The FEED (Food Education and Economic Development) movement has found a way to bring tons of excess food, wasted each day, to the millions who have not experienced sound sleep only because their tummies weren't full.
For a nation that is developing at lightning speed, the amount of food we waste and the number of people who die from lack of the same food is worrying.
Ironically, the larger issue of world hunger does not arise simply because there isn't enough for all, but as a result of excess food lost due to negligence, mishandling, improper storage and absence of access coupled with our failing willingness to step forward and offer food to those in need.
Troubled by this depressing scenario, Chandra Sekhar Kundu (40), a computer science teacher from Asansol, West Bengal was hard pressed to find a permanent solution to the problem and went on to establish FEED.
It all began when Chandra Sekhar was returning home after disposing a huge amount of food wasted at his son’s eighth birthday party in 2015. On the way, he came across two street kids rummaging through the dustbins looking for something to eat. “This sight left a deep impact on my conscience. The food I threw away could've fed these children. It was close to midnight and I could not do much. The next day I woke up deciding to put this food often wasted to much needed use.”
He first set out to make a change in this direction by bringing together a group of students at his college and creating a short film titled ‘Stop Food Wastage’. His motive was to reduce food wastage on campus and bring about awareness on the issue. This was his first success as the film became increasingly popular with food wastage significantly decreasing at the institution and its canteen.
Further understanding the seriousness of the situation, Chandra Sekhar came across a report by United Nations stating that over 19 million people in India suffer from malnutrition while food grains continue to decay at the Food Corporation of India (FCI). Overwhelmed by the staggering number, in May 2016, he filed a Right to Information petition before the FCI. With their reply he learnt that around 22,000 crore metric tons of food grains had been wasted in the past two years. “This quantity of food grains was sufficient to fulfil the midday meals of one crore children for an entire month.”
Chandra Sekhar then wrote to the President, highlighting two agendas. “One was to take measures against the wastage of food grains at the FCI and the other was to start a campaign in order to stop cooked food wastage. In reference to the letter, FCI replied and mentioned a few steps that they would take to stop food grains wastage. But the second point was not solved.”
Since his second issue on bringing excess food to hungry mouths wasn't solved, Chandra Sekhar got together with two of his students convincing a hostel manager and began collecting the extra food, otherwise thrown away and distributed it among poor children. “I also posted few pictures of our work that went viral in a day and many came forward to lend their helping hands to us.”
With this he then started an organisation called Food Education and Economic Development (FEED) in the same year with the aim of obtaining and providing excess food to the impoverished that often slept hungry.
From then on along with a group of 135 students, teachers and social activists, he approached different offices, canteens, hostels, barracks of the police and CISF where good quality of excess food is available almost every day. “We convinced them and created a proper mechanism of checking, collection and distribution. We also contacted local canteen owners persuading them to cut back on wasting food in good condition or to donate the excess.”
Continuing to produce short films on the topic of food wastage, in late 2016, Chandra Sekhar wrote to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on his work. In a positive reply, FEED was made a partner under the ‘Save Food’ initiative by the FAO. “We use this platform to gather ideas from other countries and put them into practice. We prefer students as volunteers and inspire them to help raise funds. We have also organised training programmes of food tasting for our volunteers, where chefs from different restaurants train them.”
Chandra Sekhar shares that the only opposition he faced was in terms of reluctance by the contributors. “When I started, I went around asking for leftover food of the day from various hotels and restaurants but I didn’t get a positive response. They were worried about the shelf-life of the food and wondered who would take responsibility if they fell sick. It was very tough to convince them that we would deliver the food within one hour’s time." Conducting week-long trials with restaurants, to reassure them that the food would be consumed within three hours of being picked up helped ease doubts he shares.
However, time management still remains the biggest challenge Chandra Sekhar faces, he strives to make sure the food is delivered in time before it gets inedible.
Despite the hurdles, Chandra says, “The silver lining lies in the fact that with food available, these underprivileged families do not have to force their children to beg for money anymore. The children now have the opportunity of attending school and I plan on raising enough money to build a school for such kids.”
Today, FEED has 165 members, including 70 active volunteers providing for and feeding over 150 children in Asansol and Kolkata on a daily basis. Apart from sourcing excess food from barracks, office canteens and hostels, the organisation also saves food from different parties and distributes them among children and the elderly. In doing so, till date, FEED has saved over 90,000 plates of food and plans on saving over a lakh this year.
The organisation has not stopped at just this. It also runs a hotline set up for people to call if they would like to donate extra untouched meals, which are then distributed to communities in need. To meet deadlines, they have also partnered with food delivery vans and Ola cabs. “Ola is our biggest partner. Through Ola or canteen operator vans, excess food reaches people in time, and all I have to do is coordinate with them over the phone or the Ola app.”
In April this year, FEED launched their second initiative ‘Food for God’ and installed a food rack in Gariahat, South Kolkata, offering people their excess unwanted but good quality food like packaged noodles, cakes, biscuits, jam and fruits. Chandra Sekhar plans on replicating the same model at 10 locations across West Bengal over the next six months.
“After photographs of this initiative surfaced online, an MNC in South Kolkata got in touch and offered assistance. Now, the caterer who runs the MNC's staff canteen gives us sufficient food to feed the 35 children at Gariahat and four pregnant women living there.”
The next step is to put an end to the huge quantity of food wasted at the railways regularly says Chandra Sekhar. FEED is currently working with the Indian Railways to achieve this objective.
“We are also designing a mobile app ‘FEED’ through which people can locate places where they can drop their excess food close to their homes.”
FEED has also set up a school and a small library for 37 children in Asansol and plans to open similar institutions in other locations and expanding their work in and outside West Bengal, focussing on regions like Jharkhand and Bihar. The organisation also runs a weekend school and dance school providing a homely environment for poor children and imparting good morale into them with fun extra-curricular activities for the betterment of their future as well as betterment of the society.
With all the work Chandra Sekhar has put into his organisation, he today stands as an inspiration to many students and a lesson to us all: If one man's dream can to put an end to the growing food wastefulness our country faces while doing good at the same time, then there is no reason why we shouldn't be doing the same.