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What My Late Grandma Taught Me About Not Wasting Food

How we can reduce food wastage and a short folktale

Photo credit to my friend— Ong Paik Sim, homemade Zhong

Me: Ah Ma, let me help you. I can wrap too.

Ah Ma: Have you finish your homework? You better don’t touch my Zhong. You have clumsy fingers. You waste my good rice. They are expensive at this time of the year.

Me: Yes, but I can put in the mushrooms and chestnuts. Pleaseee…

(I was 12 years old then but it’s still true today. I am unable to figure out how to wrap those sticky dumpling without spilling out the contents)

Zhong(also known as Chinese Sticky Rice Dumplings) is a traditional food enjoy together with the celebration of the Chinese Dumpling Festival or also know to some as the Dragon Boat Festival. This festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. This year it is on the 14 June 2021.

My late Grandma would shop a month earlier for the ingredients. I remember vividly; she would sit on a small stool in our small zinc roof kitchen, next to the cooked ingredients — a large pot of boiling water close by to soften the bamboo leaves. You can smell the sweet aroma of the leaves settling around the kitchen. A small bare light bulb glows softly over Ah Ma. Occasionally she would wave the annoying mosquito away as she works through the night.

Zhong making is a laborious task — it involves boiling the bamboo leaves, soaking and frying the glutinous rice, soaking the dried shrimps and dried mushrooms, preparing the meat, salted egg yolks, and then chopping the chestnuts. These ingredients are often cooked separately before they are wrapped together to be boiled. Wrapping takes skills and plenty of patience. Trust me, it’s hard work! 😫

These dumplings are filling because of the glutinous rice. Ah Ma used to say — “You take one now and no need to eat till tomorrow. You grow fat quickly. Save me some money.” 😄

My late Grandma is a strong advocate when it comes to food. She survived the Japanese Occupation and constantly reminded us how precious and scarce food was during that era.

Photo credit to my friend — Ong Paik Sim, homemade Zhong

Today, I am a volunteer driver for The Lost Food Project(TLFP), an NGO here in Kuala Lumpur.

The Lost Food Project (TLFP) is a Malaysian not-for-profit organization dedicated to a sustainable future by rescuing ‘lost’ food and finding it a new home with people who need it most — from the TLFP website.

As a volunteer driver, we would pick up excess food from bakeries, factories, restaurants, markets, etc. This food is passed on to underprivileged people or refugees. Sometimes, fresh veggies are passed on to the National Zoo. I made many trips rescuing bread. A single pick-up can have anything from 50 pcs of bread/pastries to 400 pcs. This can be daily/weekly.

Each time when I see this excess food, I always remember about Ah Ma. If she could see how much food goes to waste, she would turn in her grave.

Fortunately, we can pass the food to others who needs them. I am happy to see that it goes to feed 80 people at the refugees center. My friends at the Food Not Bombs — KL, an NGO, collect commercially unwanted from local markets and transforms them into free vegetarian meals for the homeless on Sundays.

In Malaysia, under TLFP, together we have rescued 5.8 million meals. (as reported on March 2021) That’s a lot of mouths to feed.


Most of the excess food is due to inefficiency in the food supply chain and partially to consumer behaviours.

Each year about 14 percent of the world’s food is lost before even reaching the market. Food loss is valued at $400 billion annually — about the GDP of Austria. — UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

While we may not have much control over farms, production lines, but there are ways we can do our small part when it comes to food wastage.

Here are 6 easy actions found from various websites. As usual, you don’t have to do everything, but one small action within your means is big change already.

Buy what you need. Try to resist marketing gimmicks — the popular ‘Buy 1 free 2’ types of stuff. It’s pointless if you don’t use them soon enough. Best to avoid impulse buys.

Plan your meals ahead. This way, you have a list of what’s needed and check your pantry to be sure you don’t have the item at home. I sometimes end up with 2 of the same thing because I forget to check the back of my cabinet.

Take a small portion of food or just enough food. Ah Ma will always say to us, if you are hungry, you come back and take more. But finish what’s on your plate first.

Freeze fresh food or leftover food. At home, we tend to cook extra and freeze food for the next day. It saves us from cooking every day. We also have a stew dish where we would mix all the leftover food and braised it with more veggies. Perhaps you might have a similar recipe.

Recently, Lanu Pitan shared 4 Best Methods Of Preserving Fruits And Vegetables At Home

Share food with friends and neighbours. One of the best ways not to waste food. You can buy in bulk and save some money too.

Avoid buffets at restaurants. We have stopped going for huge buffet-like meals. We have seen a lot of waste from such a setup.

Photo by Author-my art interpretation of Zhong

As promised; behind all traditional food, there is always a folk tale. Here is one of the many versions of this sticky rice dumpling.

Qu Yuan was a poet, politician, and minister during the Warring States period of ancient China. In 278 BC, Qin’s military invaded the capital of Chu and successfully took it over. Qu Yuan was facing the invasion of his homeland with a broken heart. He saw the perdition of the state, but he could not bear to abandon his own country. After finishing his last poem of “Huai Sha,” Qu Yan jumped from the bridge into the Mi Luo River.

The people who lived in Chu mourned sorrowfully. His followers flocked to the bank, rowed their boats, and tries to salvage his body from the river. To prevent the physical body of Qu Yuan from being destroyed, fishermen took out rice balls, eggs, and other foods and threw them into the river to feed the fishes. They believed that if the fish were full, they would not bite Qu Yuan’s body.— By Xiao Fan, The Legend Behind Zongzi

Thank you for stopping by. Do share with us if you have any other food saving techniques.

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Ching Ching

I am a Malaysian discovering ways to write about my life and my encounters with people. Nature is my inspiration.