In 2019, Golden Eye Chef, a Cooking Contest for the visually impaired and the blind that is focused on raising awareness and changing society’s perception regarding visual disability, was conducted in India for the very first time. The Contest consisted of three rounds, lasted three days, and took place in three different locations, where 32 participants demonstrated their culinary skills and competed for the “Golden Eye Chef” Award. Although it started as a pan Indian affair, in 2022 the Contest will be held online and it will be international, welcoming participants from all over the world.

According to Mr. Akhil Kumar Srivastava, founder of Golden Eye Chef and managing trustee of Antardrishti, an organization committed to the empowerment and support of blind people, Golden Eye Chef “is the outcome of a well thought out process”.

“While it is far easier for our sighted counterparts to learn how to cook, it is very important for the blind to also acquire and polish this skill in order to be able to have an independent life. Cooking is an art and science. If we accept the challenge with a positive attitude, then it’s easier to succeed. On the other hand, if we approach cooking with a negative mindset, or do it just for the sake of doing it, without any interest, then it’s very difficult to learn how to cook, especially if we take into consideration all the struggles that blind people have to face even within their own family. There is this stigma that blind people aren’t able to cook independently, which is wrong. But because of the fear, it becomes nearly impossible for a blind girl, for example, to learn how to cook and stand on her feet. Regarding the facilities, they are also very limited. Although it looks like an unfulfilled dream, once we decide to learn to cook, gradually the confidence increases not only for the blind, but for the families as well.

The truth is that very few blind people cook. When it comes to Golden Eye Chef, it took more than two years to materialize the concept. Finally in 2019, we were able to organize the first national Cooking Contest for the blind and along with Celebrity Chefs we were able to prove that blind people can cook high quality food. I believe that when society sees blind people’s cooking, their perspective will change, and they will start respecting them more. Cooking isn’t easy. It’s a very risky job that requires a lot of courage. If blind people can cook, then they can do anything”, he says.

A Cooking Contest that goes beyond borders

“The majority of blind people learns to cook at home thanks to the help of their relatives, friends, and sometimes instructors. I believe that everyone has different cooking methods. By inviting contestants from other parts of the world, we will have the opportunity to see a lot of new and innovative cooking methods and techniques.

Apart from blind people’s cooking promotion around the world, the Contest will create a great platform for blind people to learn from one another. I hope that Golden Eye Chef will gain in popularity and give a strong message to society that blind people are not less capable than sighted people if they are given the opportunity to learn, and that they should be treated with respect. In addition, I hope that society will start considering how the cooking process can be safer for blind people and that more employment opportunities will arise for them. The ultimate goal is that blind people can live their lives with dignity. I am fully aware that we can’t reach this goal just with Golden Eye Chef. It’s an ongoing process”, Mr. Srivastava explains.

The interconnection between blindness and poverty

Blindness constitutes a significant part of the disability spectrum and a major public health issue worldwide. Currently, there are an estimated 4.95 million blind people and 70 million visually impaired people in India, while the country is home to one-fifth of the world’s visually impaired people. According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, cataract or uncorrected refractive errors account for most vision loss, while the 90% of vision loss is preventable or treatable. What needs to be considered is the socio-economic dimension of blindness. People from vulnerable, marginalized, and low-income communities are more likely to become blind, given the difficulty of having access to or paying for eye health services. On the other hand, blindness can exacerbate poverty, as visually disabled people are often led to unemployment and loss of income.

“Blindness is related to poverty and the majority of blind people isn’t able to integrate into society. Due to the lack of education and resources they aren’t able to develop any sort of skills. I believe that blind people’s aspirations haven’t been properly understood neither by the government nor by society as a whole. A strong support system for the blind is needed. Only after they are given equal opportunities to acquire necessary skills can they be fully integrated into society.”, Mr. Srivastava says.

Poverty and limited access to education and health services are interconnected. A social and public health strategy that is focused on eradicating avoidable and curable blindness, addressing the socio-economic conditions within which such blindness is occurring, offering eye health services of good quality that are accessible to all, empowering the blind, and helping them develop new skills, has the potential to bring about social change, create a more inclusive society, and increase the productivity and independence of the visually disabled.

There’s often a perception that people with sight loss aren’t able to do a lot of things and are extremely dependent on other family members, which just doesn’t correspond to reality. Regarding Golden Eye Chef, what has made the Cooking Contest a unique and highly anticipated event, is its ability to demonstrate that cooking is all about adaptation, learning how to navigate multiple things in the kitchen at one time, and exploring flavors and cooking techniques that give blind people confidence and help them acknowledge their capabilities and how they can make the most of their kitchen, of their environment, of what they feel comfortable with creating. Above all, the Contest has demonstrated that cooking is more about touch, taste, hearing, and less about seeing, and by practicing this craft blind people can take one more step towards a full and independent life.