Interesting article on the langar (free lunch service) in the Sikh Golden Temple
This article was interesting in many ways.
Just the logistics and mechanics involved in such a large daily feeding boggles the mind.
These langars are a basic features of large Sikh gurudwaras (temples) wherever they are.
I haven't visited the free lunch in the Amritsar Golden Temple, but one of the best lunches on the tourist circuits in Kenya is in the Sikh temple in Makindu (Nairobi-Mombasa road). In Makindu they request a token payment from those who can afford it (not compulsory). They also have a good basic vegetarian lunch and they had a really excellent freshly made sweet lime juice to drink on our visit.
It's of course, always good to have a positive story on food and communal relations coming from South Asia (for a change).
I know there are other temples of other faiths in India (e.g. Hindu temples like the Udipi temple and Annapoorneshwari temple in Karnataka) that offer a free lunch to all devotees.
Are there any other faith based free food traditions elsewhere in the world, or have these been secularized to the soup kitchens / food pantries serving the poor?
I think one good thing about the temple based langars is that it doesn't single out or stigmatize low income people. The person eating next to you could be rich or poor ....
I can think of two places in my own community that serve similar meals. On Tuesdays the Seventh Day Adventist church has the Community Soup Kitchen. SCK is open to all and encourages everyone to come and enjoy a meal and fellowship, donations are welcome. I have gone with my daughter to help and of course partake of the meal and fellowship. The church does a good job of making everyone feel welcome and keep religion to the opening prayer. The mix of people was mostly the parishioners and friends and then the poor and the transients. But it is fun to hear everyones stories and those in need go away with containers of soup, sandwiches and whatever else (all vegetarian). It would be nice if more of the community would take part, for it really is about the community not the church ( I am not of this faith), but it seems we Americans at least have an aversion to anything that may make us seem poor.
The second venue for the poor and the prosperous to receive a meal is the Senior Center. They are located in probably every city and town in America and you do not need to be a senior to partake. A full lunch for the paying is $5 and the nonpaying are covered by a program similar to the free lunch program at schools. Although you may need to be a senior to qualify but I've never seen our Senior Center turn people away. I have gone as a paying customer (I'm 40) and it was delicious cafeteria style and more than I could eat. The meal also included a beverage and dessert. The mix of people is mostly seniors but they have begun an advertising campaign to try and draw others in. They have also begun to have a monthly dinner where they bring in a chef from a culinary school in the next county to try and raise awareness and yes the paying and nonpaying are served together.
I live in a community where 80% of children qualify for free lunch. That means that a huge portion of our households have adults that are also hungry. We are a fairly close community and I think this idea could be taken much farther here. It is a challenge to try and find a means that is non-denominational and does not distinguish between rich and poor.
I totally forgot that all sufi shrines across Pakistan have langars. The subject came up yesterday when Zardari announced that all sufi shrines will be closed for one year due to terrorist threats and someone pointed out that there would be no institution filling the role of feeding the poor without those langars. Very sad news.
I had the opportunity to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar some years ago and had lunch and amazing halva puri.
On faith based free food traditions:
It is not part of normative Islam, but in South Asia for Muslims there is the concept of feeding the poor on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Like suppose your grandfather died, on that day every year you would make/have made giant vats of pullao and distribute these to the poor in his name.
It is Ramadan now. Charity giving is a major tenet of faith in Islam just as in other faiths. Charity is usually monetary, but can also be given in donation of time/labor, and of course food. There is the concept of feeding the poor for iftaar during Ramadan. Personally, it saddens me that these practices are very well adhered to during Ramadan but we affluent people don't do them all year round as technically our religion encourages us to do them all year long, but people are only very good about them during Ramadan mostly. In Pakistan during Ramadan, there are special restaurants where you can donate money to feed people freshly cooked meals for iftaar. Like say the resto can provide meals for people at 18 rupees per head, you make a donation based on that for how many faster's break-fast meals you can afford to donate.
In the UAE and Oman (and probably elsewhere but I am reporting based on my own observation), local mosques provide free iftaar meals to anyone who stops by for iftaar. The people of the neighborhood send huge platters of food, and men (mostly manual laborers) wait in line to get the food. Really this practice should be done all year long, too.
There is also the concept of planting a fruit bearing tree or establishing a water source so that one may continue to be charitable even after death. So sometimes people have water taps or these giant metallic water coolers that are attached to the outside of their houses so that the less fortunate may have free access to water.
In the US, many mosques have free lunch (but encourage donation) after the Friday afternoon prayer, and also have iftaars. Usually the community donates food for both of these types of events, potluck style.
The last faith based free food tradition is that there is the major holiday of Eid Al Azha on which those who can afford to do so have an animal slaughtered and have the meat distributed to the poor. There are also social events on which it is encouraged to give charity by feeding the poor in this way.
Thank you luckyF for that great summary. Like you, I was thinking that in this day and age, it is a shame that free food and communal eating (open to all, no matter what your faith or economic status) isn't a more widespread custom of more groups (faith based or just public spirited).
Maybe one day I can try ....
Your account of the water source reminded me of the "pyaus/piaoos" set up in the hotter areas of India (e.g. Rajasthan) - free drinking stations for any passer by, set up by rich people .... another very worthy tradition
I am Sikh, living in Toronto and I know that all Gurdwaras in Canada provide langar services at least twice a day (lunch and dinner) there is no charge, however those that can afford to do so are encouraged to provide a donation. Anyone is welcome to eat langar, rich, poor, no questions are asked about a person's faith, need, etc. I imagine that anywhere in the world there is a Gurdwara, langar services are provided to the community.