On the Menu: 1 Billion Breaths for India - New Canadian Media
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On the Menu: 1 Billion Breaths for India

Canadian restaurateurs of Indian origin are joining the 1 Billion Breaths campaign to help provide those in the sub-continent clean oxygen through the COVID-19 pandemic – one plate at a time.

Ten restaurant owners of Indian background recently caused a stir in Canada with a unique fundraising effort for the COVID-afflicted. Their proposition: A special take-out menu at a price, the proceeds of which would go towards supporting states in India that were running short of oxygen. 

The restaurant owners hitched their dinner wagons to the 1 Billion Breaths global campaign for pandemic-beleaguered India “to raise money and awareness to support a country that got us here in the first place,” according to the campaign’s website. It was a culinary journey involving some of the best Indian restaurants in the world to help a country of over 1 billion people catch its breath.

The first of its kind in North America, the initiative saw master chefs and restaurateurs get together for a common cause. Ladling out Kofta curries, invoking the inviting aroma of Biryani, plates of crisp Dosa with coconut chutney, the enthusiasm rustled up 28 participating restaurateurs, three more than the targeted number.

The idea came from Basu Dev Ratnam, a New York restaurateur who owns Inday, a group of three India-inspired, fast-casual restaurants.We have family and friends who are buying vaccines, oxygenators on the black market for 10 times the going price,” Ratnam observed in the Eater Chicago newsletter

The restaurateurs were from Toronto, Ottawa, New York, Los Angeles, and London. The 1 Billion Breaths campaign ran from May 24 to May 30, 2021 on dates of their choosing. 

Slicing and Dicing for a Cause

In Canada, Ratnam first reached out to three Indian restaurateurs: Joe Thottungal of Thali/Coconut Lagoon in Ottawa, Vikram Vij of My Shanti and Vij’s restaurant from Surrey, B.C., and Miheer Shete of Curryish from Toronto. There was also demand from other leading restaurants to partake, and thus began the initiative.

Joe Thottungal, an award winning chef and author of Cookbooks, explained that when the 1 Billion Breaths organizers did their math, it was calculated that 10 kilos of Medical Oxygen would cost 5,600 INR or $86 USD and 105$CDN. Every meal box sumptuously fed two persons.

“We were free to choose our menu and the dates of service, and so at Thali, we offered special meals both vegetarian and non-vegetarian… all of which was put together with local produce,” he told NCM.

Thottungal quoted Ratnam to say that “after carefully vetting different charities and agencies in India, we decided on Oxygen for India and Give India Oxygen,” both of which would receive 100 per cent of the proceeds raised. 

The goal was to raise $250,000 USD over the course of the week ending May 30, though Thottungal estimates they raised closer to $300,000. 

In a radio interview with the CBC, Thottungal explained the passion behind the community effort, acknowledging that his business, like others, thrives by showcasing Indian cuisine and culture. Making good food is what they can do to make someone’s life better at this time.

Vikram Vij, a key player in the campaign, is an Indian-born chef, cookbook author, and television personality who owns My Shanti in South Surrey, B.C. He said after being approached by Ratnam, he found the proposal fascinating. 

“I enjoy fresh air and an invigorating environment in Canada,” he told NCM. “I wanted to give back the fresh air boon I had to my homeland suffering to take even one breath.” 

My Shanti, unlike the others, ran an in-house campaign on the premises, though they took orders online. “During the campaign week, our customers were served not just food but details of the oxygen shortage and what was the need of the hour in India,” Vij said. 

“We served around 10 to 12 tables, if not more, per day. My waiters, staff, and I went from table to table discussing the pandemic.”  

The name My Shanti means ‘Peace.’  “With an awful lot of chaos in India,” Vij said, “I want to share peace and remove stress.”  

A Philanthropic Menu

Canadians and immigrants of Indian origin relished the five different styles of fare Vij offered: Chickpeas (North Indian style), Jack fruit special from Kerala, Panch Mishali Torkari from West Bengal, Sat Dal (Gujarati) and Fried vegetable (ladies finger) from  Middle India.

The 56-year-old Punjabi who grew up in Delhi thought it was a very fulfilling experience. 

“We made around $1,000 CAD on the vegetarian fare” and received praise from visitors, he said. Vikram owns VIj’s and is also co-owner of Rangoli Restaurant in Vancouver.

Hailing from Ottawa, Thottungal contributed a South Indian menu that could be ordered online and delivered on May 26. At Thali, his food boxes brought in $15,000 and everything prepared for this event was sold out in a single day, well ahead of the May 30 deadline. 

His non-veg take-out included Kashmiri Lamb, Tilapia Mappas and Malabar Duck Biryani. He chose to support local farmers buying their products. 

“The biryani was cooked with local ducks from a local farm,” he said. 

The vegetarian meals had Kadai Paneer Mushroom and Peas Kurma, along with Malabar Vegetable Biryani replacing the non-veg items. Of course, there was a choice of drinks too. 

Thottungal’s Thali fare had the High Commissioner  for  India in Canada, Ajay Bisaria, the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, and Business Council of India President and CEO, Goldy Hyder, order his take-outs. His ethnic fare was eagerly scooped up by those who had gone with him on the annual tours of his home state for ‘The Kerala Spice Trail’. 

Thottungal has been consistent with his philanthropy. He still supports ‘Food For Thought’ from his downtown restaurant, Thali, making 300 to 400 meals per day, though recently he increased that number to 1,000.

The third initial participant was Miheer Shete, owner of Curryish in Toronto, offering Contemporary Fare. He used delivery vans to supply customers. 

The Curryish offer included Ontario Ramps Marinated Tandoori Chicken and Lemon Artichoke Curry. These came with Garlic Naan and Star Anise Basmati Rice. 

“It was (a) full house for me,” he said. “ My aim was to attract all kinds of food lovers with a kind heart.”  

He estimates that maybe around 30 to 40 couples who were not all necessarily of Indian origin, supported the campaign. 

The 1 Billion Breaths website lists the 28 participants and includes the other seven Indian immigrant-owned Canadian restaurants, which went full steam for the campaign:  Bhai’s Indian Canteen,  Haldi, Mantra, The Host, all from Toronto, apart from East India Co, Taj Indian Cuisine, from Ottawa, Vikram’s Vij’s from Vancouver, B.C. 

Giving India a Breather

The High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria told NCM that Canada was one of the first countries to rush aid to India. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged $10 million to the Canadian Red Cross to support the Indian Red Cross Society’s response in India. British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan also chipped in.

For its part, Air Canada had cargo-only flights to ship ventilators, oxygen cylinders, oxygen generators and PPE to Delhi, CISION News Wire reported.

In partnership with Disaster Aid USA (DAUSA),  Air Canada is also raising funds for small oxygen generators at a cost of $550 USD each. They are meant for rural areas in India. The airline company is working in association with Rotary Clubs in Canada, the US and India.

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About the author

Freelance journalist, Author at Self employed

Gita Abraham is a journalist of 45-year standing and has worked in national dallies and magazines in New Delhi including  Hindustan Times and India Today. For 15 years she was the Feature Editor of  The City TAB in Bangalore. She was also  a Professor of Journalism, at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. Treading the thin line between fact and fiction, Gita has  launched her debut novel “Daughter of the Blue Hills”   early this year.  She  and her husband are snowbirds shuffling between Chennai and Ottawa. She has two daughters and two frisky grandsons who inhabit her world.

1 Comment

  1. Chaiwala is in his infra paradise boom !

    What Indian economists do not understand – as they have no industry,business, entrepreneurship, finance,mining or mercantile experience – let alone skills

    The GDP growth in India is Infra led ! So the sales of steel,cement,capital goods, and infra labour is OVER.

    So the key issue is “WHAT INCREMENTAL SALES OR VALUE CAN THE INDIAN RACE GENERATE FROM THIS INFRA

    It is the Magic Number of Genesis – ZERO – THEN THERE WAS NONE !

    Chaiwala says new connectivity will get products to areas where they could not reach – to create new demand,or make the users rise up,the consumption curve.BULLSHIT ! As the humans in the new markets have no cash (DEMO),no money,no jobs, no business

    Chaiwala says that the farmers will get access to markets.BULLSHIT.As the farmers will reach the metros and vice versa,but there will be a 1 time gain for farmers – as there will be a supply glut and traders whose biggest issue was logistics – will get the benefit.But that is ALSO BULL – as farming in India is NOT VIABLE – which means that 500 million people will have declining purchase power,and the only use of the bridges,is for the farmers to hang therefrom.

    Chaiwala’s infra will AID THE RICH AND MONEYED CLASS TO MAKE MORE PROFITS – AS THE BIGGEST LACUNAE IN THEIR RAPACIOUS PLANS, WAS LOGISTICS !

    Chaiwala says Indian Infra will aid the Indian Industry to reduce costs.That is correct.But those with scale will save the most – and so,SME is history.Logistics costs are a part of materials and distribution costs,but a SME needs much more than this to be viable – in terms of finance,economies of scale,power etc – WHICH IS WHAT the SMEs,do NOT have – and which is what,the LARGE CORPORATES HAVE.

    REDUCTION IN COSTS IS NOT THE SAME AS INCREMENTA L GDP. INCREMENTAL GDP WILL COME FROM INCREMENTAL DEMAND – WHICH NEEDS INCREMENTAL PURCHASING POWER,AND PEOPLE HAVE NO MONEY ! SO THE NEXT STEP,IS TO TRANSFR FUNDS,TO THE INDIAN PEOPLE,IN JANDHAN ! ALL TO GET INDIA BANKRUPT !

    SO CHAIWALA EXPECTS AN EXPLOSION IN NEW INDUSTRIES,IN DOWNSTREAM INTERMEDIATE AND FINAL PRODUCTS – WHEREIN SMEs WILL COMPETE,TO KILL EACH OTHER,VIA COMPETITION – SO THAT “THE PRIMARY AND BASIC MATERIAL SUPPLIERS BOOM” !

    AND WHO ARE THE PRIMARY AND BASIC MATERIAL SUPPLIERS ? THESE ARE THE PANWARI BANIA SCUM,AS UNDER :

    A – AGARWAL

    B – BAJAJ

    C – CHORDIA

    D – DALMIA

    E – EMAMI

    G – GUPTA MEESHTAN BHANDAR

    J – JAIN

    K – KANORIA ..

    J – JAIN

    MAMMA MIA – THAT IS WHY CHAIWALA DID THE INFRA BOOM !

    CHAIWALA TRANSFERED 500 BILLION USD TO THE PANWARI BANIA OWNERS,OF STEEL,CEMENT,INFRA,EPC, CAPITAL GOODS UNITS.THE BANIA MATHS,IS AS UNDER :

    ASSUME A PROFIT OF 10%,IS USD 50 BILLION

    INFRA IS END POINT OF GST CHAIN – SO THERE IS NO GST OFFSET – AND SO,THE GOI GAINS BY PRINTING CASH TO STIMULATE THE INFRA

    BUT SINCE THERE IS NO GST,THE BANIA STEEL,CEMENT … UNITS SELL SAY 10% PRODUCTION IN CASH,AND SAVE THE GST OF 10% – WHICH IS USD 5 BILLION,IN THE CASH STACK OF THE BANIA

    CHAIWALA HAS A CALL OPTION ON ALL THIS CASH MADE FOR THE BANIAS,FOR HIS POLL CAMPAIGN AND MEDIA BLITZ !

    BUT THERE IS 1 MORE CATCH ! THE BANIAS MIGHT HAVE INVESTED USD 100 BILLION TO GET CHAIWALA A 2ND TERM – AND THEN, COVID STRUCK ! SO THE ROI FOR THE BANIA,IS A LOSS ! THEREFORE THE INFRA SPEND,LOWERS COSTS FOR THE BANIAS,TILL 2022,TO CUT COSTS FOR THE BANIAS – AND FINANCE CHAIWALA’S,NEXT CAMPAIGN !

    LOOK AT THE BANK NPA AND FRAUDS,IN INDIA – ALL DONE BY BANIAS !

    THAT IS Y I SAY – THE DALITS,MUSLIMS,SC,ST – HAVE TO EXTERMINATE THESE PANWARI BANIAS !

    SHIVAJI PLUNDERED SURAT,7 TIMES !

    Y ?

    HE TOOK BANIAS AS RANSOM ! ID.EST,AFTER LOOTING THE BANIA’S GOLD,HE WENT FOR THEIR PERSON = – AS THERE IS NOTHING THAT A BANIA VALUES MORE THAN HIS LIFE,WHEN HE KNOWS IT WILL END

    SHIVAJI MADE 1 MISTAKE !

    HE DID NOT WIPE THEM OUT ! IN DUE COURSE,THESE BANIAS WERE THE WORKING CAPITAL CHAIN,TO FINANCE THE MUGHALS,TO DESTROY THE MARATHAS !

    THE DALITS AND MUSLIMS HAVE TO LEARN FROM THE MISTAKES OF SHIVAJI ! WHAT IS IN IT FOR THEM IN THE 500 USD BILLION ROADS – WHEN THEY CAN’T EVEN EAT,SHIT,SLEEP OR STAY ON IT ?

    IN THE INFRA,IS A RS 1000 CRORE TOILET SCAM OF TOILETS WHICH WERE NEVER BUILT – AND WERE FUNDED BY INDIAN PSUs LIKE REC,PGC,NTPC,NHPC ………

    https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/40-of-toilets-surveyed-by-cag-in-govt-schools-non-existent-unused/article32680816.ece

    THESE CONTRACTORS ARE ALSO BANIAS ! dindooohindoo

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