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Food Philosophy in Pandemic: We are Cooking More, Giving More, and We Shall be Thriving

·6-min read

New Delhi: Once we go back to normal, the Dutch expert in 'edible philosophy' and 'food designing' Marije Vogelzang is likely to use 'seeds' for her post-pandemic art project. In the past, she created – “Bastard Breads,” “Eat, Love, Budapest” – in which she used breads, tables, and unique arrangements to address the problems of segregation and borders created by national pride and deep-seated prejudices.

But for the world hit by the virus, her art installation would be different, more an ode to the people who stayed in power despite the challenging externalities, and even if "scared and narrow-minded" were "not diminished."

“I'm not sure what I would do exactly when things get back to normal but it would be a project with seeds. Seeds have an innate power to grow, and sometimes into amazing tall and strong trees,” she said.

“With a seeds project in the post pandemic world, I would create something that would make people aware of their own power,” Vogelzang said in an email to New18.com for this story on the samaritans in Indians cities providing food for free to the Covid patients – like the much talked about Meals for Madras.

This kindness won't ebb, but it will grow

Miles away from Vogelzang in the Netherlands is the venture 'Meals for Madras' based in Chennai – an initiative started by groups of professionals to provide free food to the covid patients. Few weeks in existence, they are now committed to converting this into a charity in the post-pandemic world.

The seeds of this service were sown, and how.

A few weeks ago Harshini Sreedhar, a sales professional at CISCO posted on her social media that she would be providing free of cost food to the Covid patients. This inspired others to join. Another professional Deepthi Tanikella, offered to cook meals for the patients infected by the virus. This was further streamlined by Srinidy Ravichandran, a product manager with a tech firm, who came up with a glide app. It helps in connecting the patients with the cooks volunteering in their locality.

What started with 12 cooks has now become a 150 plus community of volunteers coming from different walks of life sending 700 food packets sometimes, some volunteers pitch in for all three meals.

The latest feather in the cap is collaboration of Meals of Madras with trash troopers, a social entrepreneurship project, and it will take food to people working as frontline workers. They were active at the time of Chennai floods. Last year, in the pandemic, the group was providing dry ration. But in the second wave, they have outsourced the kitchen capacity to Meals for Madras. After reducing their kitchen capacity they would focus on connecting and providing food to the more vulnerable sections of the society, the laborers and frontline workers.

With trash troopers joining in there are 15 more people providing food under this social enterprise. They have formed groups of five volunteers who work in rotations.

Having worked in Chennai floods as a volunteer group to provide relief, they find pandemic a different territory, "and that's because of uncertainty, like if we enter a flood area we know what to avoid. But at this time, you don't know how the virus will transmit. There is uncertainty. We work in rotation and observe all precautions, yet there is fear, what if a virus… comes in contact," said Paul Pradeep Chris from the group.

Food: Simpler the better

The 'Meals for Madras' sends homemade food with volunteers pitching in according to the convenience and schedule. There is a doctor couple that takes orders of home cooked food for the patients. If a particular volunteer faces fund crunch the group gets to raise money. Recently, the youth who participated in a sport tournament donated the money they had won to Meals for Madras. They had earlier thought of buying jerseys for themselves but went ahead with donating to the venture.

Sreedhar said, “We are not sending gourmet food. We make simple homemade food, and some of us send it with notes and also get showered by messages from the patients. There is just an increase in the quantity, if we made meals for three earlier, under this venture we are making for two or three more people.”

On good days share recipes and also warm gestures from patients. Their work involves grocery shopping, food packaging, and in case there is unavailability in the required area, they have to connect to the nearest location. "This initiative has given an opportunity to people who can't be on the frontline but are willing to contribute," said Sreedhar and added, "It is nice to see people who want to contribute in this time, and they are all professionals or some may also be facing fund crunch but there is no fall in the spirit."

Pandemic and food perception

Sreedhar said that Swiggy and Dunzo are providing their services, but with this initiative, things are different because it is not bulk cooking happening for all and sundry. "Ordering from outside is not the same as we do it at Meals for Madras. Your order is not coming from bulk cooking. We are specially making homemade food and also writing notes. There is a thought going into it and food is medicine," she said.

From bulk to special, the pandemic cooking for others is more thoughtful and contributes to healing.

Vogelzang said that the pandemic has had a very interesting effect on the way we perceive food, and one of them is, “As in the majority of the world people have more than enough food but less than enough respect and appreciation for food I think this has shifted a bit,” she said in an email.

She saw that many people started to appreciate food more and started to cook more and bake more, “which I think is great but what I think is even more interesting is that you could see that the restrictions of the pandemic really sparked more imagination and inventiveness in people. I think we as a society are incredibly lazy and narrow-minded when it comes to food and all the ways we can deal with food and eating.”

But this changed with the pandemic, as “there came a range of unexpected, creative initiatives that opened up new approaches to food and to business,” she said.

In the post-pandemic world this is what we need to thrive, Vogelzang said, "I think that we can really use a more creative approach to life and challenges like the pandemic show us that people with a more flexible and creative mind will thrive. Not because they have money, not because they are established. Just because they dare to think differently and just dare to do stuff. I really enjoyed seeing that."

With the pandemic came social distancing from each other but that did not mean aloofness or separation from contributing, and “neither were we separated from our senses, we attained heightened appreciation of our senses, partly because many of us lost the sense of smell,” said Vogelzang.

In her opinion, many lost their sense of smell hence started valuing these ubiquitous things, so in that sense “we are also being cleansed – valuing more.”

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