Celebrity chef and judge of top-rated culinary contests Vikas Khanna says he has been able to harness the full power of social media to help the disadvantaged in India get enough food on their plate when they were unable to buy it due to the nationwide lockdown.
It all started with a spam email in March.
“I was moved by an email which stated that residents of old age homes in India need food. I passed it on to my PR team so that we could help them. They advised me that the credentials on the email were not trustworthy, but by then, I had made up my mind to help in my own way,” says Chef Vikas Khanna from New York.
- Vikas Khanna's food drive in India is managed from New York
- His team has supplied 8 million meals in two months of the Covid-19 lockdown in India
- Self-funded at the start, the drive now has support from wholesalers, NDRF and CRPF in India
“We started with leprosy care centres, orphanages, transgender and old age homes in India. The first delivery in Bengaluru was very difficult,” he recalls, adding that one email has now grown into a movement with hundreds of volunteers in India.
Mr Khanna adds that the food delivery drive that he began on April 1, had started to daunt him so much by April 11, that he had thought of discontinuing it.
“It was very difficult at the start, especially because I was managing a food supply drive in India while sitting thousands of miles and several time zones away in New York. I rang my mother in Amritsar and said I can’t carry on with it because I have a catering business to manage. In addition, I have four books, a travel show, one film and a couple of documentaries in the pipeline,” says Mr Khanna, who runs a Michelin starred Indian restaurant in New York.
“My mother reminded me of the thousands of people who had taught me how to cook in the langar (community kitchen) at Harmandir Sahib. She also reminded me of my grandmother’s training all her life. My mother said that it had taken three generations of our family to produce a Michelin-starred chef. He can’t make videos and selfies in this lockdown when people need to be fed,” Mr Khanna recalls the reason for staying on track.
He had to start with spending money from his pocket, but slowly, wholesalers and volunteers began to join forces with him. "Now, it is moving with voluntary support. I don't do fundraising for it," he adds.
Having supplied his 8 millionth meal on May 30, Mr Khanna says, a typical day is packed with emails and video calls to coordinate food deliveries across the length and breadth of India.
“Sitting in New York, my team and I filter emails from India sent by people who know where and how much food is needed that day. Then, we sort them according to their urgency. Our volunteers in India contact local wholesalers for best prices of groceries. We are being supported by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) for transport,” says the chef who has cooked for the Obamas in the White House.
On an average, Mr Khanna says that around 150 food deliveries are done by his team in India every day.
“It started with just one tweet, in which I had asked people to connect me with grocery wholesalers in India. Till then, I had used social media only for promoting my cooking or film-making, but now I’m using it to its full power to help the needy,” says Mr Khanna, who is the author over two dozen books and many documentaries on food.
“When people get the food we organise, they sometimes do a video call with me to say thanks. It gives me immense pleasure to see people eat. This is Guru Ramdas ji’s teaching,” he signs off, paying tribute to the fourth guru of the Sikhs, also the founder of Amritsar’s Golden Temple, which is dubbed as 'the world's largest free kitchen', as it feeds several thousand people every day.
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