There aren’t many easy jobs in the food industry. Whether you’re working as a pot washer, or coordinating an entire kitchen-load of cooks, serving something tasty is hot, hectic and extremely stressful.
But, even if you spend your nights cowering under the fearsome glare of a particularly ferocious chef, cooking professionally isn’t exactly a matter of life and death. Unless, that is, you are part of the Action Against Hunger team.
Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is currently at the epicentre of a major humanitarian crisis. Facing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar, over 900,000 Rohingya Muslim men, women and children have fled to the region in an attempt to reach safety. As a result, the area is now full of thousands of hungry mouths, all of which need to be fed.
This is where chefs like 27-year-old Abdul Hachim come in. Working in one of the Action Against Hunger community kitchens in Kutupalong Camp, he has the unenviable task of helping to prepare, produce and serve an astonishing 500 hot meals a day.
Every morning, Abdul, his co-chef and a group of 15 volunteers serve food to the camp’s most vulnerable members, such as pregnant and breastfeeding women, disabled people, children under five and the elderly. It’s no understatement to say that the service that he and his team provide is helping to save lives.
A Rohingya Muslim, Abdul and his family fled their homes along with thousands of other Rohingya families to escape violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Back home, Abdul had owned and operated his own grocery store, whilst his father and brother both worked in the medical community. The flight north has left the whole family scattered across the camp, forced to find shelter wherever they can.
Speaking about his journey to Cox's Bazar, Abdul revealed the shocking reality of life for the persecuted Rohingya people. “At the beginning, I never thought I would end up in Bangladesh,” he told Action Against Hunger in August. “We were just running away from a certain death. We hid away for four days in the forest. It was difficult for the mothers and the children, and then we finally crossed the border. My wife suffered a lot. She was pregnant, and so tired and hungry that she could not breastfeed our one-year-old daughter. People died on the way. When we arrived here, we were so many that there were not enough services for all of us. My children became sick with malnutrition, but they are much better now.”
This experience clearly brought home the importance of food for Abdul. Though he is no stranger to the kitchen, his new position is the first time his passion for food has become a professional vocation. Back in Myanmar, he and his family regularly volunteered to cook “guru gusto” - a spicy meat and potato dish - for the entire village during special occasions. His work today might be significantly less celebratory, but it is arguably more important than ever.
A typical service will feature simple, nutritious dishes such as lentil dhal, or chicken and rice seasoned with spices such as turmeric, coriander powder, cumin, cinnamon and cardamom. The food is designed to be a tasty crowd pleaser - full of energy as well as flavour. With many camp residents in a fairly desperate situation, Abdul’s food is just as important for morale as it is for sustenance.
It’s easy to take the food we eat for granted. It’s equally easy to become unduly stressed when we find ourselves cooking, whether for a customer or for family and friends. It’s worth remembering that whatever pressure we might think there is in our kitchen, it’s nothing compared to what other cooks have to deal with on a daily basis.
If you’d like to turn up the heat in your kitchen and support Action Against Hunger’s work this World Food Day, why not take part in their Love Food Give Food campaign?
Love Food Give Food is your chance to support people like Abdul saving the lives of malnourished children around the world, by using food to fundraise. From supper clubs to office potlucks, cafes to community groups – pick a fundraiser for you and make your food good in more ways than one.
Learn more about the campaign and how you get involved by visiting www.actionagainsthunger.org.uk/lovefoodgivefood