Ramesh, Pratibha and Sonal Sachdev standing in front of the GMSP Akshaya Patra Kitchen entrance.

Solutions for feeding minds

This article originally appeared in Alliance Magazine in October 2020.

The first step in solving a major problem is getting the right people to pay attention. I was impressed by just how well Marcus Rashford MBE has done this for child food poverty in the UK, using his personal story to shine a light on the fact that almost 20 per cent of our children don’t know if they will have a proper meal that day.

Without question, Covid-19 has increased inequalities and exacerbated the needs of disadvantaged children. Since 2015, more than 11,000 children have been admitted to hospital with malnutrition and more than 2,000 adults and children were hospitalised in January to June this year alone. There is an enormous cost from diet-related illness – to a child’s development and educational achievement, to the NHS and to our society as a whole. Feeding children, and feeding them well, isn’t only the right thing to do, it is also a smart investment in the future of this country.

This is why GMSP Foundation together with Akshaya Patra have brought a state-of-the-art, tried and tested kitchen model from India to tackle child hunger here in the UK.

Giving at home

We began by giving in India – it made sense as there seemed so much to do there, and money goes a long way. The more we gave, the more contact we had with grassroots leaders and the more we saw their brilliance. While the Indian diaspora maintains close connections with our Mother country, we also recognise that it is the UK that gave us the opportunity to build our business and raise our children.

Food is central to Indian culture and it is as tasty and colourful to look at as it is nutritious. Of course, I wasn’t aware of this whilst growing up and polishing off the food that my Mother lovingly prepared, but the ancient traditions of balancing ingredients and spices had been woven into her recipes. We need this understanding of nutrition to form the basis of a solution for the problems we face with childhood hunger here in the UK.

The UK is the fifth largest economy and yet the UN tells us that one in three children live in multi-dimensional poverty, which measures deprivation in a number of areas linked to children’s rights. The health of our children today will predict the health of our society in the years to come.

‘Reverse’ innovation

We started working with Akshaya Patra Foundation in India in 2017. When my wife and I visited one of Akshaya Patra’s kitchens in Gujarat we were so impressed and inspired that we wanted to bring this cutting-edge scalable kitchen model to the UK to address rising child hunger. We knew this model would work in the UK and that it was needed urgently to supply holiday clubs and schools.

Bringing innovation from India, within the so-called ‘Global South’, to the UK makes me proud to be a British Indian. Child hunger and poor nutrition are a shared crisis and we must learn from Akshaya Patra’s already-proven model that serves 1.8 million hot and nutritious meals to children every day. Its innovation and distinctive approach include balancing micro- and macro- nutrients in its food to ensure children are receiving optimum nutrition for their age, cognitive and physical development; testing each meal in a laboratory for quality control; and tailoring menus to the local environment.

Fuelling minds versus filling stomachs

We have spent the last year securing premises in Watford and building what will become the UK’s first GMSP Akshaya Patra Kitchen, when it opens at the end of October. The Kitchen model produces up to 5,000 healthy, vegetarian hot meals per day for children in the Watford and London area at a much larger and more cost-effective scale than individual holiday club providers, without compromising on high standards of nutrition. We are not doing this just to fill bellies, which would be substituting one problem – hunger – with another – poor nutrition. What matters is for all school-age children to have regular access to healthy, nutritious food that will fuel their learning and development. We’re not only filling stomachs, we’re feeding minds.

Our shared goal is to expand the GMSP Akshaya Patra centralised kitchen model to serve more meals to children and those living in food poverty around the UK. And with each meal served here, a meal is donated to a child in India.

The GMSP Akshaya Patra Kitchen is a solution that is fit for the 21st century – responding to the hunger crisis in a way that centres the health and rights of the UK’s most disadvantaged children, is cost effective and environmentally sustainable by design. Ultimately, this is about nothing less than transforming the wellbeing and future of a nation – and that future starts in their bellies.

Ramesh Sachdev is the founder of the GMSP Foundation.