As the second wave of the virus ravages through the country, small acts of kindness can look like big instances of hope. And god knows, we need it right now. In that spirit, chefs, restaurateurs, home chefs, food content creators and other professionals from the F&B industry have come forward to lend everything from their kitchen to their expertise.
Mumbai's F&B industry fights against COVID-19
It came to our notice first when chef and founder of Mumbai's Goila Butter Chicken, Saransh Goila started #CovidMealsForIndia, a comprehensive spreadsheet featuring meal and tiffin services from across 21 Indian states. "I realised that those who were stuck at home, may not want to order from a restaurant on a regular basis," Goila shares. This led him to start verifying and collating numbers for meal providers—which he discovered through entries on his Instagram DMs—on a Google Spreadsheet. A week into the exercise, Goila feels the initiative has opened his eyes to the reality of India's current situation.
He also launched a website in collaboration with the software company, Fastor. Called covidmealsforindia.com, the website will allow service providers to register themselves and patients to access these services through a simpler process. "Once you register, it will automatically link the business through an OTP system, thereby resolving the verification issue. It will also allow patients to easily access tiffin services near them," he explains.
Around the same time that Goila kicked off his initiative, F&B brand strategy consultant Nikki Gupta—who co-owned Mia Cucina and has worked with brands like Yogisattva and Madness Jams—began putting together a similar Google Spreadsheet of meal services in Mumbai, Vashi and Navi Mumbai, after having recovered from Covid herself. "When I began checking the existing resources online for meal services, I found out that many of them were not functioning. Either because the numbers were incorrect or due to lack of infrastructure," she explains. This became the fodder for Gupta's sheet that has contacts to deliveries that are not only verified but are also delivering across the city.
Delivering hope Bengaluru and Goa
Digital creator and home chef Sreya Vittaldev, who has curated a similar list for Covid patients in Bengaluru has relied on parameters like location, cost and capacity in her Google spreadsheet. Not only is she cuing people to other food services, but also preparing and sending meals pro bono to strangers around her neighbourhood. "It entails a lot of costs, from the packaging to the ingredients. But it is a care service at the end of the day and I feel guilty asking for money from people who're going through this," she confides, adding that it might be a good idea for those using these services to offer money where they can.
In Goa, on the other hand, popular bar and restaurant, Antares' co-founder Ashish Kapur, has commissioned his team to prepare a meal comprising salad, vegetables, dal and rice or poie for families recovering from the infection at home, free of cost. "There is so much suffering around us, I feel like we have a moral obligation to use whatever resources we have to help people in need," he tells us.
Serving food, with a side of well-being
Alongside independent professionals, food aggregator, Zomato, too has launched a Priority Delivery for COVID-19 Emergencies, that includes faster and contactless delivery and dedicated customer support. Then, there are others, who have initiatives that aren't directly related to food, but rather addresses one's overall well-being. For instance, writer and co-founder of the online organic marketplace, Tons Valley shop, Shubhra Chatterji, invited her mother on her popular live series, #HistoryOnAPlate. Dr Rajni Chatterji, the HOD of Psychiatry at Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre, and Shubra spent a whole hour addressing multiple questions around mental health. "Everyone is in a state of limbo. I could see systems collapse around me and people breaking down. So, I thought that we all needed an intervention," she rightly points out.
In the same breath, Mumbai-based Asian delivery kitchen, Milliways Broth Noodle and Bao, helmed by Ashwin Ramachandran and Yash Rajpal, launched a 'Conversation Prompt Kit' in collaboration with psychotherapist Rhea Gandhi. The initiative, which is live from April 27 to May 2, involves sending prompts to customers to help them communicate. "We felt that people were losing out on the part of having a meal that involves conversation. So, we came up with pointers that could trigger it, in a much more meaningful manner and help them reconnect with their emotions," Gandhi and Ramachandran say. The kit has talking points, such as 'What aromas bring back food memories?' and 'What are the little things that give you hope?' The idea is to steer people away from talking about the pandemic and to remind them that there was a life before COVID-19 and there's hope after, too.
And if you dig deep, or manage to find the strength to rummage past the ruins, you'll see that there is hope all around us. You simply have to choose to see it.
Suman Quazi is a Writer, Host and the Food Editor with India Food Network and Start2Bake. She believes that while food is cultural, societal and intellectual, it is also deeply personal and is keen in contributing towards a dialogue around food in India that's meaningful. Her work has appeared in leading Indian publications like Midday, Living Foodz, Zee Zest, Deccan Chronicle, 101India and DailyO.