A Gathering Place of Peace
A Gathering Place of Peace
By Claire Curran
In today’s world there are so many questions around ethical eating. Vegetarian? Vegan? Local? Non-GMO? Organic? Sustainable? They are all worthy of discussion and study. But one connection that isn’t questioned as often is community. It’s inherent, though sometimes hidden, in those questions. How does my food lift up or degrade the global and localcommunity? Sitting in the corner booth at Gandhi Mahal, I sip on Chai, breathing in true sense of community that lives here.
It’s no coincidence. It’s not just the decoration, music, or delicious food. That warm feeling of community is the result of years of friendship, discernment, and a clear call to work for justice. Ruhel Islam, the Owner and Executive Chef of Gandhi Mahal, reaches over to refill my cup of Chai, and I am filled with happiness.
Gandhi Mahal started as the Little Taj Mahal in 2005, a small restaurant in Dinkytown with only six tables. Soon there was a clear need to expand. When they moved to Longfellow they quickly learned that they had planted themselves in a neighborhood engaged in sustainability, and called to respond. Riz Prakasim, the manager o Gandhi Mahal family, said, “we wanted to be a life-giving component of the community not a parasite, we wanted to give back and be in relation with the community.”
So they began. Called by their faith and their community to work on sustainability and environmental justice they put down roots at Minnehaha community garden, starting with one small plot. The next year they planted a community garden in Ruhel’s backyard, and began to use recyclable, use compostable containers, and turn cooking oil into biodiesel. Now they are making history by building an aquaponic system in the restaurant, a 500 gallon fish tank which will house and feed tilapia, in a completely closed loop. Plants will clean out fish waste which will be used as a fertilizer, and the fish will be fed from kitchen scraps. The team at Gandhi Mahal continues to lead by example and hopes the aquaponic system will be an education tool to promote urban farming.
At every turn, Riz and Ruhel ask themselves, “will this be lifegiving, will this support sustainability and our community? By asking those questions, and following them with meaningful action, they are creating a place that truly honors the translation of their name Gandhi Mahal, a gathering place of peace. As Riz told me, “we bring a wide variety of folks together who differ in ethnicity, religious, and political values, but folks can come together here over a good meal and have dialogue over the human table.” That diversity of dialogue lives at Gandhi Mahal, as Ruhel is a Muslim, and Riz a Christian. They ask questions, sometimes, but ultimately, “we respect whatever separates us and recognize that there is a greater bond of love and humanity that unites us.”
What unites them, and many people who work and spend time at Gandhi Mahal is a desire to build authentic community and work for justice. “It’s a part of my DNA,” says Riz, whose grandfather was a leader in the labor movement in South Africa and was jailed with Mahatma Gandhi, and whose father and brother fought against Apartheid. Ruhel is originally from Bangladesh and witnessed first-hand the poverty around him, the effects of climate change as it relates to crops, people unable to farm their land and feed their families and community. In their love of Indian food is also a recognition of a call to justice and community. As Riz said “this is just part of who we are, we’re doing what our ancestors would have done and following in their footsteps.”
Riz, Ruhel, and everyone at Gandhi Mahal have big plans to continue to build a just community. They are committed to continue to move to greater levels of sustainability, putting up solar panels, raising bees on the roof, opening up another location, and ultimately becoming self-sufficient with their own farm, which will raise local halal meat.
As they continue to dream big, Gandhi Mahal is also partnering with MNIPL and have committed to host Communities in Climate Action Nights, where they will give 10% of their proceeds to MNIPL as a Carbon Offering. The Carbon Offering Nights will not only be a way for us to acknowledge the carbon we use and put our money towards initiatives addressing climate change, it will be an important time to join together in community, to acknowledge the threat of climate disruption and celebrate what we can do when we work together.
We hope you’ll join us for a night of hope, community, and inspired action. We can’t think of a place better than Gandhi Mahal to do it.