Lyla Amini, MA Migration and Diaspora Studies, Persian
It’s no secret that the Hare Krishna lunch is served outside SOAS from Monday to Saturday. Dominique, the man frequently serving the meals, has become a familiar, almost integral presence on campus. He’s been coming to SOAS for more than 10 years, and the Hare Krishna lunch has been available at SOAS for about 20 years. Murmured exchanges, food scooped onto a plate, and off one goes with their lunch, appreciative perhaps of the free food that is a gesture in contrast to the otherwise grinding expense of living in London. But what is the story behind these meals, this organisation, and some of the people involved?
To begin, the food is cooked and distributed by Food for All, which is a charity associated with Hare Krishna. Hare Krishna, also known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), is a religious organisation within the Gaudiya Vaishnavite tradition, which is part of the larger Vaishnava denomination of Hinduism. Gaudiya Vaishnavites view Krishna as the supreme deity. ISKCON was founded in 1966 in New York City by Abhaya Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It now has a global following of millions.
One could claim that eating a Hare Krishna meal constitutes an act of resistance against systemic food waste.
A precept from Prabhupada is that, ‘No one within 10 miles of a temple should go hungry,’ and much of the guiding philosophy of Food for All correlates with religious principles. The free lunch program began on a university campus in New York to attract attention and interest to the organisation, but the programme has morphed beyond proselytising into the realm of food justice.
Food for All is the UK-based chapter of the free lunch program and has been operating since 1988, serving meals to a range of community members, including homeless people and students. On average, 500 to 700 people eat from the Hare Krishna rickshaw at SOAS daily. In Greater London, about 2,500 meals are distributed every day. The food is donated to the charity by stores such as Costco, Sainsbury’s, and Natco Food Service, and cooked by volunteers, followers and non-followers of Hare Krishna alike.
One could claim that eating a Hare Krishna meal is an act of resistance against systemic food waste. Food for All is situated use food that would otherwise be thrown out due to cosmetic imperfections, day-of expiry dates and various other reasons that prevent edible food from being sold. Every year in Britain, 18 million tonnes of consumable food ends up in landfills, a loss of around £23 billion annually. Those involved with Food for All readily engage with issues of food waste and environmentally conscious living, stemming from religious inspirations of vegetarianism virtues or otherwise.
We spoke to Dominique, Alex (lead cook at Food for All), and Peter (Director of Food for All), who all referenced principles of environmentalism and mutual respect for people, which they hope is embodied in the distribution of free meals and understood by the community. The Hare Krishna lunch is vegetarian (often vegan) and also halal, and kosher, so it’s consumable within a variety of dietary needs. It is fair to say that the SOAS community appreciates the presence of Food for All on campus.