Rise Against Hunger India (RAHI) has served over 2.5 million meals to vulnerable groups in 38 districts across 9 states in the country worst hit by COVID and subsequent lockdown. Dola Mohapatra, Executive Director, RAHI, tells LoLa Nayar that nearly 85% of the ready-to-cook meals were provided to the migrant population.
How has your organization been making the selection of food ingredients or meals being provided to the needy, keeping in mind both hunger and nutrition aspects?
Rise Against Hunger India provides dry, uncooked meal packets to different groups, both during regular times as well as emergencies such as natural disasters, or even during COVID-19. The ingredients are a perfect mix for making khichdi – which is quite a common dish across India. The meals consist of a mix of rice, dal, dehydrated vegetables and a sachet that contains a blend of micronutrients (23 vitamins & minerals). The first 3 items, which provide both the carbohydrate and protein content, are cooked together, and the contents of the sachet (which are powdered) are sprinkled on top after cooking. This sachet provides the required nutrients to make it a healthy meal. So, in a sense, we provide khichdi-mix plus vitamins.
A typical RAHI meal meets minimum calorie need of an able-bodied person and it covers all primary food elements e.g. macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates) and micronutrients and vitamins (Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Niacin, Calcium, Iron, Phosphorus, Iodine, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium, Copper, Manganese, Chromium, Molybdenum, Pantothenic Acid and Folic Acid). These vitamins and micronutrients are essential for the healthy growth of the body, boosting immunity and improvement of cognitive abilities of an individual.
A single RAHI meal can provide wholesome nourishment, which can alternatively be obtained only from a diverse diet over multiple meals consumed over weeks. People in distress, who are the beneficiaries of RAHI meals cannot afford such wholesome balanced diet as consumed by those with high financial resources. So, RAHI meals are the best possible alternative for these people, usually from the lowest economic strata of society to access wholesome nutritious diets.
Additional benefits of RAHI meals include its availability in a ready-to-cook form, which provide ease-of-use for the beneficiaries, especially in the difficult times, such as disasters such as floods, earthquakes and so forth. RAHI meal has a shelf life of 2 years, that helps the distressed to collect the meals in one-go and continue to consume the meals over a long period of time, without any loss to the nutritional aspects of the ingredients.
Also, how have you been coping with the challenge of having to cater to different taste in food across the country?
Special care has been taken to ensure that ingredients are culture-neutral and acceptable to all. ‘Khichdi’ is something that is consumed in all parts of India (and other parts of the world too). Rice, dal and vegetables in one form or another, are consumed as meals in every culture of India. This makes RAHI meals easily acceptable in all parts of India. Also, the meals are such that they can be cooked just in water without any additions. However, they can also be cooked with the usual ingredients in an Indian kitchen such as onions, tomatoes, chilli and other masalas. This makes the meal tastier and gives it variety. In different parts of the country, the basic meal can be cooked in a manner that suits the taste of that area.
RAHI has served meals in diverse geographies such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Punjab, Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and many more. Every community has added their own flavour to the RAHI meals, having been consumed in Tamil Nadu with added flavours of sambar powder, whereas in Bihar with addition of local vegetables, and as veg pulao in Punjab with a spoonful of desi ghee. RAHI meals provide super flexibility to the meal recipients to cook it the way they like it.