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In this Tuesday, July 19, 2011 photo, guests eat food at a wedding reception in Hyderabad, India. As the ranks of the wealthy surge with India's economic growth, many families are staging extravagant displays of food. But the extravagant waste that follows has horrified many in a nation where tens of millions of young children are malnourished. – AP Photo

NEW DEHLI: When the daughter of businessman Mohammed Sultan got married recently, guests were treated to a lavish 30-course meal served in super-sized silver platters.

The Kashmiri feast, prepared by an army of chefs, included more than 20 meat and kebab dishes rich with spices to go with the saffron-flavored rice and naan breads.

Hours later, after the more than 500 guests had eaten their fill, the leftovers were dumped by the cartload at a nearby garbage site.

As the ranks of India's wealthy surge with rapid economic growth, many families are staging extravagant displays of food at their children's weddings to show off their newfound affluence.

The prodigious waste that follows has horrified many in a nation where food prices are skyrocketing and tens of millions of young children are malnourished.

At the recent wedding of the son of a ruling party leader, more than a 100 dishes representing Thai, Chinese, Mediterranean and Indian cuisines were served to over 30,000 guests. About 20 percent would've been thrown away.

In this June 3, 2011 photograph, Indian women eat food at a charity food camp for poor people, in New Delhi, India. – AP Photo

India's Food Minister K V Thomas wants to curtail what has become known as the Big Fat Indian Wedding.

He says about one-fifth of the food served at weddings and social gatherings is discarded.

''It's a criminal waste,'' Thomas told The Associated Press.

The tons of food wasted at social gatherings across the country each day contrasts sharply with the food shortages, often bordering on chronic starvation, faced by millions of poor Indians.

Like elsewhere in Asia, food prices in India are rising fast _ by 8.4 percent in June alone _ as demand outstrips production. And the burden is falling disproportionately on the poor. Experts say the jump in prices for staples to record highs over the past few months has pushed another 64 million Asians into poverty.

According to the food minister, around 100,000 weddings and social events are held in India every day. He says food wasted each day at weddings and family functions in Mumbai alone would be enough to feed the city's vast slum population.

The International Food Policy Research Institute ranks India 67 out of 84 countries in its 2010 global hunger index, a survey of the prevalence of child malnutrition, child mortality and the proportion of people who are calorie deficient.

A committee Thomas established toyed with restricting the number of guests at weddings and the number of dishes that could be served. But the idea was quickly shot down by critics who said it would simply give corrupt inspectors another reason to solicit bribes.

In this July 7, 2011, photograph, food left over by guests lie on the platter after a marriage ceremony in Srinagar, India. – AP Photo

Instead, the committee has decided on a public awareness campaign through the media and outreach to schools and social organisations to spread the word that less is more when it comes to weddings.

If the awareness campaign fails to make a dent, Thomas said he would consider resurrecting the guest limit proposal.

It would not be the first time.

In the early 1960s, in the aftermath of a brief border war with the Chinese, food shortages led the government to impose a 'Guest Control Order' limiting the number of wedding guests.

The restrictions were short-lived, although it did focus public opinion on adopting a measure of frugality.

Today, austerity is far from the minds of India's wealthy, who fly in orchids from Thailand to decorate overstuffed buffet tables.

''It's my only daughter's wedding. I don't want to stint on anything. And certainly not on food,'' said Alka Gupta, a businesswoman, as she studied a sheaf of menus from wedding caterers while planning her daughter's December marriage.

''My husband and I have worked hard all these years. Now we want a spectacular celebration to invite all our friends,'' she said.

Sociologist Abhilasha Kumari says that for the burgeoning middle classes, making a spectacle of weddings has become quite the accepted norm.

Bollywood, India's Hindi language film industry, has done much to popularize the theme of the big Indian wedding, says Kumari.

''Conspicuous consumption is no longer viewed with distaste as it once was under India's earlier socialist ethos,'' she said. ''It's a new India where there are new value systems. Over-consumption is the norm.''

The mere idea of scaled down celebrations has, not surprisingly, prompted a host of objections from businesses who bank on big weddings.

Cutting down on the number of dishes may not be an easy task, says Nitin Luthra, a leading New Delhi caterer who has organized some of Delhi's most spectacular weddings.

''People have begun demanding exotic cuisines. What they want is a memorable evening for everyone who attends the wedding,'' Luthra said.

Wedding planners scoffed at the idea of a cap on wedding guests as a measure to curb food shortages.

''It's a knee jerk reaction, a populist measure,'' says Ashish Abrol, a former IBM executive who in 2010 set up a wedding planning firm, Big Indian Wedding.

''It would be an utter failure since it's impossible to implement. The net result would be more corruption,'' Abrol said.

Comments (41) Closed

ts Jul 21, 2011 07:03pm
Wedding planners in India and elsewhere always wanted to order 20% more as this is Familie ego at risk. I would only suggest as it is not possible to limit guests and or dishes why not those rich and well off people call the Local charities to take the leftover. I was surprised how people show off in our Muslim country too, without resources they even loan the money and then waste for artificial and temporary "IZZAT".
Forbidden Fruit Jul 21, 2011 08:09pm
Talk about putting Islam aside when it comes to weddings, altogether! Not just food.. the multimillion wedding budget is just to carry out a pompous celebration of status. Even though Islam strongly asserts simplicity! I just wonder how do people with a living conscience be so ultra-extravagant while their fellow countrymen are literally starving. (this applies to both Indians and Pakistanis who could not do away with their showoff habits despite the escalating poverty.)
Whatever Jul 21, 2011 08:10pm
I second ts' comment. How hard is it to arrange for someone to take the leftover food to the local charity or food bank or just go and distribute it to deserving people??? People should be ashamed of throwing the food away like that.
Sandip Jul 21, 2011 08:20pm
Not trying to say what waste of food done in marriage is right but not wasting it will not translate into food being delivered to the people who need it. only way they will get food is by making food pie bigger so that all can afford food and for that people need to start earning more, usually curtailing this parties would only mean people will keep there money with themselves. India had ban on wedding parties during 1970s and it didn't help a bit apart from getting votes for political parties. Hope people understand this, one not spending resource does not translate into someone else getting the resource.
nb Jul 21, 2011 08:25pm
Economic Wastages in marriages and social gatherings include expensive invitation cards, decorator, flower, food, unwanted gifts, firecrackers, hotel hiring etc. Those who eat food had enough food in their own house but spend average 500 Rs taxi fare to come to eat food and return home back. About 30% of all these expenses is total material wastage amounting to 0.5% of GDP, in addition to the imported petrol/diesel component like travel of “baaraat paltan” and all guests. Some flower may be necessary but not all that consumes agricultural land unnecessarily. In other words if government simply issues guest control order then our GDP would have been more each year without doing extra work by anybody.
Nate Gupta Jul 21, 2011 09:02pm
With due respect, my simple question to you - Why does one need to see everything through religion? I think it's just common sense not to waste food when million others suffer. My question is out of sheer curiosity and nothing else. Thank you! - Nate Gupta
KS Jul 21, 2011 10:47pm
My Take. Yes wedding party creates lot of waste but food shortage in India is not because of it. Food Shortage in India is caused by government control, lazy, corrupt and irresponsible bureaucrats and poor practice of storage and distribution of the food. If India removes all government control and get out from business of storing and distributing food, inflation as well as prices of food item will decline immediately. Take Indian Minister opinion with grain of salt.
Eva Jul 21, 2011 11:45pm
It is not only the excess on food that we should pay attention to. Our societies are engaged in a cosumer life style (that goes beyond our needs) that produces huge waste at the cost of depleting nature resources and making the planet a garbage can
Hina Safdar Jul 22, 2011 12:40am
Follow the rule of One dish as it was implemented in Pakistan few years back.
raju Jul 22, 2011 01:13am
Be'en Jul 22, 2011 01:23am
The Income Tax department should raid any Big Fat wedding and investigate the source of finance... That should do the trick -- easiest way to locate black money!
Neel Jul 22, 2011 03:47am
I am sure the same happens in Pakistan but no Indian newspaper is going to waste column centimeters in making it a news story with close up of disgusting half eaten dinner platters. You think this doesn't happen in the US where millions are on food stamps ?
Amna Jul 22, 2011 04:11am
Girl's side usually do so to avoid the leashing of their daughter by her inlaws in future. While the above option of donating food to charity organization is good, what about the piles of food left on people's plate. We have forgotten that rizq ( food )that goes waste gives curse to one who wastes it. True, the media, dramas and movies shall stop showing extravanaganza arrangements on functions as something appreciable or pleasing.
ABID Jul 22, 2011 05:04am
rkg Jul 22, 2011 05:56am
Vulgar display of wealth and vulgar wastage at such occaisions is the STATUS SYMBOL of these rich people many of whom have got this wealth with dubious means. As it is one of the easiest way of showing the BLACK MONEY.
Tamilselvan Jul 22, 2011 05:57am
Yes, food is wasted but not as it shown here. The remaining food is given out or taken by the workers etc. Even the leftover is eaten by animals. Yes, we should reduce the waste as most wedding are showoff and another way to blow out unaccounted money. This is the culture in S.Asia and it must change. Thanks to Dawn for bringing it up
Saeed Shah Jul 22, 2011 08:25am
India should follow the example of Pakistan where the wedding guests are served only one dish. This will save food as well wedding expenses.
GKrishnan Jul 22, 2011 09:13am
Wedding planners ? It's all just marriage business. And sheer exhibitionism. It's a roll-over of sugar-coated movies like Hum Apke hai koun, and Dilwale dulhaniya le jayengey. The movie "Band Baaja Baraat" puts paid to this whole business where only money talks, where the so-called wedding planner does a finale with naach-gaana routine, when the spoilt bride does not get Shah Rukh Khan to come for the ceremony. Strong legislation is required to enforce austerity in marriage ceremonies.
Event Manager Jul 22, 2011 09:18am
As an event manager in New Delhi, although I cant speak for everyone but most wedding or party planners are quite smart here in India unlike what the article describes. Un spoilt leftovers (veg) is mostly packed and sold to roadside and railway station vendors for consumption within 24 hours. Cant speak for big fancy weddings though, they have a haughty sense of status. But I can assure you, most of the weddings, nothing goes waste.
Shankar Jul 22, 2011 09:46am
This is one of the ugly parts of India. Rich wasting money just to show off their welath in weddings! While a third of India is mal-nourished. I think a social revolution is needed to set this right!
pat Jul 22, 2011 10:58am
pakistan has enough problems by itself, better to look at that first than poking our noses in other peoples problems
Shashwat Mishra Jul 22, 2011 11:23am
The government will lets thousands of tons of wheat in Punjab to go waste so that they can dictate prices. This will not be used to feed the poor. But they certainly will preach to individuals to cut down on waste of food in weddings! The individual must bow to the police, pay his taxes, keep his mouth shut on power cuts, die in bomb blasts and be a responsible citizen. The government for its part will make speeches and comments.
Arjun Jul 22, 2011 12:26pm
You just nailed it! What u said is absolutely true!!
nb Jul 22, 2011 12:28pm
I disagree with your point. The Dawn has done correct thing by highlighting wrong practices and cultures around the world.
Sandeep Jul 22, 2011 01:14pm
From what I have seen, attending scores of weddings since my childhood, most of the leftovers from the wedding meal is taken by the relatives of the groom and bride to their home. And whatever is still left is either given to the workers in the marriage location.
putar Jul 22, 2011 01:23pm
I agree that their is wastage.But I disagree with your comments. In Pakistan also this happens as rampantly as India
Prashant Jul 22, 2011 01:52pm
I live in US and these people waste food more than they consume. Simple theory "Rich people waste food, poor don't" its universal so think what you have to.
Suresh K. (Melbourne Jul 22, 2011 01:59pm
When I showed my wedding video to some Australian friends and when they saw the guests at the wedding, the first thing they asked me was - did you feed all these guests at the wedding! Some here hire the bridal gown for wedding because its expensive. In hindsight, yes weddings should be simpler especially in the area of catering. Why do the well to do (almost all guests) need to be fed 5 course meals anyway?
nb Jul 22, 2011 02:48pm
Do you mean that US also wastes food and therefore our food wastage is OK? We not only waste food, we burn money on firecrackers, burn petrol on unnecessary transportation, jam drains in nearby areas and do all kinds economic damages by these social gatherings. Govt of India had a control on these during 1960s, that I have seen being implemented properly. Indira Gandhi relaxed this rule.
Ahmad Jul 22, 2011 02:50pm
I too worked almost worked more then 6 years with the top-notch even management company, but I've never came across "selling foods" to roadside eateries? this is a wrong statement. could you please name few places where you've done your party and then you've been allowed to sell the leftovers?
nb Jul 22, 2011 02:56pm
You Mr Event Manager, do you recover burnt money from the smoke of firecrackers, return flower to the gardens and recover petrol burned due to unnecessary transportations. Each guest has food in his house, yet spend average Rs 500 for taxi to come for dinner and go back!
nb Jul 22, 2011 03:08pm
Your argument can be easily extrapolated. If government wastes water, then we should also keep water tap open in our houses. If government is inefficient in electricity generation and distribution then we should also keep our light, fans, air conditioners running even if house is empty.
Forbidden Fruit Jul 22, 2011 03:12pm
To Nate Gupta: I don't understand what is it about religion that makes people uncomfortable? I was talking about a positive message Islam asserts to its followers, that they conveniently put aside for the sake of showoff. I did not mean to imply anything more than that. If still somebody flinches, that maybe due to their own distaste in the matter. Btw, I wouldn't have asked the very same question you asked if I'd come across somebody talking about their religion and it's good teachings. Peace!
anil Jul 22, 2011 03:46pm
Apprantly I don't see a solution to this problem .Yes,one thing can be done to reduce this wastage i.e "tax on food in marriages". My logic is "More the amount of cooked food, more imposing tax on the amount of cooked food, gov can force people to cook less".But this is not the ultimate solution.
Ailia Zaidi Jul 22, 2011 05:02pm
I have been attending weddings since childhood and what i have seen is that the left-overs in tihe platters are offered to people on the streets 'IF' they want it. And the rest of the remaining food is taken home by the party (groom/bride) who has organized the event. But personally, I don't think there is a need for such lavish weddings. Two-course meal is more than enough. I also happen to attend a wedding in India's small city of UP called Saharanpur. I was shocked to see the useless expenditure on food. First, the guests were offered food called NASHTA which included a number of snacks. And then another round of food was served called DINNER which had atleast 7 different items. And after that the sweet dishes were served. I wonder why people have to spend so much money on food. Is it because of the status? If not, then why do so?
Aninda Chowdhury Jul 22, 2011 06:16pm
" The rich should live simpler so that the poor could live simply " - Mahatma Gandhi.
ismail Jul 22, 2011 08:35pm
His Holiness Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin Saheb head of the Dawoodi Bohra community has always guided his followers not to over spend money in Weddings,from Cards to food to gifts.Try to minimize the expense and give that money to the poor who have no housing,clothes or educate the poor childrens.That is why he holds mass wedding for all,rich or poor.God has given the rich the money,but they can help other people in this world who are less fortunate.
Raj Jul 22, 2011 10:00pm
Well Lets be Honest and Practical!!! I have full sympathy for poor people but arent they themselves responsible for their woeful life?? take any poor from PAKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN, BANGLADESH, NEPAL . . . they have the largest family, they never want to change . . . what is the point to have baby when you know you cant feed them?? poors are like crab in a box that when a rich / middle class man will have less babies to reduce the population a poor man will have 6 -8 . . .
Raj Jul 22, 2011 10:06pm
I am not too sure that How many Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi will agree with me . . . but for few things they NEED TO , and MUST agree on is . . . 1) Population Control If these Govt start acting now the result can only be seen after 75 years 2) All the three Govt Must Put Preassure on the Middle East country to revoke their tough immigration rules . . . The people of SUB-CONTINENT built, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sarjah, Kuwait or for that matter Most of the middle east . . .they must allow permanent immigration . . . specially for muslims!!
Frank Jul 23, 2011 12:27am
If these great philanthropists were smart, then they could have sent all the left-over food to the poor or starving people. It would have got them and their families greater blessings.
Sushant Jul 24, 2011 10:18am
I want to say only 1 thing, It's internal issue of India!