Taking Care of the Community with Food

How is the people intensive business giving back to the people?

Sayoni Bhaduri

The rat race is real. Urban population across the world is rushing towards progress at a break-neck speed that we have lost touch with the agrarian nature. Seasonality, fresh produce and home cooked meals have been replaced by convenience, processed food and incessant dining out.  This dining out also results in an incredible amount of food waste.  Did you know that according to the United Nations, food worth Rs 88,000 crore is wasted annually in India?

The dichotomy is such, according to Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 670 million adults and 120 million girls and boys (5-19 years) are obese, and over 40 million children under 5 are overweight, while over 820 million people suffer from hunger. World Food Day, celebrated on October 16 aim at addressing this issue.

Feed the People

It’s the big players, the food and beverage industry, that’s the largest generator of food waste. Restaurants and caterers concur that they do not have the bandwidth to reach out to people in need, with the excess produce. In a country where more than 4,500 children die a day due to hunger as per UNICEF India, this seems like a criminal waste. This is where organisations such as Feeding India and Robin Hood Army come into the picture. These non-profit organisations take up the onus of collecting and then distributing the food to those in need.

Feeding India was set up when the young founder Ankit Kawatra discovered that an unprecedented amount of food was getting wasted at a big fat Indian wedding. Back in 2014, 23-year-old Kawatra quit his cushy job to set up Feeding India in 2014. Today, with more than 2000 volunteers across India, the NGO has helped more than 8 lakh people. 

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Similarly, Robin Hood Army has tied up with 25 hospitality partners. “All of them give us food on a dedicated day once a week apart from calling us up whenever they have any excess food left. We get food sufficient to serve close to 200 people from each one of these partners,” explains Uma Chilakamarri, City Head, Hyderabad chapter of Robin Hood Army. Close to 9.5 lakh people have benefited from various programmes from the day Robin Hood Army started in Hyderabad.

Challenges are aplenty, for both restaurants and NGOs, from finding genuine partners to understanding how the distribution functions. But once that initial roadblock is overcome, Chilakamarri says, restaurants began to contact them when they had excess food, “especially after a wedding or private function, quite late in the night,” she says. In such cases, distribution becomes challenging, so they reach out to government hospitals to distribute the food.

Apart from full stomachs, these set-ups ensure that the beneficiaries also have a means of subsistence—so the dependence on charity is eventually removed. “Collecting and donating medicines to AIDS patients, distributing cupcakes made by home bakers and conducting medical camps at old age homes are some of the activities that we do on a regular basis,” adds Chilakamarri. Lucknow-based Ehsas Foundation runs a Food Bank based on the same philosophy. Shachi Singh, the founder and general secretary of the NGO explains that it is shocking how many men, women and children are on the streets because they don’t have enough to eat. “Hunger should never be a reason for homelessness and destitution,” she says.

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Next step to such a food distribution model is to expand from restaurants to corporates and their facility managers to divert their excess food. A comparative new kid in the space is Mumbai-based Roti Bank, started in 2017 under the mentorship of former Director General of Police, Maharashtra, Mr. D. Sivanandhan. They have successfully collected excess food from weddings, events, hotels, cafeterias, housing societies and deliver it to thousands of hungry people who live in slums or on the footpath. They have tied up with Drona Foundation, Dharavi to provide daily meals to the children, as well as the relatives of cancer patients at Tata Memorial Hospital. Mumbai Roti Bank has dedicated vans pick up food and redistribute it promptly.

But for the movement to progress at a faster pace it is important that the F&B industry and we as citizens don't throw away food. The food each one of us knowingly or unknowingly wastes, can be another person's meal. Our parents’ reprimands to not waste food because millions of people go hungry in the world is an unfortunate reality.

God's Work

When it comes a singular entity which has given food the importance in the overall well being for a human being, it has to be ISKCON. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement, despite a religious foundation, has the world’s largest vegetarian food distribution program serving millions of meals daily, with projects in over 60 countries under the Hare Krishna Food for Life.

The philosophy, according to ISKCON, is based on the Vaishnava culture of charity and the distribution of pure food to all. The project started in 1972 and since then has become a revival of the ancient culture of hospitality and a belief in the equality of all beings. 

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In India, Food for Life has the largest programs where more than 1.2 million school children are a served multi-course hot, healthy, and tasty lunch six days a week in cities throughout the sub-continent, through a partnership with the Indian government for the ‘Mid-day Meal’ scheme. The program is locally known as Annamrita, actually facilitates many poor children to attend school.

Food for Life volunteers have been in action in the aftermath of natural disasters and wars such as the wars in Bosnia and Chechnya, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Typhoon Haiyan, and Hurricane Katrina.

Community TLC

In July 2018, Mumbai-based café Poetry by Love & Cheesecake ran The Coffee Exchange—a programme in association with Salaam Bombay Foundation, where, the restaurant offered a complimentary cup of coffee to guests who donated children’s books. At the end of the month, the books were sent to the Salaam Bombay Foundation to further their mission of child empowerment through education.

The importance of giving back to the community is an idea that is being seamlessly integrated by enterprises. Mumbai-based The Bombay Canteen, since its establishment has been hosting Independence Day Daawat; this year will be the fourth edition. Sameer Seth, partner at the restaurant shares the philosophy: “In 2015, we began with The Bombay Canteen we wanted to celebrate India in every sense of the word. Independence Day, for example, and the celebration has changed over the years. The one way we decided it makes sense for us to celebrate the day was to giving back to the community and our way was education.” 

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For the first two Independence Daawats, they tied up with Teach for India. In 2017 and this year they’ve associated with Miracle Foundation. The Daawat, Seth explains, and for the lunch service on Independence Day no reservations are taken, only walk-in are allowed. The food remains quintessential The Bombay Canteen—exploring and expressing the vast variety of regional Indian cuisine. 

There is no cost or price mentioned for the menu. Patrons pay according to what they think the meal truly deserves. “We found their fundraising idea very appealing. To be able to present our work in front of some many people on one platform gives us immense happiness. Each person coming for the lunch is resonated with The Bombay Canteen's support for us and donated wholeheartedly. There could not be a better way to connect and raise funds at the same time,” says Nivedita DasGupta, India Country Head, Miracle Foundation. The daring move paid off in 2017, The Bombay Canteen raised Rs 7.3 lakh for Miracle Foundation that raised from 540 guests. “It was a fun filled day where we and Miracle Foundation representatives talk to the guests making them aware of the concept and the end goal,” Seth adds. Miracle Foundation India brings life-changing care to the children without homes. They've created a measurable, repeatable and systematic method to ensure that children are educated, fed, loved and safe. 

This year as we celebrate our 72nd Independence Day, The Bombay Canteen hopes to exceed expectations. They’ve reached out to members of various communities for a collaboration such as stand-up comic Rohan Joshi, entrepreneur Harsh Goenka, and fashion designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla to share their family recipes for the Independence Daawat. “We would like to connect with the people who come and attend the lunch event. Thereby, our reach in the society becomes wider. It also adds credibility to us, a non-profit working in the space of orphaned and vulnerable children,” adds Das Gupta of her expectations. 

Hoping to impact the next generation of hospitality professionals, The Canteen Class is a year old initiative where the restaurant shares real world knowledge to students. “We do not just want to donate money and be done with our responsibility to the community, it is more to put in time and effort. This philosophy is something we’ve found common with Miracle Foundation,” sums up Seth. 

In contrast to The Bombay Canteen’s method to raise funds is Food With Benefits (FWB) by Cellar Door Hospitality. What started as a way to create a bond amongst the chef and food community evolved into a charity event to raise funds for the lesser privileged. “It started off as a fun way to gather chefs who normally wouldn't be able to cook together and ended up becoming a regular ticketed event. It also gave us and the chefs a chance to give back to the community,” says Nachiket Shetye, founder, Cellar Door Hospitality.  

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Food With Benefit events are not organised with the aim to turn a profit, and this is what causes participants to shed egos and build camaraderie, “The line-ups of chefs and professionals we've managed to bring together is unprecedented, and they have the opportunity to support a cause they care about while doing what they do best,” adds Shetye.

Their last event had food industry veterans such as Rahul Akerkar, AD Singh, Riyaaz Amlani and Vithal Kamat cooking up a storm for diners. “Customers often tell us that extravagant dining experiences aren't a norm for them, but they’re interested in FWB due to the charity. So far, we've contributed to 11 charities. More than just the financial assistance, FWB also helps spread awareness about our partner organisations in the non-profit space,” Shetye says, concluding that the F&B sector employs people from all spectrum of society. This offers hospitality professionals a unique perspective into the lives of those less fortunate than themselves. Especially in a field where one is trained to be more attuned to other peoples' needs, there is a strong synergy between the realms of hospitality and non-profit.

Images: Shutterstock.com


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