Hajj: How 3 Million Visitors Are Fed During The Pilgrimage
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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FROM June 26 up to July 1, Saudi Arabia is hosting over 2.5 million pilgrims, from more than 100 countries, as part of Hajj. With an influx of that size, every logistical requirement is amplified — including the meals that must be prepared to keep these millions of pilgrims in good health and nutrition. Over five million loaves of bread are baked, nearly 2 million blocks of ice produced — each day. News reports indicate that 289 companies and catering establishments are ready to serve up to 30 million meals during this Hajj. This includes breakfast, lunch and dinner in addition to snacks, juices, dairy products, water, fresh fruits, and hot and cold beverages at the holy sites. 

Many tour operators include meals in the price of their Hajj packages, and of course individual governments ensure that adequate arrangements are made for their citizens who are undertaking the pilgrimage in a particular year — whether that involves collaborating with local catering companies, establishing dedicated on-site kitchens, transporting provisions, issuing directives about food safety and so on. The Saudi government distributes packaged meals among a percentage of pilgrims every Hajj cycle as well. 

Among some pilgrims, especially families, the norm is to carry provisions and cook as required. Myriad community kitchens service the campsites; here, teams of cooks prepare three meals a day for the pilgrims. Food shops are allowed to operate in Mina, but not in Arafat and Muzdalifah. However, prices surge tremendously at this time and it is advisable to stock up on essentials and non-perishables beforehand.

Local restaurants operate from allotted plots on-site, and preparations begin a month in advance for the Hajj crowds. Each outlet may have hundreds of employees on their roster, and 18-hour workdays are par for the course. To complicate matters further, Mina becomes a no-drive zone in the run-up to Hajj, so any major deliveries and supply runs must be completed beforehand.

There are also those tasked with distributing Zamzam water (from the holy spring). This is a responsibility usually passed down in families, and even two decades ago, the numbers were mind-boggling: about 24 million litres of Zamzam water were bottled, and between 60,000-70,000 20-litre containers of water were distributed to pilgrims accommodated in 6,000 buildings, back in 2002.

A significant pit-stop for the pilgrims as they complete their Hajj is the post office in Mina. Here, digital transactions allow them to pay for the ritual slaughter mandated on Eid Al-Adha. Over a million animals are slaughtered each Hajj, which translates into more sheep, beef and camel meat than is needed for feeding the pilgrims. For the past decade, the Saudi government has been flash freezing the meat for sending to countries facing food insecurity.