Charities replicate Indian kitchen model to tackle UK childhood food crisis

PTI, Oct 28, 2020, 5:28 PM IST


London: The UK chapter of an Indian charity set up to combat child poverty is bringing a tried and tested model of a state-of-the-art kitchen from India as an affordable, scalable solution to childhood hunger in Britain.

Akshaya Patra Foundation UK has joined hands with GMSP Foundation in response to the growing concern around children in need across England not being provided free meals during what is currently a half-term school holiday period.

The new GMSP Akshaya Patra Kitchen, which opens this month, promises to produce and deliver thousands of nutritious, low-cost meals to children in London. Each meal the GMSP Akshaya Patra Kitchen serves in the UK will also sponsor a meal for a child in India.

“We saw the speed and scale at which Akshaya Patra mobilised to feed nutritious meals to schoolchildren in India. We knew that this is what the UK needed now to tackle our growing food inequalities,” said Ramesh Sachdev, Founder of GMSP, which stands for God My Silent Partner and was set up as a family foundation to support organisations working with marginalised people in the UK and India.

“Our shared goal is to expand the GMSP Akshaya Patra Kitchen’s centralised model to serve more nutritious holiday meals and then free school meals to children in London and around the UK. With this approach, the UK can solve holiday hunger and ensure our future generations have hot, fresh meals to fuel their minds,” he said.

The issue of free meals during school holidays has become a highly-charged political debate in the UK in recent weeks, with a campaign led by England team footballer Marcus Rashford finding widespread backing from community groups and businesses.

However, the government voted against free meals for eligible children from low-income households over the holiday period on the grounds that local authorities have been provided sufficient funding to tackle the issue.

“Our experience in providing fresh, hot meals to 1.8 million children in India daily combined with the very best in nutrition science, food technology and frugal innovation means we have a unique model fit for the 21st century,” ” said Bhawani Singh Shekhawat, CEO of Akshaya Patra UK/Europe.

“We are responding to the hunger crisis in a way that improves the quality of meals for the UK’s most disadvantaged children at scale,” said Shekhawat.

The zero waste and self-sustaining kitchen model was originally created in India to provide nutritious lunches from 52 kitchens to more than 1.8 million children in over 19,000 state-run schools every school day.

It has now been recreated for operation in Watford, north of London, providing a much-needed solution to the recommendations on tackling childhood hunger set out in the UK’s National Food Strategy.

The strategy recommends that the government provides holiday food to support all children on free school meals, reaching an additional 1.1 million children.

The GMSP Akshaya Patra Kitchen says its model can achieve this by producing meals at a cost saving of up to 33 per cent – with meals costing around GBP 2 a portion. Steam-based cooking methods keep levels of fat low to ensure children receive optimum levels of nutrition.

The GMSP Akshaya Patra Kitchen says it will focus first on tackling the growing holiday hunger issue in London before extending the scheme wider.

The Kitchen will cook two meal cycles a day: one for children during the holidays (2,000 meals) and one for those living in food poverty (3,000 meals) across London and Watford.

When operating at full capacity the Kitchen can produce 5,000 child meals per day and 4,000 meals for those living in food poverty, the charities said.

The GMSP Akshaya Patra Kitchen will also conduct school tours of the Kitchen, speaking about the importance of healthy food and the science behind the cooking processes they use.

Akshaya Patra says it has built a collaborative model working with supermarket chains, waste management companies, food waste organisations, distribution partners and hyper-local charities to create efficiencies that reduce costs and improve quality.

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