Communal food co-op of Kathmandu: feeding the elderly and disabled
Communal food co-op of Kathmandu: feeding the elderly and disabled
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I live in Handigaon, the oldest settlement of the Kathmandu Valley. It is in the old
urban core of Kathmandu. A vegetable market is the central heart of our
neighborhood where daily interactions between neighbors take place. About 30
vendors gather there daily to sell their wares.
Fresh spinach are piled up in carts, jyapu farmers sell small piles of locally grown
pungent red radishes and tiny fragrant coriander beneath the Bhimsenthan Temple,
while panipuri sellers occupy the furthest ends of the square. Two women vie for
small square patches of ground where lime, ginger, garlic and chilli are sold. The
local grocer and his wife sell dried fish, soyabean nuggets, sesame seeds, and ground
spices, via India. Fruitsellers from both Bihar and Southern Nepal line the central part
of the plaza, their bamboo baskets piled high with pomegranate, apples, junar
oranges, bananas, and seasonal delicacies such as jujube, papaya or watermelon.
A few minutes down a lane, there’s a mill that provides freshly ground spices and
barley flour. Walk down towards the Krishna Temple, and there’s a sweetshop selling
fresh samosas and sweets.
I was born and grew up in this neighborhood. I go to this market every single day to
get my vegetables, fruit, and dairy. The butchershop adjoining the temple provides
fresh meat for my dog. I love the daily changing scene, the joys of freshly grown
produce, the surprise of discovering a new fruit or vegetable I’ve never seen before.
Every vendor always laughs at me when I insist they put my purchases in my cloth or
reusable fabric bags. They always try to press polyythene on me, and I always refuse.
“The didi who doesn’t take plastic,” one vendor calls me.
The only time I go to the supermarkets is to buy pumpkin seeds for my father (which
is only available in a big supermarket, unfortunately.) A closer supermart sells me
millet flour, which I use to make dogfood. Otherwise, everything else is sourced from
small local shops.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Handigaon was largely inhabited by the Jyapu farming community. Jyapus are the
farming caste of the Newari community. The neighborhood still retains enough of the
original inhabitants who practice their traditional livelihood to anchor the place to its
origins. I often see my elderly neighbors walking busily with big bags of produce in
their hands, hurrying to the market. They often save their best wares for me, knowing
I appreciate their organic produce (and I pay well, too!) They often share tips with me
on rooftop farming—using fish remains to fertilize their soil, for instance.
A new wave of migrants from the hills have entered Handigaon, often destroying the
traditional urban structures, and treating the historic neighborhood as a suburban
enclave which has destroyed the fabric of urban life. SUVs drive through the historic
square, seemingly intent on getting from one place to another with no appreciation for
the daily schedule and rhythm of the locals. Increasing also are the numbers of giant
motorcycles—shoppers who come to buy vegetables in their noisy motorcycles,
polluting tiny lanes and creating massive traffic jams. It is clear that people still
appreciate the density and beauty of small scale, urban spaces. Yet their way of
getting there shows the arrogance and indifference of modern “developed” society—a
driveby mentality in which huge machines rush by at manic speeds, trying to make
pedestrians move out of the way fast enough for the shopper to park, block the small
lanes, buy their goods, and go on their way home, treating everyone else in that plaza
as nuisances. This has made it impossible for the elderly and disabled to take their
daily walks. Before I used to see many elderly people walking around the squares.
With the advent of the new Loktantric regime, huge numbers of vehicles have
swamped the neighborhood, making it impossible for locals to go about their daily
For many poor rural migrants living in cramped rooms in the tenements surrounding
this plaza, vegetables are often unaffordable due to sky-high prices. A cucumber
grown in the Terai is sold to as many as five middlemen before it makes its way to the
market, creating huge markups. Unfortunately the government has done nothing to
control food prices (with collusion between political leaders and middlemen). It has
also done nothing about food adulteration, toxic dyes, injections of questionable
chemicals and high applications of pesticide, which often saturate the vegetables.
As a resident of Handigaon, I can buy all my food from small business and local
producers. If I am prepared, I could also go entirely plastic-free (although many
essential goods like tea, milk and oil now come in plastic packs.)
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Currently in Kathmandu, the emphasis is on food from restaurants, with online
delivery companies and startups catering to the upper middle class who are employed
and earning good money. People are moving away from locally sourced and locally
prepared food to more packaged foods like instant noodles. Children are fed a variety
of packaged goods for lunch, with most of them providing poor or no nutrition. The
urban middle class is increasingly consuming burgers, pizzas, sausages, fried meat,
which are often high in sodium, fats and transfats. The perinnial local favorites of
momo and chowmein, sometimes prepared in unhygienic conditions with meat of
questionable provenance, can also cause health issues if consumed daily over the long
My vision is to see a local food economy which provides locally sourced and locally
prepared dal-bhat, the traditional vegan meal of Nepal, at an affordable price for
everyone in the city (the rich and poor alike) through a co-op by 2050. I used to study
at Brown University, and during my sophomore year I lived in a co-operative housing
where we cooked meals communally for 25 people. That was my first experience of
learning to cook in the kitchen, and the social, economic and cultural benefits of
eating with a group left a lasting impression on me.
The co-op may be one unit, or many, depending upon funding from non-profits,
individuals and local and federal government. I see these meals incorporating the best
of vegetarian recipes, with rice and lentils as the base, and fresh vegetables, relishes
and yogurt as accompanying dishes. Thakali restaurants of Kathmandu already serve
these meals at affordable rates. I envision these meals being sold from mobile vans or
carts in leaf plates, for those who cannot afford to cook a meal due to water shortages
or lack of a kitchen. I often talk to vendors who tell me they are too busy to eat in the
mornings, so they go hungry the whole day because they don’t want to eat the oily
food served at restaurants. In addition, I would like to see these healthy affordable
priced meals delivered to the elderly and disabled at a reduced rate or free of cost,
depending upon the income source of the people.
Volunteers on bicycles would deliver a certain number of meals to vulnerable people
at a low cost, including for those who may be temporarily recovering from sickness,
injuries or hospitalization, or have mobility issues. The technical components would
include a database of vulnerable people, including elderly and mobility-impaired, for
whom daily meal delivery is necessary. In addition, a database of co-op members and
volunteers would also be creatd. The members of the co-op would get a discount for
meals. In return, they will volunteer to cook, meal prep and deliver, which is one way
we would keep the meal price down. In addition, produce would be sourced directly
from farmers, both to support farmers as well as to ensure a fair price.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
The challenges are multiple. First would be the logistical task of setting up this co-op,
including membership, rules of the co-op, as well as creating the database of elderly
and disabled who need help.
How to ensure impartial inclusion will be a challenge in a country where people,
including volunteers, may try to put their own community members first, at the
expense of those who may be marginalized and outside social networks. This
challenge could be addressed by changing volunteers and ensuring that the delivery is
done by different people, who will also check on the people and ensure they are in
need of support.
In addition, it may not be easy to build a volunteer base. Food is charged in Nepal,
with people preferring to eat in their own communities. Shifting the focus from
community tastes and events to a more broader societal network will take some effort
Religious bases like the Sikhs’ langars work well due to the shared religious and
cultural heritage of the participants. Some religious events may have to be included
(for instance, providing meals on certain festivals or communal food-related events)
to attract older people, for instance. Elderly people who need help may not want to
accept help, due to perceived notions of impurity in food preparation. Overcoming
their biases will also be a challenge, and may require religious elements and
diplomacy on the part of those doing the food deliveries.
In addition, the initial setup of kitchen, collecting utensils and kitchen implements for
large-scale food preparation, as well as ensuring hygiene will have to be closely
monitored and ground rules established if the program is to endure.
Keeping track of the money might become a problem. People may view the co-op
membership fees as personal funds to be misappropriated (sadly, an all too common
problem in Nepal.) Food bought in bulk could be stolen or diverted to personal
larders. People who are responsible for food delivery may not make those deliveries.
There would have to be a strict accountability mechanism in place to ensure these
accounting fraud doesn’t occur. People will lose their memberships if they are found
to be engaged in the above activities.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The challenges are multiple. First would be the logistical task of setting up this co-op, including membership, rules of the co-op, as well as creating the database of elderly and disabled who need help.
How to ensure impartial inclusion will be a challenge in a country where people, including volunteers, may try to put their own community members first, at the expense of those who may be marginalized and outside social networks. This challenge could be addressed by changing volunteers and ensuring that the delivery is done by different people, who will also check on the people and ensure they are in need of support.
In addition, it may not be easy to build a volunteer base. Food is charged in Nepal, with people preferring to eat in their own communities. Shifting the focus from community tastes and events to a more broader societal network will take some effort and work.
Religious bases like the Sikhs’ langars work well due to the shared religious and cultural heritage of the participants. Some religious events may have to be included (for instance, providing meals on certain festivals or communal food-related events) to attract older people, for instance. Elderly people who need help may not want to accept help, due to perceived notions of impurity in food preparation. Overcoming their biases will also be a challenge, and may require religious elements and diplomacy on the part of those doing the food deliveries.
In addition, the initial setup of kitchen, collecting utensils and kitchen implements for large-scale food preparation, as well as ensuring hygiene will have to be closely monitored and ground rules established if the program is to endure.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
I envision Kathmandu as a city which has a rich food culture of shared communal
food networks by 2050. The city takes care of its elderly and disabled. No elderly or
disabled person living alone at home would have to face hunger. A network of young
volunteers will deliver food in reusable metal containers to their doorstep.
In addition, this co-op will also provide low cost meals to the working class, as well
as those who may simply prefer an affordable meal prepared in hygienic ways from a
communal kitchen or mobile cart. Instead of eating burgers or pizza, they can pick
and choose dal-bhat, their traditional meal. People who work in offices are often too
busy to get up early in the morning and cook a full elaborate meal. They will end up
eating oily meals due to the lack of options. This co-op would deliver simple meals
from mobile vans and carts to people in leaf plates, cutting down on non-
biodegradable food waste.
A Solar kitchen akin to the one found in Auroville, Pondicherry, which also serves a
large mobile population of visitors, permanent residents and locals, will be established
either through support of individuals, non-profits or government. This kitchen will be
staffed by co-op members, and food will be prepared daily to be sold as well as
distributed for free to those who need it the most. The food will be of the highest
standard, with everything prepared fresh daily. Nothing will be wasted—food will be
prepared according to estimates of those who’ve signed up that day. Shopping will be
done in teams by co-op members and involve locally sourced produce and grains. Co-
op members who bring in food they’ve grown from their own kitchen or rooftop
gardens can also exchange those for free meals.
I imagine the food co-op as being dynamic, engaged, and flexible. It will have many
co-op members who feel ownership over the network and are invested in keeping it
operational. They also come there for food and community.
The co-op will work with farmers to source local food in organic ways. The farmers
will be paid a fair price, and the co-op will also get produce cheaper than through the
market because there won’t be middlemen. By sourcing directly from farmers, and
ensuring the vegetables and produce are organic, the co-op will encourage
permaculture and organic agriculture.
Because the food will be mostly purchased from farming co-ops, and prepared by co-
op members, the cost of preparation can be reduced and the meals sold below market
prices. This would make it possible for the elderly and disabled to purchase the meals
by themselves. For those who are absolutely living on a minimal income, we aim to
serve them free of cost. The money raised from sales will be used to subsidize the free
meals. In addition, we will also fundraise from individuals, funders and government
Like the langar preparation of the Sikhs, we will have a core group of experienced
cooks who will prepare the food with the help of volunteers. If economics allows, we
will in the future buy a machine to make rotis, for instance, or other bulk food
preparation machines. In general, I am in favor of manual preparation rather than
machines, but the machines would allow for more food to be prepared in a shorter
The food prepared will always follow traditional recipes, with little dairy and no meat.
Rice and lentils provide carbohydrates and protein, and they work well together as a
vegan combination. Vegetable curry, fresh spinach and an aachar (spicy fermented
relish of some sort) is part of this combination. The yogurt would add protein and
calcium. Yogurt is expensive in Nepal, so if our budget is modest, we may do away
with it. However, dairy is a way of life in Nepal, and its possible to source fresh milk
and yogurt from local farmers. The aim is to deliver as full a meal as possible within
the constraints of the budget. I envision the meal being sold for Rs.100 ($1) at present
day rates. In 2050, the meal should not cost more than this, after inflation.
While I believe animal husbandry and the manure produced is important for the health
of the soil, and I think a free range animal like the goat has low impact on the
environment, we won’t be serving meat at our co-op due to health and environment,
as well as cost, issues. Eggs are important source of protein especially for the elderly,
who may not be getting enough nutrition in Nepal, so this maybe a food item to
include in the diet, although the conditions of industrial farming in Nepal are often
questionable and bring up many health issues. Current practices include giving baby
chicks a shot of Depo Provera to fatten them to 3-4 kgs within two weeks. Also many
elderly people from vegetarian communities will not eat food if it has been cooked
side by side with egg and meat items, so this would be a consideration.
We’d incorporate technology into our project in various ways. First, by creating a
database of volunteers and co-op members, who would pay a monthly fee to eat a
certain amount of meals with the co-op. These members would also prepare food,
distribute meals and in general help with running the co-op. Secondly we would have
a database of the elderly and disabled, something that the government of Nepal so far
hasn’t invested in pulling together. By creating this list (whose privacy would be
strictly protected and available only to trusted co-op members), the co-op would be
able to tell which member needs a free meal, for how many times a week, and would
be able to account for it during shopping and cooking.
In addition, we would also deliver meals to those who are facing illness, accidents or
hospitalizations. I was injured in the 2015 earthquake, and during my stay at the
hospital, I was visited by a couple of women carrying a bucket who asked me if I was
getting enough to eat, and whether I needed a free meal. This make a deep impression
on me—not only did the women look like they came from fairly low income
backgrounds, but they also looked like busy mothers and housewives (perhaps small
business owners) who had left their own housework behind to focus on helping the
needy. Sadly not enough of this energy is tapped in times other than natural disasters.
But for the elderly and disabled, everyday can appear to be a disaster, with many
people without children or families not knowing when their next meal will come
The co-op would also act as a food advocacy network. The members would work to
change policy in favor of better market rates for food prices, better distribution
methods, and better farm to fork systems.
The co-op would also teach its members to grow their own small amounts of food in
urban kitchen or rooftop gardens, and the lessons given would help them to figure out
what is the most appropriate agricultural system for their urban houses and plots. In
my small garden in Kathmandu, I grow guavas, cucumbers, coriander, green onions,
hibiscus (for menstrual tea), curry leaves, taro leaves, aloe vera, rosemary, and basil.
My parents had an avocado tree that grew kilogrammes of avocados. They also have
bay leaves, mulberries, lime, pomegranate, spinach, green onions, etc. Small amounts
of food can be grown even in an urban environment, and with proper training people
could produce even more from rooftops, balconies, window-boxes, etc.
Most of all, the co-op would give the members a deep appreciation of locally grown
food. It would make them aware of the need to nurture and steward the soil and its
health. They would learn about biodiversity and how we’re losing our rich food
cultures through the frightening vision of industrial monoculture, where thousands of
kilometers of land are sprayed aerially by drones and aeroplanes with toxic pesticides,
and food in one continent by lowly paid workers is shipped to another at unseasonable
times to satisfy people’s demands. They would grow an appreciation for seasonal
foods which haven’t traveled thousands of miles in plastic and preservatives, which
currently embody the notion of “luxury foods” in the minds of the aspiring middle
class. Anything brightly packed in glossy plastic, no matter how rancid, is thought of
as better than simple food prepared from wholesome grains and vegetables found at
the local market. People scorn the red radishes with the pungent snap, and they think
the small coriander with the powerful scent is less valuable than the giant industrial
coriander with no taste. The co-op would work to reverse these perceptions, and bring
the farmers back to their rightful place of glory in Kathmandu’s historically
sustainable agricultural consciousness.
Kathmandu has also always been a community of communities. No matter what
ethnicity people belonged to, food was served communally in families, festivities and
weddings. Eating together was a way of life before the fragmentation into nuclear
families and suburban housing units. The co-op would try to restore this vision, either
though sharing food in a central communal space, or by sharing food prepared
communally and distributed to those in need.