Our founder Shanaka has been attending a conference in Italy and met with the Mayor of Turin who has a lot of love for Lentil as Anything. Read on...
You can't pay for lunch? Be a volunteer!
The ferocity of the civil war in Sri Lanka, which from 1983 to 2009 took over a hundred thousand victims. Then, seventeen years later, the arrival in Australia alongside others who fled the violence which had erupted in their home country. And the beginning of a new life, in Melbourne, with an innovative and ethical project financed by 15 thousand euro derived from the sale of typical Sinhalese women's clothing: a vegetarian restaurant, open to everyone, also to those, who through economic difficulty, can't pay the bill.
A passionate story, that of Shanaka Fernando, 49 years old, founder of Lentil as Anything, the Australian chain of restaurants (now four of them, with also one in Sydney) in which there is no fixed price, but you pay what you feel you can afford. A winning non-profit idea, which today, says Shanaka "provides thousands of meals every day and sees the poor and the well-off sitting and eating together at the same table. Our restaurants are places of social and cultural coming together: as Pope Francis often repeats, solidarity needs humanity". For those who aren't able to put their hand into their wallets, after having eaten lunch or dinner, the lentil restaurants (which don't benefit from any governmental contribution at all) offer in exchange the possibility to participate in the many activities of the chain, volunteering in one of the centres, or helping out in one of the farms that the group owns.
Mayor of Turin
This experience could now take root also in Italy, and Torino could be the first city. "A friend under the Mole (Torino's famous monument), Antoni Rava, knows and appreciates us" confirms Shanaka, "thanks to his efforts, we are looking to set up the first Italian Lentil restaruant". And why Torino? "Because this project could contribute to curing the social divisions and inequalities that Torino, like other cities, suffers from, and because food, in your country, is one of the most widely-shared cultural experiences".
The project, for now, is still on the drawing board. There is still nothing, neither funds ("to begin the initiative 150 thousand euro are needed"), nor a location ("our priority would be the Cavallerizza building"), or even staff (40 people in total, with three professionals, the chef, the sous chef, the restaurant manager, and volunteers). Among many difficulties, there is also that of the nature of the project ("does it accord with Italian regulations to not give out a receipt to people who cannot pay?"). The only fixed point is the desire to open the restaurant in the centre, in an area where there are many young people. A study on the Australian restaurants found that for every dollar put into the project the state made 5.8 dollars in savings – another reason, also for us, to give support to the project.
Translated by Cormac Anderson