for The Daily Tar Heel (UNC Paper) on Feb. 22, 2008
Abdul Asimalowo, a resident of Hillsborough, hands out food during a free vegetarian dinner held by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in McCorkle Place on Feb. 7. The dinner is held every Thursday night and often draws large crowds of students.
Each week for 14 years, Jagadguru Das has been serving free food prepared "with love and devotion" to UNC [University of North Carolina] students and the Chapel Hill community.
He does this as part of his practice of Hare Krishna, a spiritual practice started in India thousands of years ago.
Das and several others from the Krishna Temple of North Carolina in Hillsborough have a stand in McCorkle Place near Franklin Street, where they serve a vegetarian meal every Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Usually, about 100 to 120 people come to the distribution, Das said. Hare Krishna members also distribute food at Duke University on Mondays.
The stand at UNC serves rice, beans, curry and bread with a cream of wheat dessert.
When people eat the food, Das said, they receive the love put into its preparation then spread that love and devotion to others.
Hare Krishna, a sect of Hinduism, is also known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. It got its name from its traditional chant, which begins with the phrase.
Hare refers to the energy of God, and Krishna means "the all-attractive."
The religious group focuses on one god, Krishna. Eating food specially prepared for him is an act of purification and communion.
Followers of Hare Krishna eat only vegetarian meals, avoiding fish and eggs. Caffeine, alcohol and tobacco are also forbidden.
Abdul Asimalowo, a member of the Hillsborough congregation, started serving meals on UNC's campus in 1987 during his fourth year as an undergraduate at UNC.
He said the group's tasty vegetarian cuisine shows that "vegetarian food is not all about raw vegetables and dry grains."
Last Thursday, 20 to 30 people sat alongside the stone wall of Franklin Street and under the large oak trees, leisurely enjoying their food and making new acquaintances. Many gathered at the stand said they came for the social aspect.
Amala Dass Antonysamy, who conducts research in the chemistry department, has been coming for about seven months.
"I see several positive aspects of this," he said. "These days, everyone walks around in their own world with their iPods and cell phones, so it's nice to just come and interact with other people."
Alex Shapiro, a junior religious studies major from Carrboro, has been coming to the gatherings every Thursday for about a year.
He said he does not follow the Krishna spiritual practice, but is familiar with its beliefs.
He found out about the weekly event from the free food listserv at UNC.
"It's delicious food that's inexpensive, and I see people here I don't see at other times in the week," he said.