Thursday, January 8, 2009


Temples, churches, mosques and synagogues are symbols of faith of humanity on a super natural entity one may call God or by any other name and offers millions hope and peace during their life time and/or beyond. There are millions of such faith based institutions spread all over the world, located at places with easy approach. Though man has achieved many technological feats and expanded his knowledge to unimaginable levels in his pursuit for improving the life on this planet, as long as he cannot restore life once it is extinguished, the concept of existence of a super human being guiding the destiny will remain amongst most of the mankind. For every religion, food is a basic symbol of communion with God and such foods are invariably prepared for distribution to the devotees within the premises of these centers of worship. The rigors of the quality requirements, physical, sensory and spiritual, for each of these foods are evolved over many years and are often rigid making it difficult for any centralized mass production.

This topic was chosen for this issue of the blog after hearing about the saga of Cavanagh family in Rhode Island, USA which made fortunes making altar bread for thousands of churches across the world. Bread, used as sacramental offering for Catholic Christians and some other sects, represents breaking of the bread at the Last Supper and the body of Christ. Rain or shine, this business had grown steadily since 1943 for the last 65 years with four generations involved in carrying the business forward. Cavanagh family makes 80% of the communion bread used by Catholics, Episcopal, Lutheran and Southern Baptist chapters in USA, Australia, Canada and UK. The bread made by them in their modern plants do not crumb. Traditionally nuns, priests or members of a congregation make altar bread. Cavanagh family distributes their altar bread to religious supply stores, monasteries etc. Well made bread is known to last for more than an year without spoilage. It is estimated that the facilities set up by the family can turn out 25 million bread a week.

If Cavanagh family can do business built on the requirements for devotees, why such efforts cannot be made in India where there is a temple or a mosque or a church for every thousand people. Invariably devotees get the sacred offerings from these institutions when ever they go for worship. Food is the medium through which God' blessings are supposed to be received by devotees,especially in Hindu temples giving solace, peace and comfort to millions of people. We have best examples in Tirupati, Sabarimalai, Guruvayur, Udipi, Dharmasthala, Madurai, Varanasi, Badrinath and Kedarnath, Rameshwaram, Palani, and many others all over the country attracting millions of people every day. Can we take a leaf out of the Cavanagh family's experience and organize preparation and distribution of food offerings scientifically and safely?

There are encouraging signs, sending across the message that many temples are aware of the risks in not paying attention to hygiene and sanitation at the preparation places and neglecting safety and quality while procuring raw materials for making safe products. The Infossys inspired food center at Mantralaya, the modern kitchens and dining facilities in Dharmasthala, Tirupati's pioneering efforts to modernize the laddu making facilities, the mechanized production facilities for neyyappam and aravana payasam at Sabarimalai, ISKON's modern kitchens are all examples of this change of mindset amongst the religious institutions. However this is only a small part of the Indian panorama of temple foods and much more needs to be done. Conservatism and orthodoxy will definitely come in the way of an easy change over but all sections of devotees have to be carried along to bring revolutionary changes in this area.

In south western Karnataka, many temples offer as prasadam a dry powder made from rice, jaggery/sugar and copra gratings, packed in paper sachets and thousands of devotees, visiting these temples take them home as it has a good shelf life. This item is made at centralized places by a few entrepreneurs who sell them to the temples where after pooja they are distributed. Is such an approach feasible in other regions of the country? Why not associations of devotees be formed for each temple for taking up the responsibility of making the sacred offerings in modern manufacturing facilities with safety getting utmost attention and priority? Almost all temples have adequate land at their disposal to set up such facilities and since 80% of the temples are under government control, necessary funds can be found easily. Alternately, why not the leading industrial houses take up the responsibility of modernizing these temple kitchens, with a liberal dose of technology and engineering and in the process getting recognition for such social services, providing employment to many and bringing socour to the devotees. Food technology has a vital role to play in bringing about such a transition.


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