Community fridges raise quality of city street food

Aakarsh Shamanur

A Bengaluru-based urban management professional and his team of three has come up with the idea of community refrigeration to help street food vendors. They were part of the recent ‘Reimagine Waste’ hackathon at the Indian Institute of Science.

The group has now piloted the concept on Sanjaynagar Chaat Street. 

“We rented a few refrigerators and put them on a mini-truck. We told the vendors it was a service and not a product, which means they paid a daily rent of just Rs 10,” says Aakarsh Shamanur, who heads the team.
The fridges ran on a temporary electricity connection from a neighbouring building. 

The initial idea was to provide storage only for chutney but in the course of the pilot, the team learned there were also other things vendors wanted to refrigerate. A vendor who makes 99 varieties of dosa wanted to keep butter, paneer, cheese, chopped vegetables and even the dosa batter in the community fridge.

Another vendor who makes parathas said his cooking area was too hot. He wanted to refrigerate curd and drinking water for himself. “These learnings were important for us,” says Aakarsh.

People think food served by street vendors is dirty and unhygienic. That perception is the result of stomach upsets, the team found. “Chutney is made in the afternoon and consumed in the evening. So, the probability of its going sour is high,” he says.

When the team took a couple of samples to the food lab, one failed as early as 4 pm. “That’s when we came up with the idea of a centralised cooling storage solution,” he explains.  

Aakarsh says many who patronise street vendors are willing to pay an extra Rs 5 if better food practices are followed. The biggest challenge that the team, comprising Dr Nilima Kadambi, Hanumantha Raya and Sourabh Alagundagi, faced was to explain the idea to the vendors and convince them.

“There was a lot of scepticism and for the first couple of days none of the fridges was used. However, the challenge in the long run is to get an electricity connection. That is why we are looking at using solar power for our fridges,” he says.

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