Around fifteen ISKCON devotees brought the sound of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and the taste of sanctified vegetarian food to a huge anti-nuclear march in London on February 27th.
It was Britain’s biggest anti-nuclear march in a generation. Thousands of campaigners gathered from all over the world to protest the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons program, estimated to cost £41 billion. The money, they said, should be spent on education and the National Health Service instead.
“Books not Bombs,” read some placards, a sentiment ISKCON devotees could certainly get behind.
The march made its way from Marble Arch in Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, where protestors including Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke.
Volunteers from devotee-run charity Food For All kept marchers going by distributing 1,000 plates of a full prasadam feast, including rice, subji, pakoras, cake, and a drink. With Food-For-All’s trademark creativity, the sanctified vegetarian hot meals were served from rickshaws at the beginning, middle, and end of the march.
“People loved it!” enthuses Food For All director Parasurama Das in his lilting Irish accent. “The moment we set up, there was a long queue. Imagine, you’re on a long protest march, and there’s nothing to eat or drink. Everyone really appreciated it.”
Devotees also provided the soundtrack, elevating walkers’ spirits with kirtan. Brahmachari Dayal Mora Das, in his saffron robes, sang out a beautiful Hare Krishna tune in a clear voice. A Bhaktivedanta Manor farm volunteer played a full drum set from a wheeled float. Parasurama and Food For All volunteer Grant accompanied on ukulele and electric guitar. And a protestor joined in on his trumpet.
Parasurama stirs up a storm in 'the biggest pot in the Western world'
The whole combo, meanwhile, was broadcast over a powerful sound system.
“We were the only people that put a full band together like that, and everyone was saying, ‘Gosh, you guys are really organized!’” says Parasurama. “They were just walking, but when we kicked off, people were joining in, and dancing. It was really cool!”
The devotees were featured chanting in the Channel 4 TV coverage of the event, and serving prasadam in the BBC coverage.
At the end of the rally, they presented a letter to Jeremy Corbyn, the politician speaking out against the nuclear program.
“We invited him to visit Food For All’s center Matchless Gifts, because he’s vegetarian, he knows about our efforts, and we are based in Islington, the part of London where he works,” says Parasurama.
A video of the event
A lot of people, in fact, know about Food For All’s efforts these days, and the charity is planning to reach out to even more soon.
Parasurama and his crew currently feed around 1,000 homeless people and students in London every day, and will soon increase that number to 5,000 a day. They plan to ask London Mayor Boris Johnson to suppor the project, called “Feed the 5,000.”
Parasurama says he can cook all 5,000 meals at once in what he dubs “the biggest pot in the Western world,” a giant vessel that truly has to be seen to be believed.
But what’s most interesting about Food For All is that all of the fruit and veg it uses would otherwise be thrown away by supermarkets for being aesthetically unappealing, despite being perfectly good.
This has put a prasadam charity run by devotees at the forefront of a new movement to stop waste. The cover story of March 2016’s National Geographic magazine, entitled “How ‘Ugly’ Fruits and Vegetables Can Help Solve World Hunger,” says that a third of the planet’s food goes to waste, often because of its looks – enough to feed two billion people.
And who is one of the people it cites as working to solve this problem? “Peter O’Grady, a Hare Krishna who runs a charity kitchen in London.”
Food For All is also becoming a favorite of activists, who often call asking for prasadam to be distributed at their demonstrations – the anti-trident rally was not the first, and won’t be the last.
On Saturday March 5th, for instance, the charity will cater A Million Women Rising, a march from Oxford Street to Trafalgar Square protesting domestic abuse, sexual assault and other violence against women. Parasurama will cook for the event, while all female devotees will serve the prasadam.
“The people at these marches are conscientious, good, caring, thoughtful people, who are trying to make the world a better place,” says Parasurama. “We’re also trying to make the world a better place, through chanting and serving prasadam. So they’re great people to connect with. And they love Hare Krishnas!”
* * *
A National Geographic cover story mentions Food For All Director Parasuram Das: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/03/global-food-waste-statistics/[ britain ] [ food-for-all ] [ food-for-life ] [ london ] [ uk ]