By ALEXANDRA HAINES
October 22, 2014
RABAT, Morocco — The early morning sun rose lazily over the towering walls of the old “medina,” or “city,” in Rabat, silhouetting the heaping bags of stale bread that decorated the labyrinthine of streets.
In a narrow alleyway, Fatima Boualam, 52, strolled to work, beaming with pride at the remnants scattered along the worn cobblestones. In her experience, these hard, discarded crusts are far from trash. Rather, they are evidence of a sacred tradition.
Boualam explained that it’s “haram,” meaning “sinful” in Arabic, to waste food – especially bread. In Islamic belief, bread – fresh or stale – is sacred. “Everything that we have – food, fresh air, all these are things that are given to us by Allah – we have to thank him for that,” said Boualam.
For centuries, bread has been an essential part of the Moroccan diet, often used as a kind of utensil to scoop up savory dishes. After meals, any leftover portions are set aside, separated from the rest of the trash to keep it clean. After a day or so, a bag overflowing with bits of bread will make its way from a cozy kitchen into the hands of someone in need.
However, no one seems to know, definitively, who benefits from this kindness. In Rabat, rumors circulate of a farmer who collects the bread each morning for his animals. Other Moroccans believe it’s taken to a factory and recycled into biscuits. While some say the recipients are “dumpster divers,” the homeless and hungry people who roam the streets in search of edible food among the trash.
But as the people of Morocco live in an era where tradition mingles with modernity, Boualam worries that it might become less prevalent. “Lately, I have seen people throwing bread in the dumpster,” she said. “It’s against good manners.”
Moroccans are taught from a very young age the importance of bread and maintaining this tradition. At meal times, Boualam added, children are told that if they start a piece of bread, they must finish it.
Although the identities of the beneficiaries may always remain a mystery, Boualam affirms that she will continue to participate in the tradition she believes in.
“It is our culture, our education,” she said. “It’s who we are.”