ISKCON Food Relief Foundation (Annamrita) Gurgaon Kitchen Visit
Nowadays it is fashionable to self certify ourselves as Traveler, Photographer, Wanderer, Connosieur of arts, an aficionado of God knows what and Foodie, etc. I have always taken these claims ( including my own that I may have uttered in a carb-induced coma) with a pinch of salt and some red hot chili peppers. While in today’s hedonistic times’ food has been trivialized to a social media post clicked to perfection, totally forgetting our sacred tradition of food being Naivedya meaning’ Offering to God’. Even today in most Indian homes food is first offered to Gods and then only consumed. Unfortunately, still, there are millions of kids in India ( and around the world ) that do not have the privilege of enjoying nourishing food due to poverty.
Kids were considered either a liability or a means to add a source of income the moment they were old enough to work in poor families across the country. This led to either not joining in the school or dropping out early to start working. While I am no historian but a quick search on Wikipedia informs me that in 1962 -63 Thiru K. Kamaraj, then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, introduced it first in Chennai and later extended it to all districts of Tamil Nadu. There were many advantages of the Mid-day meal scheme as it led to increased attendance to the school and reduction in dropouts as for many kids this was the only proper meal of the day they received.
Over time the scheme was reinvented many loopholes were plugged in and today we find this scheme not only in Tamil Nadu but all over India and also being replicated in many developing countries in Africa and South America also. One of the initiatives and improvement that was introduced to the mid-day meal scheme was to introduce professionally managed hygienic kitchen partners like ISKON Food Relief Foundation (Annamrita). Earlier each school was managing its own meals which led to increased cost as well as many other problems like non-availability of staff, food being cooked by untrained staff, hygiene issues etc. In comes not for profit organization like Annamrita that is an offshoot of ISKCON.
I had the privilege of visiting the base kitchen of Food Relief Foundation (Annamrita) in Gurgaon, where they make nutritious, hygienic Mid Day Meal for the schools they serve and ensure that the food reaches the kids in time for there lunch hot and without touched by human hands once the cooking process starts.
Food Relief Foundation (Annamrita) is not-for-profit, non-religious, non-sectarian public charitable organization who has been serving 1.2 million mid-day meals everyday through its 20 kitchens across India among their network of 6500 schools, out of which 250K nutritious meals are served every day in 1900+ schools via 4 kitchens (Faridabad, Gurgaon, Palwal, and Kurukshetra) in the state of Haryana only.
Started in 2004, the organization has a presence in 7 states namely – Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and West Bengal. The organization in association with schools is consistently working towards improving the literacy rate especially in district level schools in these tier 2 and 3 cities via these mid-day meal programme. The organization has been at the helm of initiatives such as Zero Hunger Haryana which have received immense support from the public as well as the government. Mr. Dhananjay Krishna Das is the Vice – President, North India, Annamrita.
They are serving 72883 students across 383 schools in Faridabad and 51486 students across 436 schools in Palwal respectively. A combine of 1.24k meals is served every day in the schools of Faridabad and Palwal (Haryana).
This base kitchen of Annamrita in Gurgaon is managed by professionals who have joined the organization as they believe in the message and mission of Food Relief Organisation. All the raw material is locally sourced and the staples like rice, daal and all the spices are procured from FSSAI ( Food Safety and Standards Authority of India ) certified vendors. As a first step, all the food is cleaned by some of the local women who work with the organization. This is the step where any possible impurities in the rice / dry fruit etc. are manually removed just like you will do at your home before making the food.
After this stage, the actual cooking start and this is where the untouched with human hands process starts. All the employees and visitors to the kitchen need to make sure they do not touch any of the food. All employees wear gloves and caps to ensure the highest levels of hygiene. The food cooking process follows a standard recipe and is made in big industrial scale vessels that can make meals for hundreds of kids simultaneously. Once the food is cooked it is packed into large steel containers and sealed using a zip tie. Now, this seal is broken only by the school teacher who is in charge at the school for which the meal is prepared. The teacher first has a sample of the food and once they approve the taste and the quality of food then only it is served to the kids. So the child eating the food is the first one who actually touches the food after it is cooked.
I am not writing about all this based on some brochure or website or PR releases, I actually traveled with one of the vehicles that deliver food to one of the schools in Old Gurgaon and actually saw the process with my own eyes. I also interacted with some of the students and asked them what was their favorite part about the meal. Almost all of them said ” Kheer ” well I could not agree more as I too love Kheer 🙂
I along with other bloggers and the staff of Annamrita also had a sampling of the meal prepared that day and I can say happily that it was absolutely delicious and I actually asked for seconds 🙂
No matter how tasty the meal is if you have it every day you are bound to get bored of it, so to avoid that every day there is a different menu served in the lunch. Some of the other meals that are served by the Gurgaon branch of Annamrita are Roti with Subzee / Daal / Pulao / Khichdee etc. I really liked the Pulao recipe that was on display in the base kitchens so brought it home and sharing it with you to make Pulao.
How You & I can contribute to fighting hunger?
Annamrita is the first in the mass meal category in the world to be accredited ISO and HACCP certification. Here, the food is prepared with the most advanced techniques and machinery like in-house designed chapati machine which produces 20,000 chapatis every hour, high-speed cutting/peeling/chopping/pulverizing machines and high-end boilers for steam cooking. These techniques and machinery ensure that mid-day meal gets prepared and reaches the school on time while it’s still hot and fresh.
The word “Annamrita” means ‘food as pure as nectar’ and Annamrita justifies the same through its nutritious food full of mother’s warmth to the underprivileged children. It not only feeds the children, but it also provides them with food with good moral values and ethics. Positive thoughts, balanced diet, and a bright future, that’s what Annamrita wishes for every child.
The meals that IFRF – Annamrita serves in schools for the midday meal program is only part of the activities they do. While it is subsidized by the government, it is by no means enough to cover the costs of running a professional organization that meets global standards.
For as little as INR 750 you can cover the cost of one month of the meal of a child in a school. There are other ways also you can contribute e.g creating awareness about the program and initiatives taken by ISKCON Annamrita. If you work for a corporate you can ask your CSR ( Corporate Social Responsibility ) team to talk to them and see how your organization can contribute. Some of the ideas are given on their website here>> CSR
I must say it was a wonderful day I spent seeing the base kitchen of IFRF Annamrita and actually visiting one of the schools where these meals were being served. Most of these kids were the same age as my daughter and I could feel the joy in there eyes when the food was served to them. It was a lovely experience talking to the kids after they had enjoyed their lunch and were a little perked up after having their food.
If you would like to volunteer/contribute/ know more please check their website here >> Food Relief Organisation You can also write an email to > firstname.lastname@example.org