Look inwards, go native


The theme for this year’s World Food Day — that happens to be today — is Grow, Nourish, Sustain, Together. We explore how this fits in with our pandemic needs

COVID-19 has made us re-look, rethink and reconsider what we eat. When supermarkets, restaurants and business establishments shut, it was locally-grown food brought by the farmers or local vendors that came to our rescue. Kitchens got busy, and so did information-sharing on recipes and ingredients. Hyderabad-based farmer Madhu Reddy says, “People seemed to take an interest in what they ate and cooked. Friends called each other to ask how to cook vegetables they had never purchased before. Kitchen gardens became a trend. I feel the theme year is apt. It should make us aware as consumers, and more responsible towards our food growers.”

World Food Day (WFD) is celebrated to commemorate the birth of the United Nations’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that was established on October 16, 1945. It is celebrated every year with a new theme. The objective is to create awareness about the existing problems of obesity and malnutrition due to hunger. The FAO states, “Everyone across our food sector plays an important role in ensuring nutritious food is available — but you can make a difference too! Consumers are more than just eaters; you also have the power to influence what is produced through healthy food choices, which in turn contributes to more sustainable food systems.”

They have also listed everyday actions to help each one of us become a food hero and make healthy food part of our lifestyle. The actions include: choose healthy and diverse, influence positive will, join initiatives, choose local, choose seasonal, grow at home, respect food and food development, support development initiatives and finally, support food-related business and retailers.

Lest we forget

  • The Ark of Taste is an online catalogue that gathers alerts from people who see the flavours of their communities disappear, taking with them a piece of the culture and history of which they are a part.
  • Ark of Taste travels the world collecting small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet: an extraordinary heritage of fruits, vegetables, animal breeds, cheeses, breads, sweets and cured meats.
  • This year, India sent kachri, a vegetable from Rajasthan. Kachri belongs to the cucumber family and is somewhat similar to the sponge gourd.

Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, who is active in the slow food movement, cannot agree more. Sabyasachi, fondly called Saby in food circles, says, “We must not just blame Western food habits. The problem lies with us as consumers. We stopped asking questions about our native food and where the food we eat comes from. We have conveniently forgotten about seasonal foods and are eating what is made available. In a way, we have stopped understanding the food of our ancestors and started relying on food that just looks good. We started eating for our eyes and less for our well being.”

Stressing on the importance of provenance, Saby further adds, “As an active member of the slow food movement, I am keen on pushing people to their native food habits. India has a good store of seed banks and we must do what it requires to save our foods. Our concept of eating clean to be healthy is one-sided. Eating clean isn’t only about eating healthy, it depends on eating and knowing what is grown where. Bring back ancient food wisdom and loosen your purse strings to buy local produce. We must remember that the farmer must also survive for us to survive.” Saby also reminds us not to discriminate against any food as ‘poor man’s.’

Aarti Gill, founder of plant-based food nutrition label Oziva, has a slightly different approach but treads on the same line as Saby. Giving importance to natural nutrients from plants, Aarti’s focus is on standardisation. She feels India is rich in flora and fauna has not yet made the best use of its resources. Her issue is with our willingness to pop a pill instead of meeting the deficit with food.

Label alert

Aarti also raises concern on our dependency on synthetic nutrients instead of relying on naturally-found nutrients in plants. “Indians as consumers are yet to start reading food labels. Once we start doing that, we will know what we feed ourselves and our children. Natural foods have better absorption than synthetic add-ons, so we have to look at making an active change. We can begin by becoming more aware about what we eat and replacing foods that have a lot of synthetic minerals with natural food.”

She has one more point to add: “Avoiding food wastage should be a continued effort.”

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