On this day, March 16, 1974, the founder of Food for Life, Srila Prabhupada wrote to his student, Satyajit das:
“I am hopeful that if we can widely distribute free foodstuffs to the people of India, by giving it out at our centers as well as by traveling parties to villages, we will win over the whole country and the whole world by this activity on Krishna’s behalf” (Srila Prabhupada to Satyajit das, March 16, 1974).
It was Srila Prabhupada’s hope that through the liberal distribution of pure (sanctified plant-based) meals, that the whole world could become peaceful and prosperous. Not long before he wrote that letter to his student he requested that no one within a ten-mile radius of any of his temples should go hungry. These visionary ideals and orders inspired his students all over the world to start what is now known as Food for Life.
Food for Life is essentially free prasadam distribution to the public as an expression of the volunteers’ unconditional love for them. The project has taken on many formats over the last 40 years, from humble street distribution from pots to expensive and sophisticated midday meal meals program serving millions of school children across India. The common denominator in all of them is that each Food for Life program distributes prasadam (plant-based meals that have been prepared with love and offered with love to God) before being served to the public. Preparing meals in this way ensures that the recipients get nourishment of their body, mind and soul.
When Food for Life started in Mayapur, India the yoga students served kitchri, a dhal and rice curry with vegetables. Today Food for Life projects serve a variety of meals that are typically designed according to local taste, but always plant-based.
Although ISKCON has been the heart and soul behind the success of Food for Life, the program itself has expanded beyond the limitations of one spiritual institution by focusing on the essence of what the founder, Srila Prabhupada envisioned.
In the Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, he commented:
Everyone should be given a chance to take prasada and thus be induced to chant the holy names of Hare Krishna and also dance in ecstasy. By these three processes, although performed without knowledge or education, even a dog went back to Godhead.” (CC Antya lila 1.32).
He thus envisioned the distribution of prasadam to not be limited by the capacity of the spiritual institution (ISKCON) he had founded.
Around the same time he made an even more profound statement about what exactly was the mission of his Krishna Consciousness Movement:
“The Krishna consciousness movement is based on this principle: Chant the Hare Krishna maha mantra at every moment, as much as possible, both inside and outside of the temples, and, as far as possible, distribute prasada. This process can be accelerated with the cooperation of state administrators and those who are producing the country’s wealth. Simply by liberal distribution of prasada and sankirtana, the whole world can become peaceful and prosperous.” (SB 4.12.10).
For those not familiar with the Vaisnava tradition of India, it is essentially based on the ideal that self-realisation and indeed a happy society can be achieved through the chanting of God’s holy names and the sharing of pure food (prasadam). Although, at first, this statement appears simplistic, it is strongly supported by the fact that every culture in the world has established its identity and relevance through the same ideals — music and food. What Srila Prabhupada and his predecessors have attempted to do, therefore, is to create a spiritual culture and thus a revolution in consciousness by using these same methods, only connecting them to the service of God.
Chaitanya Vaisnavism is one of the many monotheistic traditions coming out of India and its founding father was Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the 15th century saint, scholar and avatar who established that the chanting of the holy name of God was the only way to achieve self-realisation in this modern age. Today is the anniversary of his appearance. He taught that all beings are spiritually equal, and just like Saint Francis of Assisi before him he expressed such unconditional love by dancing with wild animals in the Jarikanda forest.
During the peak of his mission he would spend most of the day encouraging large crowds to chant the holy name of Krishna and then manage the distribution of enormous quantities of prasadam. Srila Prabhupada comes in a direct line of spiritual masters following Sri Chaitanya and so he made sure that his movement (ISKCON) followed the same principles.
Food for Life was founded to fulfil one of the principle objectives of ISKCON and the direct order of Srila Prabhupada that everyone be given a chance to take prasadam. However, in the spirit of brotherhood, tolerance and unconditional love, it can only succeed with an “open-arm” approach by allowing ALL people, from ALL backgrounds to participate in this universally accepted act of liberally sharing food.
What I attempt to do in my new book, FOOD YOGA is to demystify the ancient culture of prasadam distribution and make it accessible to all men and women. Food yoga is essentially a way to help all people connect with each other as family; to connect our body, mind and soul as one complimentary unit, and ultimately, to reconnect with the source of all creation, God through the humble act of offering food with love.
Today, Food for Life volunteers serve up to 3 million prasadam meals per day. That is about 2000 meals a minute or 35 meals every second! However, the actual number of prasadam meals being distributed could be double this amount when we embrace the idea that prasadam is not culturally exclusive to Hinduism.
Since food has the power to speak all languages and unite even enemies, it is our firm belief that the most pure food; food that has been prepared with love and offered with love to God has a tremendous power to create peace and unity in the world, just as Srila Prabhupada envisioned over 40 years ago.
On the 40th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada statements to his student Satyajit, we at Food for Life Global feel even more inspired and hopeful that the world can experience a spiritual revolution and achieve true peace and prosperity in the near future the more the people of the world embrace the teachings of Sri Chaitanya.