3 AM Lessons on Sustainability: GIEU India 2015 (by Ella)

Today we experienced a new side of the sustainable food chain that supports the Golden Temple’s belief in free, healthy meals for everyone. Since the food the Golden Temple serves is fresh everyday, the community goes to open air markets and buys up hundreds of kilograms of fresh produce, and donates them to the temple. Today, we helped buy some of that produce. Since cooking in the Golden Temple starts early, we got up at 3 am, the streets of Amritsar not yet filled with the “controlled chaos” that many of us students have observed, the kind of traffic that weaves in and out and doesn’t follow any perceivable laws. The market was about twenty minutes away, and we were the first to arrive, the farmers still asleep on blankets near their piled wares, or on top of their not yet filled trucks. It was peaceful in a way, despite the flies and heat, but I didn’t truly appreciate the market until the sun rose, the massive amounts of food outlined in morning light. I am used to farmers markets, have witnessed the large quantities of food that gather at Eastern Market near Downtown Detroit. But the food at this open air warehouse lodged between the highway and buildings, was on a different scale. The farmers had fifty pound bags of potatoes piled eight deep, green chiles heaping in baskets, squash overflowing from truck backs. How did the people of India buy up this much fresh and brimming produce, when in America people don’t even know what a farmer’s market is?

What I found most amazing about this market compared to those we find in America was the sheer amount of food, and thus the sheer demand for fresh produce in Amritsar. In the Punjabi culture, food is important, especially in Amritsar, “the holy city”, where food is seen as a service to god. Indian families come to these open air markets to buy for the week, like we do at the supermarket, and so their diet contains fresh, local, seasonal, and nutritious food. They don’t contribute as much to the environmental impact that food transportation costs because they buy from Amritsar farmers. They support local economy by buying from farmers. And they eat food that is full of nutrients and minerals. I don’t want to speak for all Indian families in the Amritsar area, but the amount of people seen digging through fresh food and bargaining with farmers, walking away with bags full of eggplant or garlic, tells me that fresh local food is a large part of the culture here. Is this too deeply engrained in this one place’s culture and history for it to be spread to other places like America, or can we create a new outlook on food? It seems the idea of farmer’s markets is slowly creeping into mainstream culture, but we have a long way to go in comparison.

– Ella

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