Be local, be healthy
Top nutritionist and health motivator RUJUTA DIWEKAR swears by Indian superfoods and tells you why kacchi ghani scores over olive oil & the good old palak has way more punch than kale leaves
If you want to be a super hit, you must find young women to follow you,’ said a casting director to an aspiring actor at a coffee shop in Oshiwara. A friend from Italy, who’s also a famous DJ, asked me over chai and toast, early one morning, ‘Who do you think made the Beatles?’ I drew a blank and raised my eyebrows. ‘Young teenage women,’ she announced.
‘You get the women to follow you, the rest of the world follows.’ I thought of my time in Masai Mara, when a lioness walked away without giving a damn and the lion immediately got up and followed her. ‘See that,’ whispered my guide. ‘Always male follow female, always. That’s the rule.’
Once upon a time, not very long ago, it was the women in our homes who controlled what, when and how much we ate. And both the genders participated in food decisions and preparations. Till that time, there was no such thing as diabesity. The latest buzzword, diabesity is the burden of obesity and diabetes that the rich of the developing world carry. That’s you and me, rich enough for phones, Wi-fi and 4G.
This richness/technology has shifted the decision of what to eat, how much to eat and when to eat away from women. This power now rests with nameless, faceless pages which download at a crazy speed and inform us about the latest weight-loss aid.
Who ate what and knocked off how much is now helping us decide what and how much to eat. None of these pages know anything about our lives, our likes or our wives but they tell us what to eat.
They promise us weight loss with just eating something, this something always has to be bought, and it’s always expensive, unpronounceable and strikes us as a revolutionary idea. It’s also stuff that your grandmom doesn’t recognise as food, doesn’t grow locally and is invariably tasteless.
It makes you feel that if you somehow suffer your way through it, then surely at the end of it there will be that all-elusive weight loss.
Statistics though prove that less than 20 per cent people are successful in keeping the weight off after they have lost it. Not just numbers but your experience will tell you that it’s easy to knock the weight off but tough to keep it off. It seems to find a way back to your body, climbs into places where fat never existed and this time stays like it means to stay forever. Nothing, however crash, latest or expensive seems to knock it off.
Into this mix comes the superfood — a food item that promises a miracle and comes from somewhere exotic. Acacia seeds, goji berries, kale — the world seems to discover a superfood every week. There’s so much talk about them in the press that the word itself seems to have no meaning.
What’s a superfood then really, do they even exist, asked my editor, Chiki. Is it something that has more nutrition than others? Is it more powerful?
Superfoods Are Always Local
I recently attended a course called the ‘Future of Food’ in Potsdam, Germany, and there we were, participants from all across the developing world, learning about what it would take to feed the world in 2050 — with an exploding population of 9 billion people and the climate change, we are in a lot of trouble.
And the focus constantly came back to this - Future foods are local foods — and people in the developing world give up eating the local foods because it’s less prestigious to eat them. And these local superfoods, which in ancient times and not so ancient times (like 60 years ago) were celebrated for their therapeutic, weight-loss and well-being properties, are now undervalued or simply lost. Then the West adopts them as ‘novel foods’ for weight loss and well-being and they get a second lease of life.
So curcumin enters the health store as an antidote to fatigue and obesity but we don’t even know that it's haldi. The moringa powder that we mix in water for omega 3 and stamina is just the drumstick in the sambar and that amaranth is simply the rajgeera chikki you get at railway stations. While everyone in India knows how much dal to add to rice to make khichdi, someone in the West is studying its proportions to earn a PhD.
And they will probably also pursue a post-doc in how the proportions change when the person is sick or when seasons change or whether you want to turn it into a dosa or an idli. We take food wisdom so much for granted that we don't even recognise it as something of great importance.
If nothing, at least let us acknowledge that we are copying the food habits of people who are copying us, or our grandmothers more specifically.
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