Zaina Kanaan, who co-founded the idea of zero waste iftars, doesn’t mince words when speaking about the waste and over-consumption associated with the much-hyped, traditional hotel iftar.
“It breaks me,” she says. “It really does. Especially all these buffets. As someone who is fasting I can tell you, there is no one who can fit a buffet menu in their stomach during iftar.”
Not only is it almost physically impossible to eat that much, it’s also unhealthy, she says.
“So yes, I’m against that, because I understand the amount of waste that comes with it,” she says. “It’s unconscious and I would really like it to stop.”
It’s to that end Montreal-born Zaina and her sister Rania, who in 2015 co-founded the upcycled bike brand Charicycles and earlier this year opened Kave — The Story of Things in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, came up with the idea for a series of zero waste iftars.
Held each Thursday during Ramadan, the menu — created with cafe partner Roots Bistro — has included sea bass, organic chicken and this week, sweet potato gnocchi, featuring dishes made from ingredients that were either raised, grown or caught locally. The meal reflects the overall ethos at Kave, which opened in March with the aim of providing responsibly sourced food, products and experiences through the cafe, a fair-trade retail store and a variety of workshops.
“It’s really very communal, we set up really long tables where people can sit together,” says Zaina. “Feeling very grounded and appreciating the food around people who also want to have a mindful iftar.”
Booking has been required in advance for obvious reasons, with each candlelit iftar attracting several dozen people.
“We prepare exact quantities, so we end up not throwing any food at all,” says Zaina. “And that’s a very big point of Ramadan and why we fast and that’s how we should be eating all the time anyways.”
In keeping with their Charicycles initiative, for every Dh140 iftar Kave gives away a meal to a local mosque. Last week, Kave donated 54 iftars. This week they hope to make it 100.
“We’re in an area that is surrounded by labour camps, it’s an industrial area and it’s very nice,” says Zaina. “Even if you walk here now at iftar time you see lineups at the mosque from people who want to eat. As a business even if you’re making a one dirham profit, it’s nice to share that.”
Kave’s initiative comes at a time when organizations and governments are increasingly urging people to be mindful of food waste — and there are small glimmers that awareness is growing.
According to the Dubai Municipality, food waste rises to 55 per cent of all waste produced during Ramadan, up from 22 per cent the rest of the year. There are more than 100 Sharing Fridges locations in Dubai, which has now spread to Ajman and Ras al Khaimah.
At Tarabouche in Abu Dhabi’s World Trade Center Mall, iftar guests can eat as much of the dishes on offer as they like — but they do it from small plates, requiring they give a little more thought as to what they choose.
While hotels still heavily promote lavish buffets, there are shifts there too. The Shangri-La Hotel, Qarayat Al Beri teamed up with ShareTheMeal, the world’s first app devoted to ending world hunger. An initiative of the United Nations World Food Programme, the app allows the Shangri-la’s all-day dining restaurant Sofra to donate one US dollar for every iftar meal sold during the Holy Month — a donation that can funds meals for two hungry children.
JA Resorts and Hotels announced that after partnering with Winnow, a UAE tech company, a pilot project they are now rolling out to all seven hotels reduced food waste by 81 per cent — or about 35,000 meals — in less than a year.
In a recent appearance on Dubai Eye 103.8, Haytham El Sherbini, cluster commercial director for Meraas Dubai, said hotels are responding to the push from Dubai Municipality on reducing food waste.. Al Seef Heritage Hotel and Zabeel House Al Seef have tackling the issue by backing away from the buffet, instead offering a limited array of starters and desserts, while preparing each main course fresh to order.
“It’s a lot of food, so when you see all this variety you keep trying and trying and trying and you can’t stop yourself, so we’re trying to limit that,” he said..
To Ryan Ingram, owner of TerraLoop, the only food waste consultancy in the Middle East, the shift may not have reached plastic straw levels of awareness, but it is palpable.
“That momentum isn’t happening as much as we’d like, to compare to the plastic movement,” he says. “But I’d say it’s running a good third place.”
Kave — The Story of Things grew out of feedback from some of the more than 1,000 Charicycles customers the Kanaan sisters have worked with since launching in 2015 — people who want products that reflect their desire to live a more conscious and ethical life. And that’s something businesses of all sizes need to respond to, says Zaina.
“I think businesses should be more incorporated into community, because it’s no longer just about needing your profits,” she says. “It’s about needing your profits and someone else surviving. Sharing does go a long way. In the future, you’re no longer building an empire of money, you’re building a generational shift of how we consume and how we help each other out.”
Featured photo courtesy Rania and Zaina Kanaan.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.