Minu Pauline, a restaurant owner from Kochi, in southern India, recently made news headlines, not for her culinary expertise, but her awe-inspiring generosity. She maintains a fully stocked, unlocked refrigerator outside her restaurant, filled with free fresh meals for the homeless.
Minu, whose popular food joint Pappadavada has been operating since 2013, was struck by the sight of homeless people digging for food from the garbage bins behind her kitchen. “I have often seen the homeless and the hungry, especially the aged, rummage through garbage scouring for food,” she told The Hindu. “They are looking for some leftovers or stale food to quell their hunger, and it disturbs me.”
So, when she opened a second branch in another part of the city last week, she also installed a fridge outside and named it ‘Nanma Maram’ (the tree of goodness). The fridge is always stocked with about 50 packets of freshly cooked food from the restaurant, for people to reach for when they are hungry. “I was asked, ‘What if someone, not necessarily needy, took the food?”she said. “My answer was, ‘I’ll just put my faith in the goodness of the folks.”
We live in a world where people dying from hunger, homelessness, and starvation, while about a third of the food produced ends up being thrown away. That equates to 133 billion pounds of food. Take in that number, 133 billion pounds. We produce more than enough food to feed every man, woman, and child on this Earth. There is no excuse not to alter the way our businesses work and, as consumers, demand that extra produce and goods which cannot be sold, not be thrown away. Why is it not given to those in need? Why is it not given to food banks that help feed the homeless? Mahatma Gandhi said it himself, “the Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”
There are generally two concerns that store and restaurant owners have.
1. Liability – Many owners are not aware of the law, and that they are protected by it. They mistakenly believe that they may get sued if someone gets sick from eating their food. However, that is not the case in all 50 states!
2. Logistics – Stores often don’t have the space to store leftover food while they are waiting for agencies to pick it up. Food banks may not have the capacity to transport or properly store the food, especially if it’s highly perishable. Furthermore, often stores simply don’t even know they should be donating their leftover food, or where to donate it!
A 1995 survey found that over 80 percent of food businesses in the U.S. did not donate excess food due to liability concerns. In response, Congress passed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which releases restaurants and other food organizations from liability associated with the donation of food waste to nonprofits assisting individuals in need. The Act protects donors in all 50 states from civil and criminal liability for good faith donations of “apparently wholesome food”—defined as meeting “all quality and labeling standards imposed by Federal, State and local laws and regulations even though the food may not be readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus or other condition.
This world is a scary place for many people to live in, especially those who are born into poverty and those who are homeless. It’s up to every single one of us to look at the facts and raise our voices. You may think that you are only one little voice but, if a million small voices come together as one collective voice, that’s one damn powerful voice. We need to stop allowing ourselves to be divided and conquered by billionaires in suits. Humanity has the resources and infrastructure to adjust the way we do things. There is no reason or excuse for there to be even one starving person on this Earth in this day and age. The only missing ingredient is our collective willpower to come together and create the changes we all know the world needs.
Mini insists that Nanma Maram is not an elaborate scheme to boost sales at her new restaurant, and to prove it she discourages customers from buying food at her shop to leave in the fridge. “This is not a campaign to make people invest more in charity; the idea is to use what you already have, to donate the food that you might waste. We bear the cost of the fridge and the electricity, and keep it open for 24 hours a day, every day.”
One of the most powerful ways to begin making a difference is to create awareness. Raising awareness can create a wave of change that could literally shape the future. We can start by speaking to our local shops, supermarkets, and restaurants. Minu Pauline is a shining example of how it is possible for us to create communities for the people, by the people. It truly works and inspires others to do the same!