Members of the ISKCON devotee-run charity Food For All UK partnered with local devotees in Paris and Brussels to feed sanctified vegetarian meals to Syrian refugees, parliament members, and thousands of young people across three events in late September.
The first, at Place de la Republique – one of the biggest squares in Paris – was part of Food For All’s campaign against food waste.
The charity received first prize in 2008’s Novelis Community Recycling Project Awards for its work in collecting and distributing fresh food from supermarkets that would otherwise be thrown away. It currently diverts ten tons of good food from going to landfills every week.
“According to the UN, developed countries throw away around 30-40% of all food purchased,” says Food For All Director Parasurama Das. “So this is a campaign to tell people. ‘No, just because the carrot is bent, or the banana is straight, or the apple is too big or too small, don’t throw them away. Let’s take all this food and feed everyone!’”
Food For All volunteers and devotees from France and England engaged sixty people in chopping vegetables on Saturday September 26th. Then on Sunday the 27th, they cooked and served subji, pakoras and breadsticks to 7,000 young people at Place de la Republique, and also chanted the Hare Krishna maha-mantra for them.
The cooking began at five o’clock in the morning, and continued throughout the day. Meals were prepared in a giant pot that has to be seen to be believed.
“You can feed 5,000 people just with this one pot,” says Parasurama. “It’s so huge that four people could sit in it easily and row it as a boat!”
On Monday September 28th, the group travelled to Brussels, where they set up camp in the courtyard of the European Parliament, and served another meal of kichari, pakoras and breadsticks made from food that would have otherwise been wasted to 1,500 people, including MPs and government officials.
Meanwhile Srila Prabhupada’s kirtan played over a P.A. system, and devotees also did some live chanting.
The event, organized by ISKCON Europe Food For Life’s Mukunda Das, was dubbed “The Free Lunch” and promoted a change from the current model of production and consumption to one that is sustainable and beneficial for the planet, animals and people.
Organizations such as Compassion in World Farming, Humane Society International, and Beyond GM worked with devotees to put on the event. Paul McCartney’s Meat-Free Mondays project also provided its support.
After the Free Lunch, the Food For All team fed hot prasadam meals to 1,000 refugees of the Syrian Civil War who were camped out at Brussels’ Maximilian Park.
“At the camps there was no real indication that the refugees were getting serious help, and when we turned up with healthy food, we witnessed an extremely large queue of hungry people,” says Parasurama.
Devotees also provided tents and sleeping bags, which were greatly appreciated. “They were living in makeshift tents and with winter approaching are in serious trouble,” Parasurama adds. “It simply takes one or two days of rain and the camp becomes a health disaster zone. We have started collecting clothes, food, blankets, tents, pots, pans and funds for the other camps in France and Belgium, with the plan to travel over at least once every ten days. We don’t have a political opinion on the war, or Syria. We just see a bunch of people in need, and feel compelled to do what little we can.”
Back home in London, Food For All feeds 1,000 homeless people and students every day. The charity is supported by rock artists like Paul McCartney and the band the Libertines, who donate a percentage of their concert takings. Other smaller bands don’t allow fans into their concerts unless they bring dry goods like flour, rice or pasta to donate to Food For All.
Food For All volunteers are very open about being Hare Krishna devotees, wearing tilak, dhotis and saris, chanting Hare Krishna at their charity events, and explaining that their meals are spiritual food. And their efforts to help people draw warmth and respect towards the Hare Krishna movement from all quarters.
“The Council are working with us, the universities are working with us, celebrities like Paul McCartney and Russell Brand are getting involved, the Libertines let us do kirtan in the foyer of the venues they play at, for the thousands of people who are waiting to see them,” says Parasurama. “People who volunteer to help us cut vegetables, who have never seen devotees before, come on Harinama with us. Young people like us very much. They respect us. They listen to what we have to say.
“People in general don’t always understand spiritual life, but they understand helping your fellow man,” he explains. “So why not?”
For Parasurama, it’s simple.
“When people are suffering, a devotee should help them out,” he grins. “And the best help is Krishna prasadam.”
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies