Students host event inspired by study abroad experience

Students worked on a GIEU program in Amritsar, India, where they participated in langar events at the Golden Temple.

students serving food Enlarge

Amid the rushing of students, voter registration representatives and preachers, 13 students stood on the Diag Friday with baskets of food to bring a piece of their study abroad in India back to Ann Arbor.

Over the summer, these students worked on a GIEU program in Amritsar, India, where they participated in langar events at the Golden Temple — a historic Sikh religious site and one of India’s most noted landmarks. Traditionally, a langar is a meal served at the end of a worship ceremony and emphasizes equality between participants regardless of their social class, status or religious beliefs, LSA junior Andrew Vu, one of the event participants, said.

While abroad, the students learned how organizers at the Golden Temple feed around 60,000 people per day in the complex’s langar halls — a significant economic and logistical task. Back in Ann Arbor, the participants settled on a more modest goal.

“We’re trying to recreate that on a much smaller scale,” LSA senior Jenny Chuang said. “So now we have a 100,000 people but I think we made up to 3,000 wraps.”

The students, all undergraduates, were involved in every aspect of the preparation: buying produce, cutting the food, cooking it, serving it and eating it.

Chuang said she hoped the event encouraged people to think about how they could work to help others.

“We treat people differently depending on where we see them, but we really shouldn’t,” Chuang said. “It takes seeing an example to really cement that in instead of theoretically thinking that. For the average person that walks through the Diag I hope they ask ‘Why are you guys here? What’s been going on?’ and kind of learn what we were able to learn from the Golden Temple.”

The wraps served on the Diag Friday were completely vegetarian, with ingredients such as chickpeas, cabbage and mint chutney. Langar food in the Golden Temple and other Sikh temples is generally vegetarian.

“A lot of people think being vegetarian is extremely limiting,” Vu said. “It’s not true. … Once they know that it’s vegetarian and that it’s filling and it’s nutritional, maybe they’ll have a different perspective on things.”

The trip was chaperoned by Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Jasprit Singh and his wife from June 4 to July 4. Singh said a langar meal is prepared to break down barriers, which he hoped would do the same at the University.

“The challenge we face globally is not that people don’t have food, it’s that we have barriers,” Singh said. “That people don’t have opportunities to expand their horizon, so many barriers are in the way. This event is a way to gently work on bringing people together so they realize that people who are different from each other are still the same. So food is the ideal way. The event is to build a community and food is a medium to do that.”

The wraps were made with help from more than 15 volunteers at the kitchen of the Plymouth Gurdwara Sahib, a Sikh temple about 20 miles from Ann Arbor. Vu said the week of preparation was a serious time commitment.

LSA sophomore Andrea Banner said she knew a friend participating in the event who had studied abroad in Amritsar with Singh and liked the vegetarian wrap. Langar on the Diag did not have people sitting together and, Banner said she did not know what the event was actually about.

However, the Sikh Students Association expressed concern with how the event was promoted and organized. LSA junior Meagan Shokar, public relations chair for the SSA, said in an e-mail interview the SSA was disappointed by how the event was conducted.

“Most of all, we are disappointed in the manner in which GIEU chose to … advertise the event simply as a ‘free lunch,’ ” Shokar said. “Langar is a holy concept ingrained in the faith of Sikhs, yet Sikhism was not mentioned on the Facebook event or on the flyers for the event. At the very least, it would have been very beneficial to give out educational materials to those who picked up the meal.”

“The purpose of Langar is to have members of a diverse community come together and eat, side-by-side, regardless of their backgrounds or own religious beliefs,” Shokar wrote. “The word ‘langar’ is special to Sikhs all across the globe, and to accurately portray its meaning on a campus where there is already little awareness of Sikhism is absolutely vital.”

The event was called, Langar at the Diag: Free Sustainable Food for the People by the People. Prof. Singh said they served 4700 chickpea wraps, and an additional 300 wraps were provided to Forgotton Harvest, a food bank in Detroit.

“We want to expand the program to other places,” Singh added. “It would be great to see what we can do together in future.”