Czech Republic: Roma respond to accusations of food waste
News server Romea.cz has reached out to our colleagues and readers for their response to the recent remarks made by Ms Klára Vítková-Rulíková regarding the wasting of food by the family of the quintuplets and indirectly by Romani families in general. We asked people how their families handle food, whether it is a habit not to eat leftovers, and what they think of this all.
Renata Berkyová, Romani poet: "In our home we don't cook food that is meant to last more than one day, so we also don't throw anything away. We cook meals fresh every day. However, when I know I will be spending all of the next day at school or at work, I go ahead and prepare that day's food the night before. I definitely never reheat old rolls - I prefer to save them for breadcrumbs."
David Beňák, head of the Health and Social Welfare Department, Prague 14 Municipal Department: "Ms Rulíková is reducing the problem of waste, which basically the entire modern world participates in through its inefficiency, to a problem of Romani families. This seems highly disingenuous and inappropriate to me. I don't understand what led Ms Rulíková to publicize such intimate details from the life of a family that is being forced to function under extreme pressure and under a media microscope."
Iveta Kokyová, Romani author: "In families that still hold to old Romani traditions, people consider leftovers 'unclean', which is related to religious rituals. My family has four people, but I usually cook for one or two more - what if someone comes to visit? It's something like the Christmas tradition in Czech families where they set a place for a random wanderer during Christmas Eve dinner.... I believe Ms Rulíková is putting herself in the position of someone who knows what the norm should and shouldn't be. In my opinion this is a private matter and every person is responsible for his or her own choices."
Jan Čonka, staffer with ROMEA's employment project: "We definitely do not throw food away in our family. It is rare for there to be leftovers, but when there are, we do our best to give them to someone we know who is in financial trouble and could use the food."
Lukáš Houdek, graduate in Romani Studies from Charles University in Prague: "Even though the times are changing rapidly, there are still many Romani people who throw away leftovers and do not reheat them. This is related to the principle of ritual purity, which also affects other matters to do with dining. Leftovers from a cooked meal are not consumed, for example, because the mulo, the spirits of the dead, have been sniffing around them. Similarly, you don't put something into your mouth after it has fallen on the ground, and you don't eat from dishes that have been used by a person whom you view as unclean. We still encounter this in some Romani families (there is at least one family I know who still strictly maintain this custom) as well as in India, where upper-caste families own special dishes that are intended, for example, for use by people from the artisan caste. Even though a person from the Czech cultural context might view such a custom as irrational (especially when we encounter it in impoverished families), it is a basic principle to many Romani people and is important to their internal sense of integrity and self-esteem."
Here are some responses to this question that were posted by ROMEA readers to our Facebook page:
Naděžda Vanova Kováčová: "This is not just about the Czech Republic. Food is wasted throughout all of Europe! The EU says goods in the supermarkets must meet a certain standard and nothing should be for sale that has any indications of being spoiled, all it takes is for one apple in the bag to be just a bit rotten and it must be immediately thrown out!"
Anička Bandyová: "We cook every day. We are a five-member family and it's true that I throw leftovers way. However, most of the time there are none :)."
Renata Šarköziová: "I cook only what we will eat that day. Most of the time there are no leftovers."
Ewa Damu: "On weekdays I cook exactly what the four people in my family need. We all go to school or to work. I used to cook more and the food got thrown out. I shop every week for about EUR 60. I don't shop daily. I buy bread, packaged rolls, fresh fruit and vegetables here and there. I save money that way and nothing gets thrown out."
Naděžda Vanova Kováčová: "Romani people don't usually have many leftovers, everything in the household gets eaten:). They don't make a meal last for three days, the only thing we eat the next day is goulash, segedín, or stuffed cabbage. Recently my husband filled up a gadjo's bag with food - salami, bacon, bread, it was just before the holidays. We know how to make do with not much money and we won't starve! It doesn't mean we have to eat dry rolls, or moldy ones either!!!"
Julius Diro: "We Roma do not eat food from the day before except for goulash, because goulash is best on the second day, we just don't eat the same dish three days in a row - believe me, I know plenty of people who do that, but they aren't Romani. It's just the way we do things - I don't know why, if it's our genes or the customs of our ancestors."
Hana Hokrová: "I was raised to save money, so whatever is not eaten is frozen or is used in the next dish. We give our dried baked goods to the farm next door, for their horses. However, I know several people who would never eat reheated food, but what bothers them is just that it was reheated in a microwave. Most of them are men (nothing against them) and I don't judge that. To each his own."
Věra Hanusová: "My husband doesn't mind, he'll eat leftovers. I do not eat reheated food. I don't have any rational reason - it just seems nasty to me. I wrap leftovers in plastic wrap and leave them in clean plastic containers on the wall next to our garbage cans."
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