where 40% of the people are food insecure and 18% are severely short on food, could we perhaps rethink the food festival model? Food insecurity is defined as a household’s inability to provide healthy food for each member, thereby requiring some of them to skip meals so that the others may eat.
Building on this, WWF along with the digital agency Brand Logics (BBDO Pakistan), conceived Refest, Pakistan’s first eco-friendly food festival. Along with WWF Pakistan, BBDO Pakistan and the Brand Logics team seem all set to disrupt the model and deliver on their ‘green’ promise. The theme of Refest is simple but significant: ‘Eat, Reduce, Recycle’; reduce food wastage, use bio-degradable material and recycle (or upcycle), at every given chance. According to the Global Hunger Index 2016 report, Pakistan ranks as a country with ‘serious’ hunger levels, with 36 million tons of food going to waste annually. In a festival what are the criteria that help decide the size of the portion a stall sells? And if we reduce or rethink that size, can we impact the wastage collectively?
We may quickly scroll over them in denial, but social media is littered with images from ‘the day after’. Dirty plastic spoons sprinkled over lawns, crushed styrofoam plates, plastic wrappers, cling film, empty milk cartons, plastic bags, the list is long. So who should be held responsible? Yes, the festival-goers should probably buy and dispose responsibly. And yes, the organisers should ensure vendors use environment-friendly practices. Single-use plastics may seem convenient but are a major source of litter.
When Coke Fest and Karachi Eat organisers among others heard the criticism, they responded constructively. Waste busters were pulled in to collect unwanted food, trash cans were installed and cleaning the venue was mandated. Yet, unanswered questions remain. How much of food and drink do the waste busters actually end up collecting and re-distributing? Can we effectively brainstorm how to limit what is thrown away?
Refest looks to address all this. They look to encourage small steps in this direction by creating awareness within the public, as well as engender a sense of responsibility for their surroundings. Such ideas help communities develop larger environment conservation habits from a young age. On a deeper level, they inculcate ideas of humility, service, level-headedness and empathy.
Environment is no longer a buzzword hinting at a danger looming ahead. The concerns are real and the ground realities are starting to affect us. Globally, environment-friendly organisations are asking us to use re-fillable water bottles, compostable cups, plates, spoons and so on.
A smart event would look to analyse how the larger environment objective can be addressed without compromising on recreational values. Refest may prove to be a game-changer as well as a trendsetter. It could lead us all by example so that future generations can continue to attend food festivals, but on a smarter and kinder planet.
Nagin Ansari is Group Head Marketing and Communication, Ithaca Capital.