Friday, June 20, 2008

Hunger cafes

The world is filled with eating houses of every kind, from hamburger joints to three-star restaurants. There are places you drive through and places where you sit down. But the world may be unfamiliar with a Mumbai variation on the theme: the hunger cafe.

They are not soup kitchens, for denizens of this city have little time to serve other people food. In a city that never stops selling stocks and shooting movies, they prefer drive-by benevolence.

The hunger cafes have stood for decades on a stretch of road in the Mahim neighborhood. Mumbai’s broken, drifting men squat in neat rows in front of each establishment, waiting patiently. Vats full of food simmer behind the doors. What separates them from the food is the 25-cent-per-plate cost — a gulf harder to bridge than one might assume. But every so often, a car pulls up and makes a donation, and the men dine.

The restaurant owners describe their mission as charity, but their establishments are profit making, if only meagerly so. Only in India, perhaps, where no business niche long goes unexploited, would a group of restaurateurs rely for their livelihoods on the starving.
--Anand Giridharadas, NYT, on how the hungry are fed in Mumbai

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