(Photos by Bhismadeva Dasa and HoofprintMedia.com)
A recent remodel of the Plaza of the Americas, the leafy main crossroads of the University of Florida (UF) campus, includes a sign reading “Krishna Lunch Lane” to commemorate the prasadam distribution program that has served students there for the past forty-five years.
The program began after ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada visited Gainesville in 1971 and spoke at the Plaza. Inspired by his words, Gargamuni Das began chanting and serving prasadam – sanctified food – to connect with students. After Gargamuni moved on, Amarendra Das and his wife Gayatri Dasi continued the effort, founding Krishna Lunch in the process.
The Lunch is now a staple at UF. Around a thousand plates are served out every day, five days a week. Students line up from 11:30am to 1:30pm at the Plaza, with more plates served out until 3:30pm at the nearby Krishna House. Each day of the week carries its signature dish: kofta balls on Tuesday, Spaghetti with tofu on Wednesday, Gauranga potatoes and chili on Friday. Pleasant live kirtan adds to the experience.
There is no charge: a donation of $5 is requested to cover costs, but organizers say no one will ever go away hungry. On top of that, Krishna Lunch is one of the largest suppliers of cooked meals for Gainesville’s homeless shelters.
In 2013, the campus made the decision to renovate the Plaza of the Americas. The $2.2 million renovation project was mainly funded by a private donation of $1.3 million from donors Herb and Catherine Yardley, while more funds came from the office of UF Chief Operating Officer Charlie Lane. Krishna Lunch wanted to do its part too.
Students line up to receive Krishna Lunch
“We decided this was our chance to reach out to all the thousands of alumni who have eaten Krishna Lunch over the years, and have them give something tangible back to the campus,” says Brahma Tirtha Das, a member of Krishna House’s board of directors.
Brahma launched The Krishna Lunch Forever Campaign, along with other board members, such as Madhava Das, Shyamala Kishori Dasi, and Krishna House president Kalakantha Das. The campaign raised $200,000 for the Plaza renovation from Krishna Lunch alumni, including a professor who had heard Prabhupada speak in 1971. Members of the ISKCON community also contributed.
The contribution won Krishna Lunch naming rights for the Western corridor of the Plaza, where it is served out – thus the new “Krishna Lunch Lane.”
The Krishna Lunch Forever Campaign also helped design the remodel of the Plaza, with members sitting in on meetings with campus designers, architects, and builders.
UF President Ken Fuchs did the honors at the official ribbon-cutting for the renovation on November 17th, 2017. The beautifully renovated Plaza of the Americas includes new infrastructure such as storm drains, as well as widened sidewalks, all new benches and picnic tables, attractive foliage, handicapped access and wifi.
From left to right – UF President Kent Fuchs, UF Professor Emeritus Dinesh Shah, Krishna House Board Members Rtadhvaja Swami, Brahmatirtha Das, and Madhava Das, and Krishna House President Kalakantha Das
Near the Krishna Lunch Lane sign, next to where Krishna Lunch is served, there is also a large brass plaque on a brick platform featuring an embossed image of Srila Prabhupada. The text beneath him reads: “On July 29, 1971, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna Movement, addressed students here and inspired them to start Krishna Lunch. Since then, the Lunch has nourished the UF community with millions of vegetarian meals. In 2017, Krishna Lunch and its alumni contributed toward the renovation of the Plaza.”
The renovated area also includes many named benches with their own plaques. One is dedicated to Amarendra and his wife Gayatri for founding Krishna Lunch. Several are dedicated to Srila Prabhupada by different devotees. “To Prabhupada, who inspired Krishna Lunch and spiritually sustained us,” reads one dedicated by Hridayananda Das Goswami.
Krishna Lunch receiving such prominent features in the renovation is viewed as well-deserved by students. In a recent article in the UF newspaper the Independent Florida Alligator, Audrey Gonzalez, a 22-year-old UF business management senior, is delighted to see the new Krishna Lunch Lane sign, saying she has eaten Krishna Lunches since her freshman year.
“It is the highlight of my week sometimes,” she says. “Some of my best memories are just sitting in Plaza of the Americas hanging out with friends or just eating it by myself.”
A plaque commemorating Srila Prabhupada’s visit to UF and role in inspiring Krishna Lunch
Gonzalez is not the only one. In his Thanksgiving missive, UF President Kent Fuchs wrote, “I’m grateful for the Krishna Lunch of basmati rice, eggplant with kofta balls, salad with almond dressing, halava and tea I enjoyed Tuesday while sitting on the Plaza of the Americas.”
Countless others often express to devotees their gratitude that Krishna Lunch fed them while they were students at the University of Florida.
“Once I was driving through a toll booth, and the toll collector heard kirtan playing in my car in the background,” says Brahma Tirtha. “Immediately he turned to me and said, ‘You fed me for four years! I love you guys.”
On another occasion, Badrinarayana Swami was invited to appear on a radio show with a notorious shock jock. He took the invitation, but halfway through the show during a commercial break, he said, “Everyone knows you love to destroy your guests. What big surprise do you have for me after the break?” The presenter replied, “There won’t be any. I went to the University of Florida, and my mother taught me not to bite the hand that feeds you.”
To many, Krishna Lunch is part of the very fabric of UF, and will be for the foreseeable future.
“There might be no formal meetings; no formal membership,” says Krishna House president Kalakantha Das. “But approximately five thousand students eat lunch with us at least once a month, creating a community at the University of Florida of open-minded, alternative-thinking people who come together for the Krishna Lunch experience.”
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies