Visiting the Sikh temple kitchens in Sheriff Brae, Leith, there’s a poster on the wall that tells you everything you need to know about the Sikh attitude to food waste. It says “Please don’t waste Guru Ka Langar. Take only what you can eat”. The Sikh ‘langar’ or community lunch is a free meal to which all are welcome regardless of their faith, nationality or social class. Every Friday at the Kirkgate, Sikh temple volunteers serve free food in the open air to anyone who wants it. Every Sunday after their religious service they cook and serve a free lunch in the temple again for the whole community.
We visited the temple or ‘Gurdwara’ to take a photograph of Gurcharn Singh for Zero Waste Leith’s new food waste campaign, Leith’s Good with Food. While he posed for the camera, slowly stirring an enormous pot of lentil dahl, Gurcharn took the time to explain the origins of the langar:
“Langar means ‘community kitchen’, and anybody can join our community. The practice of offering a free meal to everybody has been part of our religion since it started in the 15th century. The langar, implemented by our founder, Guru Nanak, is a way of expressing two of our most sacred beliefs: equality between all human beings and service to the community. So, every Sunday, volunteers prepare and serve a meal and all who wish to eat with us are welcome.”
The langar is always vegetarian so is compatible with many people’s dietary requirements. The key principal of langar and eating together is to diminish any cast/social status and bring communities together. Across the world, all Sikh temples – including at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Sikh’s holiest site – still follow the original custom of eating seated on the floor. And, across the world, gurdwaras still maintain that everyone has an open invitation to the langar.
As always, Gurcharn doesn’t want any of the food he is cooking to go to waste so he kindly insists that we sample some traditional Sikh hospitality. He serves us dahl and rice on stainless steel platters with hollows for each portion. If you’ve ever tasted slow-cooked dahl you’ll know how delicious it is. Warmly spiced and comforting, we eat every mouthful. It’s a Friday so the freshly prepared food will be taken to the Kirkgate and served to any Leithers who wants some. Even though we’ve just eaten, Gurcharn tells us “Come along, there’s plenty for everyone and none of it goes to waste. That’s the Sikh way. We’d rather feed the community than feed the bin.”