For Mukundan, office has never appeared to be so abundantly laden with charm. Or rather, it’s his work-lunch—a grease-stained, gravy-splotched humdrum affair till now—that seduces like a siren. Unboxing his dabba is a high-point of his day though, strangely, the victuals inside remain the same as in the past many years. A new, secret sauce, you think? More like a miracle saucer—you not only eat off it, but eat the blasted thing itself!
It is as if something that belongs to a garishly coloured world of toons has crossed into ours, for in the eco-friendly, anti-plastic world of edible cutlery and crockery, you don’t just eat with your spoon, you munch it for dessert. “You can keep this cutlery in your bag, but your cutlery now is a source of protein too,” says Bangalore-based Mukundan, an edible-cutlery loyalist for nearly a year. He purchases them from EdiblePro, a company run by two former IBM employees, Lakshmi Bheemachar and Shaila Gurudutt.
“We wanted to do something niche and environment-friendly. We were in touch with the Defence Food Research Laboratory who were developing something on similar lines, and we were among the first to understand the basic technology from them. Our cutlery is 100 per cent edible, with no added preservatives,” Bheemachar, 59, says. The brainstorming started in September 2017; by June 2018, the duo’s Gajamukha Foods company was ready to launch their range of consumable utensils under the label EdiblePro. From spoons and ladles, to bowls, from coffee-mugs to plates in a variety of sizes, EdiblePro offers a spread of sweet- and savoury-flavoured utensils. “They come in vanilla, pineapple, beetroot, carrot, spinach, sweet lime…. We get orders in large volumes for birthday and corporate parties,” says Bheemachar, adding that their pulses- and grains-made crockery can last for up to a year, and some variants can hold warm liquids. Operating mainly through their website and online service providers, EdiblePro products are priced anywhere between Rs 5.50 to Rs 55 a piece. According to Bheemachar, EdiblePro has ridden a word-of-mouth crest, while eyeing newer milestones as an environment-friendly and socially conscious firm. “We only employ women, especially ones from rural areas in need of jobs. It’s a completely woman-run organisation,” Bheemachar says.
Edible plates being made by the women of Project Patradya
In the war against non-biodegradable waste, edible cutlery-crockery can hopefully outlive their plastic counterparts, at least on store shelves. While Indians aren’t strangers to chai in earthen kulhads, or chaat in areca leaf bowls, none of these is as palatable as what’s served in it (despite being green and compostable). From discarding the plates for mulching, Gurudutt and Bheemachar have given people an option to not just lick their plates clean, but munch them away.
For punters like Mukundan, it affords two inducements: of not having to clean up after you’re done and of satiating whatever hunger the food on your plate couldn’t satisfy. “But just in case you don’t want to eat your cutlery, you could discard it. It’s completely safe for animals as well,” says 26-year-old Kruvil Patel of Vadodara, whose company Trishula was founded in 2015 with the aim to promote healthy lifestyle. Despite initial hiccups and home-bred scepticism, the mechanical engineer educated himself in food technology and set out to establish a sustainable, eco-friendly brand that won an award at the International Restaurant and Foodservice Show in New York. “We have six varieties of spoons made with multigrain flour and natural spices and flavours like chocolate, mint, masala, peppercorn, salt and carom. I am also developing edible straws,” Patel says.
A batch of bowls of different flavours by Ediblepro
As the world wakes up to the rude shock—and loud knocks—of global warming, with land cracking open under one’s feet and America turning colder than the poles, entrepreneurs are striving to reduce carbon footprint. “I initially bought a few spoons from Trishula and now I am buying it in bulk. The main idea is to be eco-friendly. We do have wooden spoons, but this is so much better,” says Coimbatore-based Senthilraj, whose company Mahko Impex manufactures ready-to-eat food items. He believes adding an edible spoon to his package makes the product more attractive.
Ishaan Bahl of 145 Cafe and Bar in Mumbai agrees. His restaurant was awash with a fresh wave of popularity when they launched the ‘Tiramisu cookie shot’—a vodka shot glass made of cookie dough and Baileys Irish cream on the inside, and tiramisu and cookie dough on the outside. “You’re meant to have a bit of the alcohol and take a bite of the glass; it really works well as a chaser,” Bahl says, adding that the specially crafted edible glass was meant to please women customers. “Ninety per cent takers for the tiramisu cookie shot glasses have been women between 21 and 25,” the restaurateur says. Bahl’s imagination was fired when he read of a US company that launched an online crowdfunding campaign to manufacture edible cutlery to combat plastic pollution. “You can only be that creative when it comes to food. People have parties at their homes in places like Alibaug, and they order these glasses in bulk,” Bahl says about his niche clientele, who barely bat eyelids on hearing that each glass is priced at Rs 225, excluding taxes.
While having your plate and eating it too can ultimately save the planet, it can also emancipate lives in more ways than one. Fuelled by the international non-profit organisation Enactus, which encourages social entrepreneurship among students across the world, Project Patradya was launched in 2016 by the students of Kirori Mal College in Delhi to empower female Afghan refugees in India with an alternate source of income. “We started with edible bowls in 2016, now we have diversified to plates and spoons as well. One can choose from savoury, chocolate, achaari and coffee flavours,” says Manvi Bairathi, a second-year BA student who heads Project Patradya. Apart from conducting multiple pop-ups at fairs and events like Dastkaar and venues like Bikaner House and The Leela Palace in Delhi, Patradya has a school outreach programme and largely operates through their online channels. “Our products can also be bought from Civil House Cafe at Khan Market. We have priced our bowls and spoons between Rs 9 to Rs 15, and plates range from Rs 20 to Rs 22,” Bairathi says.
While eating cutlery may still sound outlandish to foodie reactionaries, these edible wares have miles to go before catching up with the dirt cheap prices of their plastic rivals. But a start has been made, and an environmental revolution is out to make a lasting mark. “It’s not just eco-friendly, it’s culinary art. You’re cooking your plates and spoons too, isn’t it?” Lakshmi Bheemachar says. Indeed, what better way to conclude a meal than with a cup of coffee, or maybe with a cup made of coffee.