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Weddings

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 
Hi,
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? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/11783353/Meet-the-Turkish-couple-who-spent-their-wedding-day-feeding-4000-Syrian-refugees.html

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

Praanshu--

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.

Sachin

Photo of Lynn Huang

Sachin Bhide - I recently read a book about how to influence others (https://www.amazon.com/Influencer-Power-Change-Anything-First-ebook/dp/B000UZJQSM). 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. 

Photo of Raj Jani

Interesting Initiatives Sachin especially about RSVPd guests. However it may seem difficult to implement as in India esp. North India there is a season for weddings (about two months or so) and I have seen people in families hopping from one wedding to another and tasting bits and pieces of food in most of the attended ones. So in such a scenario the idea of RSVPing may also turn a flop! 

I agree with your viewpoint that penalties have to be imposed (preferably as a rule of law) accompanied by public embarrassment. That's how I came up with this idea of asking student volunteers (these days there is no dearth of these!) to reach all such lavish weddings in advance and ask for about 50-100 plates of food packed for them. This on one hand may create an awkward situation for the hosts to refuse (read for a cause for poor and destitute) and if they do, such senseless food waste with no empathy for poor may be highlighted in media (even social media may do the job). An NGO or a start-up may like this idea worthwhile to experiment with.   

Photo of Sachin Bhide

Raj--
Thank you for the reply. When I said RSVP, I asked them whether they are going to eat. RSVP was for the food and not whether they are going to show up. But yours is a good point.

I did not understand your idea though. Can you explain that in a bit detail? I did not understand why students would randomly go and ask hosts to pack food for them before the wedding.

Thank you.

Sachin

Photo of Emily Getty

Why is it that people feel so comfortable wasting the food? Are the connected to the difficulties of harvest?

Photo of Sachin Bhide

Emily--

Its a very good question. I dont have the answer to that. Probably they waste food because they can. People do not have a sense of how much they are going to eat. It is sheer irresponsibility but people hardly care. I did not understand the second question, though. Can you elaborate? 

Photo of Emily Getty

Hello Sachin, 

I just wonder if the shift of our lifestyle being so disconnected from our food source has caused a lack of empathy, understanding, and value for the actual food that we use to fuel our bodies. 

Photo of Sachin Bhide

This is a very good point. I had not thought of this before. Showing people the difficulty in growing foods and processing them to end up in their plates is a great idea. We will have to think about how to implement it during weddings though. Thank you.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Sachin! 

Your post is very inspirational. I never really thought about food waste and weddings before. But, now I think about it every wedding I have been to, to some extent, wasted food. 

How did you find the NGO? How was the food transported from the wedding to the people in need?

Photo of Sachin Bhide

Thank you Kate. I used to work with an NGO who did this. We sold the leftover food at lower prices to slum dwellers. We were scared that people will get used to free food and stop working. It was transported in vans that caterers had.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Sachin, do you know if there a network of NGOs providing this service?

Photo of Sachin Bhide

No, I do not. Can we put out this idea to some of the NGOs? I did it but still pondering on whether we should be giving our free food. This will reduce food wastage for sure but it will build a generation who knows that the food is coming from somewhere.