Since we were finally in our last year of school, we decided to approach our Principal and ask her to hold a school fest, which we seniors would take full responsibility for. We were all keen to do something special for our school before the exams loomed on us. This would be our largest annual fund raising event. We also had a brilliant idea that all the money raised would be used to enhance the educational needs of our students with special needs. Our school always contributed a lot towards charity and we were proud of that fact. Over the years, after spending time in school, each one of us had valued the importance of charity and how it truly begins at ‘home’.
We decided to showcase our innovative school food program, which offered nutritious, locally prepared meals to students throughout its districts. The plan was to partner with more than a dozen local organizations, such as farmers markets, food banks, and school garden programs, to present an action-packed afternoon. The festival would provide information for educators and parents, a food-themed art contest for kids, and a screening of food that is nourishing for children. We also thought that we could invite school nutritionists and food directors as special guests.
The festival would offer parents, students, and educators an opportunity to mobilize and connect, along with tools and inspiration to spread the school food revolution throughout the neighbourhood and beyond.
It was such a wonderful surprise when I was given the privilege of being the ‘Senior Host’ at our school Food Festival. This has been a tradition in our school that I was happy to be involved with and was able to help make possible. When we first started working on the project, we spent quite a while making posters. We spent our free time making ribbons, streamers and other small decorations. We also zeroed in on the place we would hold the fest.
Finally the important day was upon us. It was a bright morning with a chilly breeze that made you cold, especially if you weren’t wearing a sweater (like me). My friends and I began putting up decorations along the poles and walls of ground zero (festival area). All those streamers we had helped make were wrapped all over the poles and posters of different heritages taped along wall windows and doors. Then when lunchtime was close we were allowed to eat early in time for the fest.
After the break we started to take out the tables to where all the food was to be set. The tables were a lot heavier than they looked. We set them out and lined them along the sidewalk and in between the now decorated poles. Then we began to tear colour butcher paper and use it as table covers for the tables. We also helped tie balloons for a while. Then we began to heat up and place food on the tables. After what seemed like no time at all people started coming in and the food festival began.
There was of course food and entertainment. All types of food lined the tables and the smell of the food made your taste buds water and your stomach rumble. There was a long line that people were willing to wait in just to get food and get a taste of dishes from all over. For entertainment we had our school band playing and belting out numbers and entertainment by the school itself that ranged from students to teachers.
Being part of the food festival was a great experience. It was great seeing all the decorations I helped make all over the place. The area looked like a rainbow of colours and cultures, not to mention the beautiful flags that lined the roof. The area was unrecognizable from its usually boring brown colour to this lively colourful place. I was amazed and proud by the transformation and couldn’t believe that I actually helped make it so nice. It’s a nice memory to look back on and I hope to enjoy other festivals like this one. Only I think I’d like to enjoy it as the guest not the host because it’s not too much fun cleaning up and scrubbing tables afterwards. But now that I think of it, it was worth it from the work to the food.
I gave a small speech. “Food festivals serve as platforms for sharing agro-biodiversity, and are a cultural expression of traditional food and agricultural traditions. They allow people to exchange ideas and highlight the challenges that indigenous people face, empowering communities with a sense of ownership. I feel school food festivals promote conservation, by encouraging communities to grow nutritious and beneficial plants in kitchens, communities and school gardens.”
I went on saying, “The idea of the food festival is primarily to re-integrate value back into food systems and food culture. Through such festivals, communities become aware of the importance of reviving their traditional food practices and production, leading to increased local resilience and food security. They beautify their food by presenting traditional dishes, as well as explaining and documenting the cultural and ecological links. Food festivals are multidimensional community driven initiatives that empower people via a ground up approach.”
“Come one come all, savour the special spicy ‘Chaat’ at my stall,” shouted out my friend Anisha.
One gets to hear this innumerable times while passing by on a busy street or via vendors roaming around on foot with their baskets on their heads. Our very own streets serve as a significant mode of livelihood for the majority of India’s population. It is a fact that many of the well-known restaurants started off as makeshift stalls at crowded lanes. All the lip smacking bites we savour at the beach or on the roadsides are the magical creations of these street vendors. It is also true that some of the small start-ups still remain at the same spot with their shacks, satisfying the customer’s taste buds, maintaining their quality food for years together.
We used our school fest to emerge as a platform for representation of the street vendor’s community. There were more than 25 states with multiple stalls serving their specialties. Be it the ‘Bhelpuri’ and ‘Vada Pav’ from Maharashtra or ‘Laal Maas’ and ‘Paneer Cheela’ from Rajasthan, all found a place in this humongous stadium of ours. While food items like chicken and fish ‘Pakora’ were common among many stalls, a few offered the guests special and innovative dishes which were not easily available in our markets. I could see parents quite happy and excited at watching their children at work and managing stalls.
In all these, Assam’s stall was one of a kind. The stall, set up by our Assamese students from Guwahati, served salty ‘Pani-Petha’ and sweet ‘Ketli-Petha’ – dishes unique to their region. We had invited a few well-known Master Chefs as judges and even organised a stand-up comedy and magic shows that were greatly appreciated and were the main attractions along with the food with applauds echoing amongst the gathering.
Hyderabadi ‘Haleem’, originally an Iranian dish made with chicken and spices and served during Ramzan, really appealed to all of us. Moreover, Telangana, formerly a part of Andhra Pradesh, which recently got recognized as a separate state, shared the space with other states. ‘Mirchi Bhaji’ was the most popular. The festival not only saw blending and inter-mixing of cultures, but also raised an important issue pertaining to the food structure in our country.
After gaining an insight into the world of street food, my friends and I gorged on some sweet and sour ‘Jodhpuri Dabeli’, and Patna’s Chicken ‘Litti’ which is worth mentioning for its delectable taste. ‘Kesar Kulfi’ and ‘Badam’ milk gave a perfect completeness to our gastronomical cravings. The endless assortment and diversity, the misty cold weather, the smiling faces of the enthusiastic visitors and the exuberant energy at our street food stalls added to the appetizing experience at the food festival.
That night, we all slept soundly as we were extremely tired. Sunday was an off as well so we were all well-rested before heading back to school on Monday. Though on Sunday, we had all met up and discussed the food fest at length and the fun we had. Many of the local newspapers had covered our school event with pictures and heaped us with praise. That had made our day!
All in all, we felt we had done a good job but still we were apprehensive till we came to know the final verdict from our Principal at assembly time. At 8:00 am sharp, we all stood in queue and our Principal addressed us all after the school prayer. With thumping hearts, we were told that not only had we done a stupendous job but we had managed to raise a whopping amount for the students of our school who had special needs and that we could also be able to contribute towards the underprivileged children who needed an education. We were absolutely thrilled and couldn’t contain our excitement, so we all let out a shout of ‘Hurray and Thanks’ to all those who had helped us out.
It felt so good to be able to give back to society in whatever small way we could.
- loomed: emerged
- gastronomical: art of eating good food
- stupendous: remarkable