WITH the Eid festivities over, the city of Karachi is gripped with marriage fever. And thousands of wedding halls, gardens and lawns, decorated with multi-coloured lights and festoon and strewn all over the city are doing brisk business.
The weddings are colourful and festive events filled with rituals and celebrations. The people belonging to all strata of society take out their life-time savings and spend generously on the weddings of their children. In the case of daughter’s marriage, the expenditure is far more than the wedding of the son. The daughter’s marriage entails dowry. The rituals of Mehdi add to the marriage expenditures.
Normally, weddings are now held in marriage halls, apart from hotels where some affluent find more convenient to arrange the wedding ceremony. Many vacant spaces and amenity plots have been converted legally or illegally into marriage lawns and gardens.
But here we are concerned with the colossal waste of food at weddings which otherwise should have been saved and given to the orphanage or shanty homes to feed their inmates. In Indian cities like Mumbai, orphanages and charities collect leftover food from marriage halls in refrigerated vans and trucks for distribution among the destitute. Karachi lacks in such kind of effort.
We have thousands of people who can hardly manage a square meal a day and sleep on empty stomach, apart from the teeming millions who are under-nourished. We are also not far away from the sight of those children who scan the garbage bins to find something to eat.
Food price inflation has averaged 18 per cent for the last four years while the purchasing power of the poor has declined significantly. Food prices have remained near an all-time peak since late 2010, pushing more millions into abject poverty.
Yet when it comes to wedding, one forgets that many people are food insecure because of food inflation, though one can see food being served on the streets of Karachi by charities.
People at wedding pick up on their plates more food than they can consume and the leftover wastage finds its way into garbage bins. This is the case with most of the guests.
About 58 per cent of people in the country are food insecure, says the findings of the National Nutritional Survey (NNS) 2011.
The situation has deteriorated from the previous nutritional survey published in 2003 which had recorded 50 per cent people food insecure. The situation has gone from bad to worse specially in Sindh where malnutrition and food insecurity among women and children has increased, says a World Food Programme spokesperson Amjad Jamal.
The country has enough food to feed its people but that poor cannot afford even two-square meals a day, Mr Jamal explains.
According to estimates, some 15-20 per cent of food is wasted in such functions. In some cases, the waste is to the extent of 20-25 per cent when the number of dishes exceeds the number of guests invited to the marriage halls. Responding to questions, the management of a marriage lawn said that basically catering is not its responsibility but added that based on their observations, the waste is between 15-20 per cent in majority of cases and more, if the number of dishes are in excess. The caterers admitted that the wastage was enormous since the buffet system was introduced in dinners. They put the wastage at 20-25 per cent. But if the arrangements are better and the service staff is careful, the wastage can be reduced to 15-20 per cent.
Taking the total number of social functions held in Karachi city alone and the average wastage of food by 15-20 per cent the losses are in tons. Just try to imagine the losses countrywide.
The food is prepared or ordered according to the number of guests invited. Meanwhile, normally the guests do not inform their host if they cannot attend the function, and hence the food prepared is wasted.
There is a need to enforce a ban on wedding feasts and only snacks, tea or cold drinks be allowed, or at the best one-dish party with a limited number of guests to stop the kind of wastage that are going on.
The alternative is also to encourage charities to pick up left over food through refrigerated vehicles for free distribution among the destitute.