If you’re someone who cares about animals (and if you’re planning a vegan wedding, our guess is that you are), you’ve probably heard the myth about how rice, when tossed at newlywed couples after their wedding ceremony, ends up getting eaten by birds. And then the birds’ stomachs explode.
Thankfully, this really is an old wives’ tale. Because fact #1: Technically, birds don’t even have stomachs. And fact #2: rice is a fundamental part of many birds’ diets. Non-profit avian protection organization The Audubon Society is explicit in their assurances, saying that, “Uncooked grains are a diet staple for many bird species, so throwing rice at weddings is not going to harm any birds.”
And it makes sense that it wouldn’t be true; for rice to expand, it needs to steam or boil, and no bird’s stomach ever gets that hot (because that would be weird). They also have swift (pun intended) metabolisms, so rice isn’t hanging around in their crops long enough for any rice-related catastrophes to manifest.
The falsehoods about rice harming birds is rooted in the right place: a concern for avian welfare. It started back in 1985, when four-term State Representative Mae Schmidle of Connecticut proposed legislation to ban the tossing of rice at weddings, telling her constituents, fellow elected officials, and news media that rice “kills the birds that ingest it.”
While Representative Schmidle’s heart and conscience were in the right place, her facts were not. Prominent ornithologists spoke out against the measure, explaining that the rice rumors were purely urban legend, possibly cooked up by church staffpersons who didn’t like cleaning up the mess after weddings.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the bill didn’t pass, though it did make national headlines and bring attention to the plight of wild birds left to contend with human-constructed traditions. Today, the myth lives on, but a little sleuthing will point any bird-lover toward the facts: rice is nice, even for our feathered friends!
The tradition of tossing rice at newly married couples started long before Representative Schmidle brought it before the public lens. The ritual is believed to have originated in pre-Christian agrarian societies, when the harvest was strongly correlated to fertility, growth, and abundance.
Scholars suggest that the rite of tossing grains was intended to bestow the blessing of fruitfulness upon newly marrieds, with the subtext implying that more children meant more help with the sowing, growing, and harvesting of food. But it also implied a general sense of good luck and prosperity, with some cultures believing that the grains would even offer protection from malevolent supernatural forces and the evil eye.
To Toss or Not to Toss
Now that you know rice is safe for birds and it could potentially bring you good luck on your big day, are you considering including this tradition in your celebration? If so, confirm with your venue beforehand that it is, in fact, OK to make a big, rice-y mess, and ask exactly who will be responsible for clean-up (because you can’t expect that the birds got the memo about rice being safe for snacking!)
And before settling on this one grain out of all the incredible possibilities, consider your options. Not only are other grains a perfectly suitable option (looking at you, oatmeal!), but there are many other creative ways to mimic the ritual that might better reflect who you are, your sense of humor, and the spirit and flavor you want to bring to your wedding. Want some ideas to get the creative juices flowing? We’ve got ‘em. Read on for some of our favorites.
8 festive alternatives to the traditional rice toss
1. Flower petals
Lavender, rose, and calendula flower petals are just a few of the colorful and fragrant possibilities to toss solo or as a mix for a colorful and 100% biodegradable confetti. Preparing little bundles makes a great group project at a wedding shower, or you can buy prefab cones and sachets on Etsy.
2. Bird seed
You know what birds like more than rice? Bird seed. This is also an affordable option for couples who want a festive send off with a budget-friendly price tag. Check with your local pet supply store to find out what local birds prefer, and get ready to make the local wildlife very happy!
There’s something fun and playful about blowing bubbles. It’s interactive, kids love it (and so do adults), and it adds a magical element to the send-off ritual. Making your own is easy with cruelty-free dish soap, and you can avoid plastic by buying ready-to-blow bubbles packaged in aluminum, like these.
4. Eco confetti
Sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn’t! Confetti made from cornstarch begins to break down when it makes contact with water (so not great for a rainy-day wedding), making it an environmentally safe choice. This option even comes in a compostable bag and recycled cardboard box.
Nighttime weddings set the stage for a bit of drama, and hand-held sparklers help bring it. Depending on the size of your sparkler, the lightshow will last between 35 seconds and three minutes, and while they’re not the most eco-friendly option, sparklers made with bamboo sticks are more sustainable than those made with wire.
Those little puffballs that appear after a dandelion has bloomed are called “pappuses,” and though sending their seeds afloat on your wedding day requires delicate harvesting skills and good timing (May and June is their sweet spot), it’s doable and definitely exudes #naturevibes!
7. Other grains
Who says you can’t toss oats, fenugreek, or freekeh at your wedding? No one, that’s who! So if you’re a big fan of barley or a quinoa connoisseur, make that your tossing grain of choice. And if you’re a fan of DIY projects and want to coordinate your grains to your wedding colors, use homemade dyes made from beets (pink), kale (green), or turmeric (yellow) to tint your grains naturally.
There’s a saying that goes, “Ring the bells with joy and laughter and wish them a happily ever after,” and what could be more festive at a wedding than a cacophony of bells and chimes clanging away? Pick them up for pennies at thrift stores and decorate them with ribbons for a sweet souvenir your guests can take home with them.
Want more vegan weddings?
You’re going to love our Great Big Vegan Wedding Idea Book!