Are Diwali Festival’s ‘healthy food options’ politically incorrect?

The vivid colours of Diwali take over the heart of Auckland this weekend for the 17th Auckland Diwali Festival. This fun, free, family-friendly festival takes place in Aotea Square and Queen St on Saturday, 20 and Sunday, 21 October, from midday until 9pm each day, culminating in a spectacular fireworks display on Sunday night.

One of the main draw cards of Diwali is the delicious, fragrant foods. Auckland’s Diwali festival is New Zealand’s biggest vegetarian festival. Many of the 70 street stalls will sell traditional festive Indian dishes, snacks and treats, but following a workshop hosted by ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development) and the Auckland District Health Board, some vendors are opting to make a healthier version of the Diwali dishes, prompting accusations from some in the Indian and food communities of ‘unfair treatment’.


While the suggestion of making healthier options isn’t mandatory for any stall holders, the workshop has raised questions from people who feel that Diwali, like any other festival, is a time for treats and joy, and if healthy options are to be introduced at Diwali, surely the same should apply to other festivals like Hallowe’en, Taste of Auckland and even wine festivals.

“The overarching image of India in the minds of Europeans and British seem to be of deep fried foods, syrupy sweetmeats and the ubiquitous butter chicken, biryani and roti,” says AUT Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio. “Diwali is more than a diet to kill diabetics and create heart attacks … free choice of individuals trumps unnecessary government intimacy in our food choices.

“Go to the big boys and girls, leave the little ones alone … let nostalgia and reminiscing and sharing of the heterogeneous cuisine enliven, enlighten and elevate our food choices and our perceptions of diversity.”

But Diwali isn’t just about the food; it’s about so much more. Before and during the festival, Vector Lights brings a light show inspired by traditional art form of rangoli to Auckland Harbour Bridge from Thursday, 18 October to Sunday, 21 October. The lights will operate from 7pm until midnight each evening.

Rangoli is a centuries-old Indian art form, where designs are drawn onto the ground, traditionally using coloured powders and embellished with sand, rice, candles or flower petals. The designs can be simple geometric shapes, depict deities or flowers or they can be more elaborate. They are closely associated with special occasions and celebrations.

“Diwali is also known as the festival of lights and we want to expand this element the Auckland Diwali Festival,” says festival producer Leilana Meredith. “It’s exciting to have Vector Lights bringing a new facet to the festival for 2018, with the light show on Auckland Harbour Bridge taking its cue from the beautiful colours and designs of rangoli.”

On Friday, 19 October, workers, shoppers and visitors to the city centre can get a taste of the festival with the Chalk It Up rangoli-drawing competition in Freyberg Place and free, all ages Diwali-themed activities in Ellen Melville Centre.

Inside Ellen Melville Centre, visitors can have a go at DIY henna or mehndi, learn how to wrap or drape a sari, creating rangoli patterns to take home and play interactive digital Hindi language games. There will also be snacks to sample – sweet mithai treats and savoury namkeen nibbles.

The festival proper kicks off on Saturday, 20 October with mix of performances, from Bollywood to Punjabi, Gujarati to Bharat Natyam, Rajasthani to Hindustani and more, across three areas – the Aotea Square Stage, the Queen St Stage and the Street Zone performances (corner of Queen and Wakefield).

Direct from India, performers from the Kalehri Art & Culture Academy will present entertainment in range of styles including bhangra, gidha, jindua, malwai gidha and jhumar. As well as appearing at the Auckland Diwali Festival, the Kalehri Art & Culture Academy members will perform at the Wellington Diwali Festival and visit local schools.

In addition to the touring international performers, hundreds of local performers and performance groups take part in the Auckland Diwali Festival, collectively presenting a programme with more than 45 hours of live entertainment, across more than 240 different performances.

Come enjoy the colours, flavours, sights and sounds of New Zealand’s premier Indian cultural festival that that offers traditional tastes and flavours and the best modern fusion of India and 21st century Auckland.

  • Vector Lights: For suggestions of viewing points, see Bring a mobile device and speaker with you – the website also features a dedicated audio stream synced to the light show. The show is also live-streamed online at the website and the Vector Facebook page. Share your experience on Instagram and Twitter with #vectorlights and #diwaliAKL18.
  • Auckland Diwali Festival is one of the region’s most popular cultural festivals, with 55,000 people attending the 2017 festival.