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In our wedding, we asked the guests to RSVP, kept a buffet system, reduced unnoticed food items and donated the excess food

Photo of Sachin Bhide

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We implemented a few improvements in my wedding that did reduce food wastage. Simple but effecting steps.

1. RSVPd guests : In most of the Indian weddings, there is a blanket invitation that goes to many households. Friends, family, friends of friends, friends of family and so on. Of course, the food is ordered considering that everyone will show up and eat their share of food. It is, of course, embarrassing for the hosts to be under-prepared if everyone shows up. But only half of them show up. The food that was cooked for them gets wasted. We asked the guests to RSVP for our wedding. Some of the elderly relatives do not approve of RSVP. They misunderstand the question "Are you really coming". In those cases, we asked their sons and daughters to RSVP for them. Normally around 50%, the attendance at our wedding was a whooping 90%. 10% people still RSVPd and did not show up. But it was almost 40% of the food that was not cooked and did not get wasted.

2. Buffet System : Most of the Indian weddings have a "Thali" system. People sit in long lines and are served full-blown plate with tens of food items (As shown in the picture accompanying this article). People do not eat all of them. Some of them are allergic to sweets. Some do not like spicy. Some just do not like certain food item. Such food items do not deserve to be in their plates. So, in my wedding, we had kept a buffet system. People went for the food item they liked, took only that and hence overall wastage was reduced. Some food items in the "thali" go unnoticed. Those are the food items that no one is expecting. We completely eliminated such food items.

3. Donated excess food: We had spoken to an NGO working in an underprivileged neighborhood. The food that was left over after doing the above steps was donated to the children in those neighborhoods.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

In India in 2014, in Mumbai alone, 1840 thousand kilogram of food was wasted during weddings. Indian weddings last for 4 -5 days and everyday is a feast. Hundreds of people are invited and the food is ordered accordingly. Half of them dont show up. At my friend's wedding, I witnessed how they threw away the leftover food. That was the most disturbing sights considering how many people go hungry


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Photo of Praanshu Gupta

Kate Rushton Sachin Bhide 
For one,Sachin, I think you have taken a great step trying to change the way you handled the food and the guests, knowing that change is not very well accepted by a majority of people involved in Indian weddings.

Now, about these two systems namely, Thali and Buffet, the use of them generally depends on the scale of the wedding. The way I have seen the Thali system getting used is that the close relatives from the guy's side of the family are seated and served by the close relatives from the girl's side of the family. That is in fact the reason this system has formed. The guests being served food have a choice of accepting or denying the food item being served to them. 

At most of the middle class weddings that I have been to, I have experienced the buffet system being widely misused, mainly as people believe that they aren't paying for the food so they don't regulate the amount they take in a serving, ultimately wasting it.

Food that is not used and already cooked can be sent to NGOs for better use (distributing/selling to slums) but my concern and even my contribution was mainly focused on the wastage from overestimation by people during serving themselves.

Is there anything we can do there?
because as long as ignorant people live that part of the food wastage will always exist.

Photo of Lynn Huang

Hi Praanshu - I read your post and then followed the link over to this one. I agree that as long as people are ignorant to the problem, then they will not change their behaviors. One radical (and potentially disturbing) suggestion for weddings, would be to put a picture of a child in need of food next to the buffet tray. Images are powerful, so if you could find a few pictures to appropriately and strategically place around the buffet/event lines, then it could impact the guests' behaviors. The guests many not be aware of where the extra food goes, so maybe that's why they don't care if they take a full plate and only eat half and throw away the rest. However, if you share with them the fact that the cooked unused food is given to other starving people in the community, then it could change how they act. This may be culturally unacceptable, but it only takes one story to make a difference. Have you heard about this Turkish couple?

Also, one of the reasons why people could be taking more food than they can consume is because of the sense of security. How can we help the guests at these weddings understand that it is unnecessary? My mom is a victim of this. She grew up and lived in situations where food was at times scarce and a luxury, so even now as she enters her retirement years. Whenever I go home I find hoards of food in our refrigerator, and I will still attempt to have a conversation with her about it.

Photo of Sachin Bhide

These are very good points. You have made a very good suggestion as far as spreading awareness is concerned. I disagree with this approach a bit.

In my short stint in social work, I have learnt that awareness is not a human quality. Humans always (always) choose convenience over conscience. There are only three ways to make people not do something unethical.
1. Punish them
2. Make them pay money.
3. Make it inconvenient 

Also, when we used to make any plans for change, we always tried to idiot proof the process without relying on human awareness or maturity. We need to make food wastage inconvenient. We need to make it embarrassing. We need to make sure that there are tangible obstacles in wasting food.

I would recommend we focus on strategies like these rather spending time on creating awareness. We have zero probability of success if we do that.

Photo of Praanshu Gupta

I agree with you when you say that the only solution is making food wastage inconvenient and embarrassing. I will try and think of more strategies to have tangible obstacles to wasting food.  

Photo of Praanshu Gupta

Lynn Huang Thankyou for making me aware of this turkish couple. You've planned most of my wedding :P
I agree that radical approaches like the example you put forward will be very useful but as pointed out it will be disturbing at weddings and possibly not welcome to most of them. I would like to conceptualize on less disturbing but equally radical ideas because I believe that the situation we are in (food mismanagement) is extremely bad and only radical ideas will change the perception of ignorant people and work wonders.

Photo of Sachin Bhide


One amazing example of this is when most cities in India made helmets compulsory. This reduced the number of people spitting on roads by almost 70%. Helmets were forced for people's safety but this amazing thing came out from that. It was inconvenient to spit with your helmet on. 

In my opinion, we should be striving to come up with such solutions.


Photo of Lynn Huang

Sachin Bhide - I recently read a book about how to influence others ( This prescriptive model uses a strategic approach from motivation and ability at three levels: personal, social, and structural. It reminded me that when we prepare for change, we should take into account all of these perspectives. 

Photo of Sachin Bhide

Thanks Lynn--

I will surely read this. 

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