Health risks, wastage, the environment & our eating habits

Earlier, I wrote a few thoughts concerning the reasoning that led one sheikh to conclude that all-you-can-eat buffets are unlawful. I also presented an alternative approach for it being lawful. The gist of the article was that it was difficult to get it to work as a valid sales transaction [Ar. bayʿ], but not difficult to get it to work as a valid rental [Ar. ijārah]. Here I would like to make a few comments that are related to the context of the issue but not to the technicalities of the transaction itself. These comments concern the consequences of our eating habits, including public health, wastage, and environmental impact.

With many thanks to Allah, we live in an age where large portions of the world have unprecedented access to vast quantities of affordable food. Many individuals have incomes far in excess of their dietary needs. When people stay within religious and medical limits, the situation presents a wonderful opportunity for them to eat well, provide for their family, host guests, and still have plenty to feed the needy. But all too often, these limits are ignored and people consume or buy too much food – and usually the wrong types of food.

Eating too much and from the wrong types of food have negative consequences on health, including obesity and diabetes. Each is a concern throughout the world. But both are heath issues in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the GCC.

Buying too much food contributes to food wastage. During Ramadan, uneaten food accounts for half of Dubai’s landfill waste. While there are programs to redistribute uneaten food, they are limited and it would be far better to buy just what you need and not risk wasting the food. Similarly, it would be better to buy food that is healthy instead of food that is harmful.

Food demand and food wastage both impact the environment. In addition to the problem if disposing of waste food, our demand for cheap meat has many nasty negative impacts. There are also many ethical concerns related to the treatment of the animals we eat. Mistreating animals and the environment do not fit well with our duty as stewards.

Our current eating habits harm our health and waste money. Both of these violate the objectives of protecting life and protecting wealth. Our current eating habits also violate the Prophetic norms regarding eating, such as eating light, not engorging oneself, and not wasting anything. Not only are we harming ourselves, but we are also abusing animals and the environment instead of fulfilling our duty as stewards for the current and future generations.