Cultivating conscious consumption to combat festival food waste in Nepal

An average Nepali wastes approximately 79 kg of food annually, with a significant portion of this waste occurring during the festival season.

Aastha Pokhrel

  • Read Time 3 min.

Nepal’s festive season is a time of joy, togetherness, and delectable food, especially during the celebrations of Dashain and Tihar. Dashain, recognized as the festival of victory over evil, and Tihar, the festival of lights, unite communities in spirited festivities across the country. These festivals are highlighted by family gatherings, new attire, blessings from elders, and the preparation of tantalizing dishes. While the festive season symbolizes abundance and generosity, it unfortunately often leads to food wastage. The lavish feasts during Dashain and Tihar tend to exceed practical needs, resulting in a significant amount of uneaten food.

Several factors contribute to food waste during these festivals. Longstanding culinary traditions and cultural expectations during Dashain and Tihar prompt the preparation of a diverse array of dishes, ranging from tantalizing selrotis and aachars to various meat items. The cultural significance attached to these culinary practices often compels individuals to uphold these traditions by preparing an abundance of food. Also, the increasing commercialization of these festivals has led to the over-purchasing of certain foods and products, resulting in excessive consumption and subsequent waste.

Inadequate storage facilities in many Nepali households further worsen the issue, leading to the disposal of uneaten food. Moreover, social pressures also play a significant role, as the desire to impress guests often drives individuals to over-cater, resulting in surplus food. Nepali culture places immense value on generosity and hospitality, particularly during festivals, which can lead to an excessive emphasis on ensuring that guests have an ample supply of food and feel welcomed. The apprehension of food scarcity contributes to over-preparation, as individuals fear that guests may not have enough to eat, thus leading to an unnecessary surplus of food.

This issue is particularly poignant in a nation where 15.1 percent of the population still grapples with living below the poverty line, lacking access to fundamental necessities. According to a United Nations report, the average Nepali individual wastes approximately 79 kg of food annually, with a significant portion of this waste occurring during the festival season. This rate surpasses that of both India and China. The surplus of food during festivals not only contributes to food wastage but also encourages overeating and unhealthy dietary patterns, potentially leading to health issues such as obesity and related ailments.

Simultaneously, while copious amounts of food are being discarded, a stark contrast emerges as some individuals within the community struggle with food scarcity. Hungry animals roaming the streets further emphasize the paradoxical nature of these festivals, which aim to epitomize generosity and compassion but often culminate in the squandering of food that could have alleviated the plight of those in need.

Impacts to food waste

Food waste during festivals serves to magnify the gap between the affluent and the underprivileged by underscoring disparities in access to resources. While some partake in extravagant feasts, others grapple with the harsh realities of hunger and scarcity, with many observing these festivities on an empty stomach. This contrast not only underscores the unequal distribution of wealth and resources within communities but also exacerbates social inequalities.

The escalated spending on food, supplies, and festival preparations often amplifies the financial burden on households, particularly when a significant portion of the purchased food ends up as waste. Moreover, the management and disposal of this excess food waste incur additional costs for local authorities, straining already limited resources.

Beyond the socio-economic implications, food waste during festivals has significant environmental consequences. Edible food that is discarded ends up in landfills, decomposing and emitting methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The production of food involves the utilization of vital resources such as water, land, and energy. When this food is needlessly discarded, it represents a squandering of these valuable resources. 

A path towards change

To effectively address the issue of food waste during festivals in Nepal, conscious and concerted efforts are imperative. A key step involves accurately estimating the required quantities of food and encouraging guests to take only what they can consume. Anticipating the number of attendees and their dietary preferences can significantly reduce the likelihood of excess uneaten food.

Raising awareness about the significance of sharing surplus festival food is crucial, emphasizing the option of donating excess food to local charities, shelters, or food banks, which can help alleviate both hunger and food waste issues.

Practicing mindful cooking by ensuring the utilization of all parts of ingredients and repurposing leftovers into new dishes can significantly minimize food waste. Investment in appropriate food storage facilities and educating individuals on proper methods of storing leftover food to prevent spoilage is equally essential. Likewise, raising awareness about the detrimental impacts of food waste and promoting behavioral change can be facilitated through collaborative efforts by governments, NGOs, and community organizations, including the organization of campaigns highlighting its negative effects on the environment, society, and economy.

Dashain and Tihar hold a special place in Nepal’s cultural fabric, symbolizing unity and tradition. Given their significance, addressing food waste during these festivals becomes paramount, considering its implications for the environment, society, and economy. It is essential that we embrace the spirit of these festivals not only through grand feasts but also through fostering love, compassion, unity, and sustainability, ensuring that our celebrations are mindful of the well-being of our communities and the environment.

The author is a B.A LL.B student at Kathmandu School of Law.