Michelin-star chef Vikas Khanna, who will soon reach the milestone of having distributed 25 million meals across India amid COVID-19, is now aiming to provide essential rations and supplies to 10 million street vendors and their families facing hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 48-year-old world-renowned chef and author has coordinated a massive food distribution drive from his home in Manhattan since the coronavirus pandemic gripped India, unleashing economic hardships for millions as a nationwide lockdown was implemented in March.
“We are securing ration and are planning about 10 million meals around the country for street vendors, who actually hold the true heritage of Indian food in their hands,” Mr Khanna told news agency Press Trust of India.
He has distributed rations, meals and essential supplies to innumerable orphanages, old-age homes, leprosy centers, widow ashrams, Mumbai’s famed Dabbawalas, boatmen and craftsmen in Varanasi as well as to migrant workers and hundreds of thousands of people in need across more than 125 Indian cities with the help of The National Disaster Response Force.
Nearly 50 leading brands as well as public and private organisations and individuals have partnered with and supported Khanna in his ‘Feed India’ initiative.
Mr Khanna will soon touch the landmark of having distributed 25 million meals across India amid the pandemic and says he will dedicate this milestone to India’s legendary artist Lata Mangeshkar, with whom he shares a special bond.
He recalls that his mother listened to Lata Mangeshkar’s songs on the radio after working long arduous hours running and managing banquets in Amritsar.
Mr Khanna is simultaneously working on providing two million meals, food, clothes, essential supplies like mosquito repellents, candles and matches to people in flood-ravaged areas of Bihar and Assam, particularly in the remote areas.
“There are a lot of challenges to support relief in flooded areas of Bihar & Assam (especially the remote ones). But I pledge 2 million+ meals in the affected areas. We will do best to our ability,” Mr Khanna had tweeted.
The world-renowned chef said he was particularly moved by the plight of the millions of street vendors across India, whose source of income and livelihood has been severely impacted due to the pandemic and lockdown.
He is planning to distribute 10 million meals and other essential items for the street vendors that will last for at least three months and has shortlisted 20 cities for the distribution drive.
Mr Khanna hopes that more people and companies will join his efforts to help the street vendors, who he says are an intrinsic part of India’s food culture and feed daily wage workers, besides attracting food lovers from all walks of life.
“Street vendors have been among the most important thread of society and provide food to millions of daily labourers. They have uplifted each other through the years. That is the power of street vendors. My next mission is to help these street vendors,” he said.
“It is important to stay positive in these difficult times but it it also good to help out right now. This is the true moment where individual strength is displayed. We are all holding hands and we can actually make this work. It is time for the country to come together,” he said.
Mr Khanna emphasised that criticising governments or foundations for their response to the crisis “is an absolutely wrong way to look at it right now because these are very unpredictable circumstances. Nobody knows how to deal with it.”
“These crises are not crises which can be managed by NGOs and governments alone. The crisis is a testimony of the human grit. At this time of severe crisis, we need individuals who can share a little from what they have,” he said.
“The street vendors are hopeful that once restrictions are lifted and the crisis is over, their businesses can resume. They are just hanging by a thread. The pandemic is an unprecedented crisis and it is far from over. But we cannot give up,” Mr Khanna said.