For the past four years, the LF Epicurean Guild Awards (LFEGA) has set a precedent for the future of food, restaurants and establishments in India by leading from the front. Staying cognizant of the times we live in, the aim of LFEGA is to recognise initiatives and kitchens employing the differently-abled or simply providing an opportunity to the marginalised as a way of life. Since 2019, the Best Inclusive Establishments category has been recognising institutions that provide a safe working environment with equal opportunity for people of all genders, economic backgrounds, languages and cultures.
The fourth edition of LFEGA brought to the fore a list of restaurants across India that are driving change—from creating awareness, supporting social causes such as skill development to creating job opportunities and fighting social stigma:
Future is Female
Image: Writer's Cafe, Facebook
According to the National Crime Records Bureau report 2018, 240 acid attack
cases were recorded across the country. Out of the 240 victims, 57% were women. Irrespective of the controversy
surrounding Chhapaak, starring actor Deepika Padukone, the movie gave acid-attack
survivor Laxmi Agarwal and her journey more visibility and brought hope to other acid
attack survivors. As part of the film promotions, the team conducted a ‘social
experiment’ highlighting the easy access to acid in different parts of the
country. This, despite the 2013 Supreme Court ban on over-the-counter sale of
acid in India. According to the same ruling, acid can only be sold to an
individual above the age of 18 years and with a valid photo identity card.
The challenge of addressing inequality and providing employment to such survivors is an ongoing one, but the picture is not all bleak. There are some establishments in the Indian F&B industry that are making great strides to create safe spaces for acid attack survivors. Taking the lead is
Writer’s Café in Chennai, one of the recipients of the Best Inclusive Establishments category at LFEGA 2020.
This bakery-cum-bookstore started in 2016 with the aim of re-introducing these survivors into society as self-sufficient, bread-winning individuals of their families, shares Tarun Mahadevan, Head of the Indian arm of operations under the parent, Cool Cream Milano (parent company of Writer’s Cafe). The café has been providing equal opportunity for survivors of acid attack, domestic abuse and fire accidents by training its employees in the art of baking and confectionery. “Every employee undergoes a rigorous three or four-month training process and because of the training provided, skill in the kitchen is not a requirement,” explains Mahadevan.
Affiliated to the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, a non-profit organisation, this one-of-a-kind café runs on a non-profit business model, wherein all the proceeds are shared between the women and Higginbothams, the bookstore chain housed within the cafe, which also donates to PCVC’s causes.
Image: Ishaara, Facebook
According to a study by the World Health Organization in 2016, about five
million Indian children suffered from hearing and speech impairment. Some reports
even suggest that deafness is the second most common disability, far more
common than loss of eyesight. Thanks to The Persons with Disabilities (Equal
Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 various
sectors and companies have been contributing towards building an inclusive
society such as Mumbai-based restaurant
Image: Kitty Su, Facebook
September 6, 2018 heralded a new era in
personal liberty when the apex court of India reversed an earlier judgement on
Section 377, decriminalising homosexuality and giving a fillip to gay rights
and liberties. Amongst the five petitioners that made this ruling possible were
chef Ritu Dalmia, hoteliers Aman Nath and Keshav Suri. That the hospitality
sector has been a forerunner in catering to the queer population is known. From
offering an LGBTQIA+ friendly environment to empowering the marginalised, this
sector has always been a flag-bearer of sorts.
Leading the way among them is
The LaLit Group. From introducing gender-neutral locker rooms for employees, rolling medical insurance policies for its LGBTQIA+ staff and their families to having a pride flag flying high in all the Lalit properties, the LaLit Group’s contribution cannot simply be ignored. The LaLiT group of hotels has also spoken about the importance of the 'pink economy', and regularly organises LGBT-inclusive events and sensitisation workshops. It is for this reason that its nightclub,
Kitty Suwas recognised as one of the Best Inclusive Establishments at LFEGA 2020. It was after the 2013 order, that Suri introduced special queer nights at Kitty Su. The club has since gone on to launch some of India’s most famous drag queens, including Rani Ko-HE-Nur.