Wedding season is upon us. Just as people were done swooning over Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh’s wedding we were hit by the extravagant wedding celebrations of Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas. With the Chopra-Jonas wedding hype not even close to dying down, we were blown away by Gujarati Coachella – the over-the-top ‘pre-wedding’ celebrations of Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal, and not too long after, we are witnessing a second edition of the Gujarati Coachella with Akash Ambani an Shloka Mehta’s wedding festivities.
What else did we really expect from one billionaire family marrying into another? Well, it seems to includewedding invitations worth lakhs, taking over basically half of Udaipur, a guest list featuring Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Tony Blair and Ban Ki-moon, performances by Beyoncé, Maroon 5, Coldplay and The Chainsmokers, and featuring Salman Khan as a background dancer for the Anant Ambani show.
The whole shebang was beyond extra – as much as we enjoyed Anant Ambani’s dance, as per reports, each of the weddings cost about $100 million (we wonder where all this money is coming from considering the company’s debts). With what we saw from the numerous images that flooded our feeds, the weddings were multi-starred extravagant affairs. Now, we understand that marriages are an important juncture in anyone’s life. Why would Asia’s richest man not go all-out to celebrate the occasion? But over the years, there has been a cultural shift where weddings have turned into a show of overkill.
The Ambanis depict only 0.001% of the entire population, a perfect example of every extreme within the tag of ‘Big Fat Indian Weddings’ but they are by no means the only ones. Across the country, we’ve repeatedly witnessed lavish weddings right from the Reddy wedding to Dr B. Ravi Pillai daughter’s wedding and even the viral image of a bride dripping in gold. Behind that glitz and glamour what we don’t see is just how high the amount of wastage is at such ceremonies of excesses.
We can’t tell people how to spend their money, but in a country where the wedding industry is worth over INR 100,000 crore (and growing), there need to be more conscious decisions on how it’s being spent and on what. You can splurge but also make more responsible choices – to be fair, the Ambanis, in this case, have reportedly donated to feed 5,100 people three meals a day for a total of four days (their way of giving back?) and setting up a special bazaar to showcase traditional art and works of local artisans.
This includes responsibility towards the local community and the environment, and this is not to say that there aren’t people that are doing weddings right. More and more people have started making eco-friendly choices when it comes to their wedding celebrations and it’s not just limited to urban India.
Some blame such extravagance on the influence of Bollywood movies, though it’s hard to assume that’s the only catalyst for an industry estimated to be worth anywhere between $25-38 billion.
The truth is that weddings in India have always held a reverence which defies economy and pragmatism, where even the poorest rural family will strive to put up a lavish show against their very constitution, let alone their financial capabilities. The estimated 7-10 million Indians weddings every year put a due focus on many things including the culinary offerings, which in this globalised world stand to offer more varieties and fusion than one can fathom. But ask the families of any bride or groom after the festivities and rituals and they will be ready to bemoan the huge waste of food left behind after the function is over, and their lives carry on.
An estimated one-fifth of the food served at weddings goes to waste, something which seems almost criminal in a country facing mass-scaled malnutrition and poverty. The menace of this problem has been even noted by government, with the erstwhile UPA government starting a campaign against food wastage in 2011. A committee setup by the then Food Minister KV Thomas considered whether the number of guests at weddings could be restricted along with a curb on the number of dishes that could be served, before it was shot down after criticism that it could give corrupt inspectors yet another avenue to solicit bribes.
But Why Would Such Serious Restrictions Be Necessary? Let’s Take The Case of Bengaluru.
A study by a team of 10 professors from the University of Agricultural Sciences in 2012 found that the city alone wasted 943 tonnes of quality food annually during weddings. To put things in perspective, this is enough to feed 2.6 crore people a normal Indian meal. “About 84,960 marriages are held at 531 marriage halls in Bangalore every year. And about 943 tonnes of high-calorie quality food is wasted in these halls annually. At an average cost of Rs 40 per meal, the total food wastage in the city is estimated at Rs 339 crore,” said the study.
“On an average, a typical wedding meal is very rich in energy. Each meal may have 1,239 calories, enough to meet an entire day’s requirement of a child! The wastage per meal amounted to 20% at 246 calories,” said UAS Vice-Chancellor K Narayana Gowda, something which should be of grave concern to a country with the largest number of chronically malnourished and stunted children in the world.
While the government opted for raising awareness through a ‘less is more’ campaign through the media and outreach with schools and social organisations, the campaign did little to dent the opulence of India’s marriages. But it is the inability of the governmental setup to elicit any change in wastage at weddings that has seen a few organisations taking up the cause.
The Knights With Shining Cutlery
Centre for Development Communication (CDC), an NGO in Jaipur, founded the Annakshetra initiative in 2010 to redistribute food which is leftover solely from weddings, festivals and other social gatherings. “The way food is eaten and wasted in weddings is an eye-opener for everybody,” said Dr Vivek Agrawal, founder of the initiative. The impact of these initiatives can be massive as in 2012, 10,000 people were fed solely from the leftovers of 16 weddings, which took place on the day of Akshay Tritiya.
“In Hyderabad, four of our volunteers fed around 970 people just with excess food from one wedding,” said The Robinhood Army’s Aarushi Batra. The group ,which seeks to feed the poor in India and Pakistan, has received food from few weddings in addition to the usual contributions from restaurants. “Weddings are joyful and happy occasions, if those getting married would like to spread this joy and happiness to those beyond their family and friends they should definitely reach out to us and avoid the wastage of food at their weddings,” RHA’s Vishakha Acharya and Angelica Syiemiong Pereira told Homegrown. In one instance in Delhi, the brother of the bride contacted Robin Hood Army regarding the excess food at the wedding. The excess food which would have otherwise been thrown away, helped to feed 150 homeless people under a flyover in Delhi.
“Every weekend we meet children and old folks who are in need of basic nutritious food, they are ever so happy to receive the food we have for them,” said Pereira and Acharya. The group can be contacted through their Facebook page for anyone looking to give away the excess food in their wedding or social function.
If you are busy RSVPing to the wedding invites, may we suggest giving the contact of Robin Hood Army as a gift to your hosts so that the love and commitment that is being celebrated in one place, can be shared as sustenance and survival with those who need it the most.
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