Feature - Issue #11
At Sikh temples, food is provided to any and all who wish to eat, regardless of faith or identity. Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck looks at the practice of Langar as a model of inclusion and compassion.
Food is essential to human survival. It is one of our basic needs, in addition to clean air, water, shelter and safety. Yet, the number of people living in food poverty, unable to feed themselves and their families, is rising, with thousands struggling to access food in the United Kingdom. What is and is not freely provided says a lot about a society. With wireless technology and electrical devices ever present, and more and more London bus stops equipped with free internet access and phone charging points, I ponder our priorities.
I believe part of the solution to end food insecurity is a 500-year-old Sikh practice named Langar. Regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, sexual preferences, education, faith and social status, anyone can walk into the food hall of Sikh temples and be served freshly-cooked warm vegetarian food, along with a cup of tea or glass of water. All free of charge and without being asked to donate, become a Sikh or support the temple’s activities.
As a young teenager on a school trip from rural France to London, I was hosted by a British Indian Sikh family. I knew very little about Sikhs - I had been told the men, and sometimes the women, wore a turban - and I had never met a Sikh until then. A decade later, I truly learned about the Sikh faith and its diverse and rich cultural practices. As I met my husband-to-be, Jatinder Singh Durhailay and his family in 2013, I chanced on new tastes, sounds, scents, values and practices.
It has been nearly 10 years since my first visit to a Gurdwara, as Sikh temples are called. I remain now, as I was then, in deep appreciation of the Langar hall, a space nestled in each of these sanctuaries - a living practice. For Sikhs, a Langar is not only a place where all are invited to sit and eat for free, it is a symbol of equality.