India Blog: An Idea for a hungry world

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Lassi with Lavina India Blog:

An Idea for a Hungry World

 

An Indian feast

An Indian feast – Photo: Lavina Melwani

 

Feasting and Fasting

I’ve been on a month-long visit to India and everywhere I go, there is food, food and more food. We’ve eaten so much at people’s homes, tasted so much of the famous Indian hospitality. We’ve been to parties and clubs and restaurants and always there is abundance, a surfeit of food.

It’s hard to forget that we are in a country of great extremes – cities, towns and villages where there is great hunger – and great feasts.  You are at a wedding party with tables laden with festive food – and outside there are children scrimmaging in the garbage cans for something to eat. At the crowded bus-stands you see people of modest means and you wonder what they had for lunch or what their dinner was going to be. How hungry were they and how much rice or daal was left in their bins at home? When did that young boy selling newspapers in the avalanche of evening traffic last eat?

The Doggie Bag Syndrome

While in Mumbai I stayed at the CCI Club and the meals were always reasonably priced and large portions. We could hardly finish what we ordered and at the end of the lunch I had pangs at the considerable leftovers. Could one ask for takeout and give it to someone who needed it? Would they give me a container or would they frown upon this practice? In New York it’s absolutely your birth-right to ask for a doggie bag, whether you have a dog or not. Can you do it in India? I wasn’t sure and didn’t venture to try.

Wouldn’t it be great if all the leftover food at these fine eateries could be distributed to those who really needed it? I think there are some efforts by the dabbawallas of Mumbai to do that and there may be efforts by others to duplicate NY’s City Harvest in Indian cities. But it would be great if doggie bags became the norm and folks just gave the plentiful leftovers to the many hungry people you encounter on Indian streets – the urchins, the panhandlers and the ragpickers who probably haven’t had a square meal.

Well, I just came across this story in HuffPo about a Canadian restaurateur who has taken this food dilemma in his own hands – and is feeding whoever needs to be fed. Indian Fusion, a Canadian restaurant in Edmonton, Alberta, has a sign on its backdoor that invites anyone who is in need of a meal to come inside and eat for free:.

 

Free food for the needy at Canadian Restaurant

Free food for the needy

The Pain of Not Having Food

“I have seen enough hunger in the past,” Parkash Chhibber, Indian Fusion’s owner and chef, told The Huffington Post. “I know the pain of not having food.”

Read this heartwarming story – here and maybe you could replicate it in your own life! After all, ideas are free – and global.

One way to do it is to pay for a needy person to have a free meal at some restaurant. I hope to try this at least once before I leave – imagine the pleasure of a hungry person with no money in his pockets who gets to sit down to a satisfying meal. That would be the true meaning of Indian hospitality – and the reality of the Sanskrit wisdom – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the whole world is one family.

What do you think? Would appreciate your thoughts on this.

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About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

16 Comments

  1. What a lovely post, Lavina. If only we could deal with the massive epidemics of food waste and hunger in one swift blow. If people were not afraid of possible repercussions, it might be easier to do, than now – when everyone is fearful of wrongful accusations or lawsuits.

  2. Nandita, isn’t that the truth! Most restaurants are reluctant to do good that may get them into trouble, and so daily vast amounts of food are thrown away. Wish there was a solution where food could be given to those who need it most, rather than dumped into a garbage can to add to our environmental woes. When I was in Dubai a few years back, a niece handed over a box of uneaten pizza slices to an Indian cleaning staff in the mall – he happily accepted it.

  3. A lovely, insightful post, Lavina. It would be great if people in India also imitated our “doggie bag” habit and the restaurant/eateries catered to it! Most diners can’t fathom taking leftovers home and so waste it. It’s still a culture of ‘what will people think’!

  4. A comment via Facebook from Niketa Bhatia

    I read about a pizzeria where you can pay for a slice for the needy. In America we waste so much food. Go to a party and see particularly the kids throwing away plates full of food from a buffet. At schools I see kids taking a small bite out of an apple or sandwich and throwing the rest out. Such a shame. I think this is a great idea especially for India!!

  5. Thanks Surekha, it comes straight from the heart. It is disturbing to see plenty and hunger in an embrace. I think slowly the doggie bag habit is catching on and I did see some family members have their leftovers packed up. It is still unusual though. I think best would be to have half packed up before you start – usually the portions are huge and that way you’ll eat a balanced meal and have enough to eat the next day or even give it away!

  6. Shaun Jayachandran via Facebook

    Love the sign – however wouldn’t the intended audience both need to be literate and furthermore educated in English?

    Working in the education space in India, I can say the latter especially is typically reserved for the more privileged.

  7. Niketa Bhatia, I agree there’s so much food which could do so much good. I have seen so much wastage at celebrations and eateries in India – if only this could be a co-ordinated effort. Will share your comments on Lassi with Lavina

  8. Shaun Jayachandran, this sign is not in India – it’s in Canada at an Indian restaurant – I had just built this idea into my tale of eating out in India where there is so much need for some sharing of food that is left over.

  9. Thanks for writing about this and bringing attention to a very important topic. Hunger is a big problem in India and its heart breaking to think that many children in India have to worry about how they will arrange their next meal.

  10. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Mamta – food is a major issue in India, as we all know. There are many smart people too and resources too – so if there’s the will we can find solutions, I’m sure.

  11. Via Google +
    India Community – Food, Health and Lifestyle

    king khan suleiman +1’d
    Dk Netam +1’d and commented
    Ramji Sharma +1’d
    Sanjay Tiwari2016 +1’d
    Pandora Blakely +1’d
    Shivaji Patil +1’d

  12. The food looks very good – glad to hear you’re having a good time in India. I always ask for a doggy bag and present it to the children begging at crossroads or selling plastic dogs or flowers with nodding heads. Eateries do contribute to food waste and it would be wonderful if there was a system for distributing it. Love this restaurant in Edmonton that offers free meals to the hungry.

  13. Kalpanaa, I commend you for doing that. It just takes a bit of pre-planning and I think all of us, especially in urban India, could do this and make the maximum use of our meal. In the US, it’s sometimes hard to find hungry people right outside the restaurant. We do take our doggie bags home and enjoy the food the next day. It often tastes better and at least doesn’t end up in landfills. I like the idea some people have of asking the restaurant to serve them only half a portion and packing the rest before they get started, thus saving calories too!

  14. On a recent Chicago trip a visit to Giordanos for their famous deep dish pizza was a must for as my mom a certified pizza lover was in tow. We skipped appetizers and ordered the smallest possible pie – not NY by the slice right :) ( Aside- slice – Isn’t that a healthy concept )
    We managed to eat 3 maybe 4 or 6 of the gooey cheesy heavy tomato sauce laden slices I think and I got our left-overs boxed and was quite relieved to have handed it to a homeless gentleman who was wisely camped fairly close as we exited. It was just shocking to see how much food is ordered and completely wasted in the U.S.
    I observed the behavior of folks at tables around us – ordering appetizers and large cokes knowing fully well that there was no way in the world anyone in their right minds could consume all of the pizza they were about to be served!
    Yes, you can take it home but I didn’t quite see that – most were tourists likely staying at hotels anyway.
    IHOP is another chain that seemingly unwittingly makes people waste food- unsure why but it happens here all the time. Breakfast potatoes, stacks of pancakes cut into and only a quarter eaten, Toast thrown away, not to mention the legions of condiments -milk / creamers / sugars / butter etc. thrown away. The staff are not exactly thrifty as they are not encouraged to be that way. They don’t want to be bothered so if you ask for milk or cream they bring you 10 of the little plastic thingy’s instead of 2-3.
    Buffet patrons are notorious offenders and on another occasion I observed just all out madness at a restaurant that claims to be the largest in North America in Canada.
    All you can waste really … sad really.
    Social responsibility, food habits, potion sizes? Entitlement ? Constitutional rights?
    Just because you can afford something doesn’t mean you load up a plate and eat a fraction of what’s on it and go refill another. Many feel entitled to do so.

    Btw- I thought there was an organization in then Madras that collected food from the various five star hotels at night and distributed it across various orphanages. This was way back in the 90’s or earlier

  15. Saga, people are the same the world over and you become aware of this when you stand on a buffet line! I am constantly amazed at how much food is discarded daily and how much hunger there is in the world.