|Hare Krishna Food for Life|
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is doing a superb job of letting people know that vegetarian food is healthful, delicious, and pleasing to the eye. Over the past fifteen years the Hare Krishna people have distributed more than 150 million plates of prasadam, vegetarian foods prepared and offered to God with love and devotion. They are master cooks, their food is stunningly delicious, and they cannot be praised enough for their success in promoting the cause of vegetarianism worldwide.
- Scott Smith, Associate Editor
The careful preparation and profuse public distribution of prasadam (Vegetarian foods offered to Lord Krishna) has always been and essential element of the Vedic culture. Since 1966, devotees of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) have followed this tradition by serving out over 150 million nourishing free multicourse dinners, opening over thirty vegetarian restaurants, founding over thirty vegetarian farm communities, providing vegetarian food relief to the hungry in Asia, Africa, and the West, and widely publicizing the value of a spiritual vegetarian diet through books, magazines, and films. Also, many followers of the Krishna religion have begun various prasadam businesses, producing a wide variety of healthy, nutritious, natural foods. All this makes the International Society for Krishna Consciousness - unique in its spiritual approach to diet - the strongest and most well organized force for vegetarianism in the world today.
The founder-acarya (spiritual master) of the Hare Krishna movement, Srila Prabhupada, started the now-famous Sunday feasts in 1966. At the first Krishna temple in the Western world, located in New York's Lower East Side, he would personally help cook the twelve-course meals. Regular attendance at the feast rapidly increased to three or four hundred people. Generally these feasts consisted of:
puris - a light tortillalike whole wheat bread fried in ghee (clarified butter).
pushpanna rice - an opulent rice dish, prepared with nuts and spices.
samosas - a fried pastry stuffed with cauliflower and peas.
pakoras - vegetables dipped in chick-pea batter and deep-fried in ghee
two or more subjis - cooked vegetables, often including small cubes of fresh, homemade cheese.
kheer - a dessert of sweetened condensed milk.
burfi - a milk sweet resembling vanilla fudge.
lassi - cooling yogurt-fruit drinks.
In 1967 Hare Krishna devotees opened their second temple, in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, where they served prasadam meals free to over 250 people daily. By the early 1970s, the ISKCON Sunday feast had been established as a weekly event in major cities throughout the world, including New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Mexico City, Montreal, London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Nairobi, Calcutta, Bombay, Sydney, Melbourne, and Rio de Janeiro. Srila Prabhupada often light-heartedly referred to the Hare Krishna movement as "the kitchen religion," thus expressing his satisfaction with how well his followers were carrying out his desire to flood the world with prasadam.
In addition to serving prasadam each Sunday at ISKCON temples, devotees also began to bring their spiritual vegetarian food out to the public in a variety of ways. Ever since the days of Woodstock, devotees have set up prasadam kitchens at outdoor gatherings to provide sumptuous free vegetarian food. Recently devotees have served thousands of plates of prasadam at events such as the California US Festival, the New Zealand Sweetwaters festival, large-scale national peace rallies in Western Germany, and cultural festivals throughout Central and South America. ISKCON members regularly set up prasadam booths at fairs and health-or food-related conventions. The Hare Krishna movement also stages its own massive festivals, such as Ratha-yatra (the Festival of the Chariots), held annually in Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Montreal, Toronto, New Orleans, Boulder, Sydney Melbourne, London, Bombay, and other major cities throughout the world. At each event, devotees distribute tens of thousands of plates of delicious vegetarian food. Scott /Smith, associate editor of the Vegetarian Times, recently remarked, "The Hare Krishna cooks are the only mass preparers of foodstuffs who maintain such and extraordinarily and consistently high quality of culinary excellence, even when catering to as many as twelve thousand people at a go." When members of ISKCON's Los Angeles center catered a vegetarian luncheon at a celebrity tennis tournament for the National Kidney Foundation, the tournament chairman wrote that the food's "tastiness and healthfulness was all excellent."
Over the past few years, devotees of Krishna have appeared in over two dozen feature films and network television dramas. The chanting of Hare Krishna has also been recorded by many top musicians on their albums. These events afforded ISKCON members the opportunity to share delicious prasadam meals with many of the entertainment industry's brightest stars, all of whom deeply appreciated their experiences with the delicious spiritual vegetarian foods. These include Dustin Hoffman, Muhammad Ali, Sally Sturthers, Stevie Wonder, Ed Asner, Steve Allen, Elliot Gould, Richie Havens, Dick Gregory, Julie Christie, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Paul and Linda McCartney, Marsha Mason, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and other members of the Grateful Dead, Ray Harryhausen, Jackson Browne, Gordon (Sting) Sumner of the Police, Ray Davies of the Kinks, and many others. In a 1982 interview, George Harrison said of prasadam, "I think it's great. It's a pity you don't have restaurants or temples on all the main streets of every little town and village like those hamburger and fried chicken places. You should put them out of business."
By the early 1980s, members of the Hare Krishna movement had opened restaurants in places such as Paris, London, Bombay, Melbourne, Sydney, New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Toronto, Montreal, and at Prabhupada's Palace of Gold in West Virginia. Each restaurant had built up a steady, satisfied clientele, and restaurant reviewers had given unqualified praise in leading magazines and newspapers. Liz Logan of the Dallas News says of the movement's Dallas restaurant: "Pleasant surprises are so much nicer than the other kind. And Kalachadji's is a pleasant - no, make that wonderful - surprise. Located in far East Dallas, the Hare Krishna-operated restaurant serves a $5.50 prix fixe Vedic dinner five nights a week. (Vedic cuisine translates to vegetarian, Indian fare.) For the price and the food, this may be the best bargain in town... As if this generally astonishing food were not enough, Kalachandji's setting also astonishes. The indoor seating is pleasant enough, but the outdoor courtyard is the real attraction."
Of Govinda's Natural Foods Restaurant in Los Angeles, a reviewer for Los Angeles magazine said, "They cook very well and have and enthusiastic following of customers." Marveling at the stunning decor of the restaurant at the Hare Krishna movement's Detroit cultural center, originally built by Cadillac founder Lawrence P. ("Body by") Fisher, People magazine said, "Tourists dine at Govinda's, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant whose opulent marble-and-onyx decor makes Manhattan's legendary Russian Tea Room look like and interstate truck stop." The food served there lives up to the surroundings. The devotee cooks in the restaurants of the Hare Krishna movement follow the Vedic tradition of preparing an endless variety of exotic dishes fit for kings and queens. Suzanne Moore of Diet Times wrote, "A feast of food, a feast of culture, and a feast of happiness. They lovingly prepare and serve an amazing array of Indian vegetarian dishes. And what a spread - it makes the Taj Mahal look plain."
Although all ISKCON restaurants strive to offer their clientele a sublime atmosphere for dining, their main business is to provide high quality, healthful, delicious prasadam at a cost everyone can afford. The Cleveland city council passed this resolution in praise of the Hare Krishna movement's restaurant there: "Whereas Govinda's is a benefit for the poor, for the elderly, men and women, black and white; and whereas Govinda's presence is greatly appreciated by the masses of this community... this council wishes to express its most heartfelt appreciation for the selfless effort of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness for their many services to the community."
Srila Prabhupada often stated that the world's economic problems - including the food problem - could be easily solved if people simply depended upon the land and the cows. The cow supplies ample milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt, and by using the bull one can plow the fields and produce abundant grains and vegetables. From the forest one can obtain honey, nuts, and fruits. To practically demonstrate this simple truth, Srila Prabhupada organized Vedic farm communities, over thirty of which are now flourishing around the world. Visitors can taste wonderful prasadam meals prepared from healthful, natural vegetarian ingredients produced right on the farms themselves.
"No one within ten miles of our temples should go hungry," Srila Prabhupada once told his disciples. This compassionate concern for the undernourished led to the establishment of ISKCON Food Relief, which for the past ten years has provided prasadam to hundreds of thousands of hungry people in Asia and Africa. In 1977 one of the biggest floods in recent history inundated West Bengal. Hare Krishna members on the scene immediately went into action. Risking their lives, they traveled in small boats equipped with outboard motors over hundreds of miles of dangerously raging floodwaters to procure staples such as rice and dal. They then cooked these ingredients on the rooftop of their own flooded asrama building and transported the food by the boatload to isolated villages, saving thousands from starvation. Recently ISKCON members have been working with CARE and Indian local governments in a joint program (the West Bengal Council for Child Welfare's Mother-Child Nutritional Health Program). Over 360,000 plates of nutritious Hare Krishna prasadam have been distributed in this massive effort. CARE official R. K. Narula stated that the ISKCON distribution centers "are being run very efficiently."
In the West, the Hare Krishna movement has been distributing free prasadam meals to the unemployed and others living below the poverty level through its Hare Krishna Food for Life program. In America, Hare Krishna Food for Life currently feeds thousands of people each week in twenty-five cities. Elizabeth Reuther (Lekhasravanti dasi), daughter of Walter Reuther, the late United Auto Workers labor union president, and now an ISKCON member, helped launch Food for Life in Detroit.
Through its different cookbooks, including The Higher Taste, the Hare Krishna movement has introduced the philosophy and preparation of prasadam to millions of people throughout the world. Devotees also distribute millions of copies of the most essential books of Vedic knowledge, such as Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Caitanya-caritamrta, which fully explain the law of karma, the doctrine of ahimsa (nonviolence), and other foundations of a truly spiritual approach to vegetarianism. Information about prasadam is also being disseminated through radio, television, and film media, and devotees hold vegetarian cooking classed at ISKCON temples and restaurants, at colleges and universities, and at private homes.