ISKCON Annamrita Mumbai

By Sanjeev Nayyar | 2013

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I had heard about ISKCON''s mid-day meal scheme but honestly decided to see what they do only after the death of 23 children in Chapra Bihar, 2013. A close friend knew Shri Radha Krishna Das, the Managing Program Director of the ISKCON Food Relief Foundation. So on a rainy Saturday afternoon went to meet Shri Das at the ISKCON Mandir in Mumbai''s Chowpatty area. I was not sure what Shri Das would be like, was pleasantly surprised to meet a very dedicated, articulate person with great clarity in thought. You see an overview of the Tardeo kitchen, in Central Mumbai, where mid-day meals for app sixty thousand children are prepared daily.

This is a North to South view of kitchen. It is spotlessly clean. All staff wear a hair cap, hand gloves and safety shoes. "The genesis of ISKCON Food Relief Foundation''s purpose dates back to 1974, when Srila Prabhupada (the founder of International Society for Krishna Consciousness) was looking out from his room at an ISKCON temple in Mayapura (West Bengal). He noticed a group of village children fighting with street dogs over scraps of food. Shocked and saddened by what he saw, Srila Prabhupada turned to his disciples and said, “No one within a ten mile radius of our temples should go hungry”.

Kitchen is huge rectangle shape. Left side is kitchen that you saw. Right is veggie and grain storage area + small office. U see potatoes, carrots, ginger, vegetable etc. Far end of pic is a Cold Storage. "When the Government of India launched a strategic program in 1995 called the Midday Meal Scheme to fight two of the most pressing problems of India – hunger and illiteracy, ISKCON Food Relief Foundation saw a great opportunity for providing children with the right nutrition to support their education". So foundation was set up in 2004.

Storage area where on left is rice in bags and right are containers in which food is sent to schools. "The Midday Meal Project is being implemented under the name of ''annamrita'' meaning food as pure as nectar." When you think of nutritious food you think what a mother serves to her child and ie what annamrita stands for. Food cooked by your Mother is always tastier because it has lots of love in it. I saw a similar bhavna or feeling of love in the eyes of all those who worked in this kitchen. The ambience is spiritual and the kitchen hi-tech. Each kitchen cost app Rs 3.5 crs. Rental for premises and overheads are extra.

In this collection of pics we show you operations of Tardeo kitchen and visit to Rice Cleaning Plant. U see a Boiler ie used to generate Steam. Process is water supplied by Muncipality first gets purified by a water softner after which it enters the boiler that you see. From here the steam goes to cooking vessels.

Right to left are 4 cooking vessels called Cauldron. Cooks stand on an platform as you see. The menu on day of visit was Khichdi for which ingredients were-water boils, add veggies/lentils, add masalas thru tadka, mixing (as you see a devotess doing), boiling, release valve, fill in steel utensils, seal and send in van for delivery.

In this pic you see a devotee adding TADKA. When Pulao is the menu then boil water, add rice, boil, draw into tray, mix veggies, steel utensil, seal and van. Mid-day meal (MDM) scheme was started in 1995 by Govt of India to motivate children to come to school. Today 13 crs students are fed under this scheme (1-5th standard) and secondary (6-8th standard). MDM is run in muncipal and zilla parishad schools and private aided schools as approved by the govt. Total govt outlay in 2013-14 is app Rs 13,000 crs or about $ 2 billion.

From the cooking vessel a pipe is used to empty the rice into a huge tray. It is piping hot as you see. The way the MDM operates is that rice and wheat is given by the Central Govt while cooking charges are given by the State Govt or Nodal Authority appointed by it. The menu is decided by the nodal authority in this case Mumbai Muncipal Corporation. In Maharashtra menu is khichdi, dal rice, sambar, pulao. In North it is roti, sabzi, dal. In South it is rice sambar, curd rice.

Once rice pours into the tray vegetables are added as you see, idea is to make the food more nutritious. All data is with reference to what happens in Mumbai where this kitchen is located. Govt gives 100 gms of grain (rice) for primary school child and 150 gms for secondary school child. Rice received from Government goes through a elaborate cleaning process which you shall see later. Against a actual cost of Rs 5-6, the foundation receives cooking charges of Rs 3.02 per meal for primary section.

Showels are used to mix the rice with veggies for preparing pulao. Entire process is followed like it is on auto-pilot and kitchen very clean. It has got ISO 22000 certificate. After the shoot had the pulao, loved it. Not had such tasty and hot pulao for years.

U see devotees removing steel containers for packing of the pulao. As you can it is spotlessly clean and utensil is shining as if this pic was for a VIM Bar advertisement.

Shovel is used to fill pulao in steel utensils. It is locked there and then as you see in pic. ISKCON Food Relief Foundation works in 8 states, has 20 branches and feeds 12 lakh children daily. From this kitchen about 60,000 children are fed daily, in Maharashtra number is app 2,75,000. States are Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana.

Once container is filled, closed it is sealed as you see a devotee doing in this picture. Schools have been instructed not to serve food if seal is tampered and report ASAP. In Maharashtra ISKCON operates kitchens in Tardeo Mumbai, Mira road near Mumbai, Palghar, Wada, Aurangabad MIDC, Nigdi (near Pune).

Seals are of 3 colors ie yellow, red and green. These are color codes depending on quantity. This is entrance to kitchen area. Instructions that you see above containers are head gear, devotees to wash their hands before they return to work. Kitchen has a very professional and hi-tech set up. What distinguishes it from a similar kitchen is the love and bhavna (feeling) with which devotees cook and pack the food for India''s children.

Containers are then put in vehicles to be distributed to the schools. Delivery to schools happens twice a day, once around 8.30 to 9.30 am and return to serve lunch at 2.30 pm. To get food ready by 8.30 am the kitchen starts as early as 1 am.

Every container is accompanied by a serving spoon which is washed, sterlised and packed in polythene bag. U see a devotee packing spoon. Tardeo kitchen supplies meals to 415 schools and covers 60,000 children. This includes Urdu medium schools as well. All children are treated equally.

I returned to kitchen to see vegetables being cut with machine (left of pic) and channa being fried for adding to the pulao. All vegetables are first cleaned in a Aqua Chlor solution, washed with fresh water, cut and then used for cooking. Nutritional value of khichdi is enhanced by dal, chana, rajma, vegetables all cooked in different spices. Found has to be tasty or else children will not like it. ISKCON makes every effort to make nutritional as well.

The first meal was pulao, now show you making of khichdi. The tray that was full of pulao earlier is now being cleaned and made ready for the next meal. How does the kitchen check food quality? Batch-wise control is kept, temperature control, taste checked and all is recorded. A sample container is kept in kitchen and temperature checked 3 hours later to ascertain if the food is still hot.

Vegetable that you see being cut earlier is washed and then emptied into the cooking vessel as you see a devotee doing.

Khichdi ready to deliver. Post shoot a devotee served me khichdi. Honestly remembered my late Mother Dr Usha Nayar whilst having it. Taste was home like.

Khichdi is released from each cooking vessel into containers that are placed on a steel conveyor. Someone has thought thru the kitchen design very carefully. Efficient way of working.

Right of pic you see khichdi being released into containers, left is the conveyor, end of conveyor devotee picks up and gives to another devotee where seals are put and then into delivery vehicle. Note staff wearing head gear, have hand gloves, safety shoes. And it is not they did this for the shoot. I intentionally landed up about 20 minutes before the shoot and observed them silently, they did not know the purpose of my visit.

Every outsider who visits the kitchen has to wear apron, head gear and santized slippers all provided by the kitchen. U see me outside kitchen area. Behind glass frame is kitchen area. Most of those who work here are devotees of ISKCON and Sri Krishna. For them this work is out of love and devotion to Sri Krishna and ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada.

During conversation with the Managing Program Director of the Foundation I told him about stories of how dirty grains supplied by the Govt could be. With humility and pride he told me that all grains received from the Food Corporation of India''s godowns go thru an exhaustive cleaning process before they are received at the kitchen. I visited one such cleaning plant to see for myself - some pics. On receipt grains are kept on wooden containers, fumigated (kills insects) and covered with black plastic as you see on right of pic.

Next steps are Aspirator, Destoner, Aspirator gain, polishing, Color Sortex and packaging. U see pics of Aspirator whose function is to remove dust. In waste saw paper and lots of dust.

Destoner works like a seeve (chaani) to remove stones from the grain. Container fills up with stone. Brown n black color that you see in the hand are stones sorted out by this machine.

You see Aspirator two where very small rice grains get separated. Separated and good quality rice falls into container in front of pic from where it goes for Polishing. Not shown pic of polishing machine but what it also does is to ensure that no dust or insect is attached to the rice.

The rice is then taken to a height from where it falls into this Color Sortex machine. It has three cameras (that you see in centre of pic) which separate white rice from any other rice (white rice is fit for usage).

Cleaned rice is kept in silos and then filled into bags as you see. It is then sent to the respective kitchens. As I reflect on the good work done by the Foundation, wonder whether it can be replicated on a larger scale nation wide. Constraints are many - one is investment in kitchen of app Rs 3.5 crs, two is funding the gap between cooking charges recd from the Govt and actually spent. Movements needs Donors. With the renewed focus on Corporate Social Responsibility, hope corporates take to funding of mid-day meals in a bigger way. Corporates should be comfortable working with organizations like ISKCON who combine professionalism and devotion seamlessly. To know more Click Here

Seeing the amount of dirt removed from Rice during the cleaning process I requested for original rice and wastage removed at each step to be placed on a table. Left to right in front is rice recd from Govt godown, next is dust removed from aspirator 1, stone removed from Destoner, very fine grains of rice removed from Aspirator 2, dust removed during polishing, polished rice. In the centre of pic in tray is the rice ie eventually supplied to the ISKCON kitchen.

Left of pic is rice as recd from govt godown and right of pic is rice sent to ISKCON kitchen. Note the difference. Like ISKCON a number of Mahila Mandals also supply mid-day meals to schools. Am sure they clean the rice but question is whether a Mahila Mandal has the organizational bandwidth and funding to clean the grain like is done currently. May be the Govt can outsource the grain cleaning activity to a third party for what is supplied to Mahila Mandals. I support Mahila Mandals serving food, a bit of support may help.

Honestly the whole experience of seeing how food is prepared for thousands of children made me so happy. I was happier to know that it cost only Rs 900/ to sponsor a child's mid-day meals for an entire year. If you like to sponsor a child Click Here to View

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