A chilled jar of chutney was a serendipitous discovery that an architect, a doctor and a food vendor arrived at the e Reimagine Waste Hackathon. Aakarsh Shamanur, of Team 3C which came second at the Hackathon, takes The Good City through his journey.
No food tastes as good as street food, and both the food, and vendors are an integral part of any city’s cultural & economic fabric. Did you know that Bengaluru’s street vendors have an estimated market value of Rs. 2,737.5 crore ?
The street food vendor was the focus for the Reimagine Waste Hackathon 02, which was jointly organised by Waste Impact, a not-for-profit registered in Bengaluru & Centre for Product Design and Manufacturing (CPDM) at IISc Bengaluru.
I participated in this event hearing about it from a friend as since I have always been inclined to work with underserved communities. On Day 1, the participants were taken to various Waste-Segregation units across the city followed by visits to markets and locations known for the best street food. I was allotted bus number 1 and we had an opportunity to visit Kasa Rasa-2 in Koramangala. When I was walking towards the segregation unit, run by Saahas, I noticed that the roof had been made from discarded Tetrapak. I am an architect and am familiar with the material and its application. I began to point it out to the other participants and for a moment I became the tour guide. In the urban cacophony of Bengaluru, it was gratifying to see first hand that an organisation is working towards creating value-based products from waste. Wet waste was collected from several households and converted into manure, thereby closing the loop.
We then went on to visit the Madiwala Market and interacted with several fruit and vegetable vendors. The first thing that struck me was that we are all intrinsically meant to throw away waste. If you look back in time, all the packaging was made out of natural materials, you would throw it away after use and it would decompose. The wet waste was fed to livestock. We did see the same process continue here as well, but the waste was mixed with a lot of synthetic based materials, which would eventually make its way into the cow’s digestive system and then into a cup of chai.
We concluded the day with a visit to HSR Layout, where a lane had turned into a self-organised food-vending zone with a variety of flavours to relish. Our primary intention was to observe these vendors to get a first hand experience of challenges and pain points of the street vending ecosystem. What better way to experience street food than to taste it? I noticed that most of the dishes were freshly made, even most of the vegetables were freshly chopped and the level cleanliness maintained on these carts was at par to some of the up-market restaurants I’ve eaten at. I confidently ordered a soya bean soup at Sri Ganesh Hot Soup and whilst sipping it, I noticed a group of vendors congregating.
They were getting together for a meeting which is held regularly to keep a tab on the situation with respect to the various stakeholders involved in “letting” them vend. As the meeting progressed, a young couple who wanted to start a food-vending cart was introduced to the vendors. Most of the vendors turned a little hostile, a vendor even asked them, why does a relatively affluent person like you want to come down to our level on the footpath to sell food.? Taking the dialogue forward, another vendor asked the aspiring food vendors for their CV (curriculum vitae) and promised to find him a job within 15 days.
I realised that there are so many factors affecting street vending, especially in the context of implementation of the Street Vendors Act (2014) in Bengaluru. These street food vendors have to operate in a complex web of stakeholders and constantly fear eviction, as they are perceived to be a nuisance in a locality despite the numerous benefits their presence offers.
On the way back to IISc, I began to wonder how the perception of street vending could be improved. After an informal ice-breaker session in the bus, I began to share my observations with my fellow passengers, and one of them, Dr. Nilima, who voiced similar concerns.
On Day 2, we began with problem pitching, where each of us were asked to come up on stage and share a problem statement along with the end goal we intend to achieve. Following a brief chat with Dr. Nilima, we decided to form a team with Hanumantharaya, a food vendor in Jalahalli and work towards to improving the perception of street food vendors from a more holistic perspective (compared to a more visual & spatial point of view which I earlier had). Our team comprised of a Doctor, a food vendor & an architect.
During the brainstorming session I realized how important it is to be a part of a diverse team. After drawing a large mind-map of all the possible avenues to intervene, we zeroed in on the primary causes for stomach upsets. We learnt that uncooked food and storage of chutney for prolonged period of time causes the colony count of bacteria and viruses to go up. On consumption, these chutney or other accompaniments cause stomach upsets. As a possible solution, we decided to provide on-demand chutney to street vendors. This chutney would be freshly made at a vending zone and provided in chilled jars to increase the shelf life. At first, we had a good laugh over the chutney idea, but the convergence of all our thoughts instilled a sense of confidence in me and we decided to call our team as Chutney Chaataai. The solution we designed was called Chilled Chutney Cart (3C), which would be stationed at various food vending zones to provide fresh on-demand chutney prepared under hygienic conditions.
The highlight of the entire hackathon for me was the diverse group of mentors who were present at Reimagine Waste-2. On Day 3, our team had the opportunity to interact with mentors such as Anand Kumar Padmanaban, Dr. Manish Arora, Archana Sinha, Surbhi Sharma and many more. Each one of them provided my team with multiple-perspectives ranging from the business model to the financials, which we were to consider while working on our solution. At that point of time, the first thought that zipped past my mind was, “How do they expect us to integrate all of that?” By the end of the day, our team had the Aha! moment and we saw everything fit in place. From my experience of working in a group, there is no better feeling than knowing that we all are on the same page and achieving that is very crucial.
With our entire pitch in place, Day 4 had a feeling of excitement in the air. We had to take part in a semi-final pitch to a smaller panel of judges. A panelist hypothetically asked Hanumantharaya (the food vendor from our team), if he would take up the business of making chutney? And radiating with confidence, he replied, “Yes, I will definitely take it up”. For me, the effort we had put into the project had paid off just by knowing that someone would take up your business idea.
Prior to the final pitch, we got ourselves aprons and caps to propagate the idea of hygienic food vending.Dr. Nilima had prepared fresh chutney which was going to be served with happallas (papad) made by Hanumantharaya. We put together a makeshift chilled jar to depict how the actual product would be sold and created an atmosphere of food vending prior to our pitch. During our final pitch, the judges were thrilled to have happalla and Chutney, and the audience were made aware how important it is to consume fresh & hygienically prepared chutney.
Since a large number of students participated in the Hackathon, many solutions were product centric and had immense potential to be taken up to a social impact venture.
Team 3C (Chilled Chutney Cart) won the second prize of Rs. 50,000 to implement a pilot project. We also qualified for the 45 day challenge, where our idea will be further refined. We intend to integrate other solutions such as steam based dish-washing for cutlery and lighting services for other street food vendors. We look forward to transforming the perception of street vending through the 3C project and intend to enable the availability of healthy and hygienic food to the citizens of Bengaluru.