Daan Utsav: Never Let Food Go Waste – Feeding IndiaBloombergQuintOpinion
This #DaanUtsav, BloombergQuint brings you a series of first-person accounts on volunteering that narrate stories of how different organisations across India are engaging volunteers at scale, or in depth, and bringing about significant transformation.
In 2014, I was at a wedding in Delhi, where over 35 cuisines were served. I was curious to know what happened to the leftover food. When I asked the caterer, he told me that all the extra food, enough to feed almost 5,000 people, was to be thrown away. In a country where nearly 2,000 children under the age of five die of malnutrition every night, the possible scale of this wastage, especially of food that is fit for consumption, kept me up all night. I knew I had to do something about it.
Over the next few weeks, I convinced a few friends and colleagues to join me in collecting surplus food from weddings, parties, canteens, restaurants, etc., and donate it to those who need it. Despite my parents’ initial reluctance, and the fact that no one thought a solution was possible, I soon quit my job.
Starting with a team of five volunteers in Delhi, we launched Feeding India.
At the time, It definitely didn’t seem like the wisest decision to my friends or family. I was just 22, and none of them could see a future horizon to the cause. Regardless, we soon partnered with caterers in the city and started donating their excess food to beneficiaries who could not earn for themselves.
Also read: Daan Utsav: Every Indian Volunteering
Learnings And Challenges
India is the second-largest producer of food in the world, yet what we don’t realise is that food worth $14 billion is lost and wasted every year. As per the Food and Agriculture Organisation, India has over 19.5 crore malnourished people. I believe the numbers are under-reported and are likely to be much higher.
We have an internal migrant population of 13.9 crore people, that moves from state to city and within cities, that is underserved, lacks government aid and subsidies, all of which leads to a downward spiral of poverty.
Even where there is surplus food, the demand for food (and those in need) and the supply of (surplus) food don’t sit close to each other. There is also an absence of reliable data on demand and supply, as well as the lack of a conducive food donation policy. Add to this the misconceptions and ignorance on food donation, a lack of awareness on the size of the problem, and how it affects people within every community. These were some of the challenges that we identified early as what to work on.
Also read: Daan Utsav 2019: 10 Ways To Volunteer
With the information we had, the research we did, and after conversations with experts across various segments of food technology and logistics, we formulated five key programmes that we would focus on. Each programme solves one or more of the challenges that we discussed earlier.
- Magic Wheels: These 24x7 running vehicles collect large quantities of excess nutritious food from corporate offices, factories college cafeterias, hotels, restaurants and large events, etc. and then redistribute them. They follow a standard operating procedure to maintain food safety regulations before collecting the food, and also at the time of serving meals. Our processes and training are compliant with specifications from FSSAI. We currently have around 170 food supply partners for this programme and have delivered over 11 lakh meals in September.
- Happy Fridge: We set up free fridges in residential and commercial complexes to facilitate communities in providing immediate, anonymous and dignified access to food, to those in need. So far, we have installed 43 ‘Happy Fridges’ across India and each fridge serves between 1,500 and 2,000 meals a month. In the month of September, we were able to serve 63,200 meals. In this quarter, we will be deploying 500+ community fridges across the country.
Hunger Heroes: Our volunteers are empowered citizens driving change within their communities. We have over 22,500 volunteers across 95 cities in India, of which 5,100 were active in the last week of September. The demographics our volunteers spread across college students, working professionals, as well as those retired from service.
The programme enables citizens to make a social change at an individual level while encouraging others to not only address but take affirmative action toward the cause.
Our ‘Hunger Heroes’ volunteers also help us implement various programmes, and food collection and distribution drive in their city. Last month, our volunteers served nearly 3.2 lakh meals to those in need, within their communities.
- Poshan To Paathshala: While this is our smallest programme, we institutionalised this to push for reliable and early access to nutrition for children – by serving meals as an incentive for education. Through this programme, we have served over 12,600 meals in the month of September.
Emergency Relief Services: Natural disasters impact over 50 crore people in India every year. In the current decade, damages caused by natural disasters are expected to touch $53.6 billion. This year the team has already spent around Rs 92 lakh and has mobilised over 3.3 lakh meals plus other relief materials, supporting over 9000 families across Odisha, Assam, Bihar, Punjab, and Maharashtra.
Alliance With Zomato, And What Lies Ahead
The team at Zomato, led by Deepinder Goyal, had also been working on identifying how their various lines of businesses and products could expedite the behavioral change required to make good-quality food available, accessible, and affordable for more people across the globe. Their vision is ‘Better Food for More People’.
So, when the teams at Feeding India and Zomato met in late 2018, something incredible happened. We realised that together we can shape a different future, a future with ‘Food for Everyone’. In January 2019, Feeding India and Zomato’s alliance gave birth to The Feeding Foundation, moving from a primarily philanthropic relationship to a deeply collaborative alliance.
While we continue to remain non-profit – managing our own finances, data, infrastructure, and strategy; Zomato’s expertise in consumer technology and deep understanding of the food ecosystem will play a key part in our future goal of designing interventions to eliminate hunger and food wastage globally.
Through this alliance, we have gained more world-class leadership and expertise, particularly in technology, research, building an empowered organisation, and also across our other programme creation and solution areas. We have also re-imagined our visual brand, logo, and website to better capture who we are at The Feeding Foundation and are excited about the upcoming launch for the same. Within these nine months of working together, we’ve been able to unlock the massive potential that comes with our reach and scale.
In January, we were serving 78,000 meals a month and are already serving over 16 lakh meals a month now.
All our programmes are doing incredibly well. This month we will surpass having served 3 crore meals to the under-served since we started out in 2014.
We’re also in the process of building our app – the ‘Feedi.ng’ app. This app will connect donors and volunteers at a scale never seen before, and we are hoping that in a couple years, it will be the platform to serve at least 10 crore underprivileged people every month.
Ankit Kawatra is the founder and chairman of Feeding India.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.