Our home kitchen is a direct reflection of our lifestyle choices. Why are we speaking about this today ?
The answer to that question is simple. Even in a small rural hamlet there will be that shop selling a packet of ready to eat snacks or packaged food, which came off a large factory assembly line. The reason being the ease at which we are connected. Everything is just a click away, should we want it.
Diet has gone far away from eating the kinds of food that we stand to inherit from ancestral leanings. We wrote about this extremely worrying issue in the previous edition of Farmer Diaries in the segment - Cultural Food Systems (Sustainability and Food Security). Kitchen gardens are becoming popular in the urban set up simply because there is an understanding of the benefits that arise from growing our own veggies, fruits and herbs.
But having said that, does fresh produce comprise most part of our everyday diet? We need to zoom in on the small things which may escape our attention because it is not looked at individually as a separate food. Condiments like ketchup, jam, mayonnaise, vinegar, oil etc - what goes into making it.
Rice, flours, pasta, noodles - how are these made, what are the ingredients and what goes into the manufacturing process. Salt, sugar, honey, turmeric, pepper - do we ask questions about what is in those packets or do we just buy the brand we think is good? These are the questions we must ask and make a conscious selection of what we want in our kitchen and why!
We do need to understand that the process of growing real food in a conscious manner, processing it without adulteration and employing manual labour when necessary will reflect in the final cost of the product. It need not necessarily be expensive but it will definitely cost more than a sub-standard version of the same. In the long term using cold pressed oil instead of refined oil, for example, will be more beneficial for health and on the pocket.
When we cook in cold pressed oils, the taste of the oil adds to the flavour of the dish. When the taste buds are exposed to the actual intensity of the ingredients, the appetite reaches satiation faster. So half a litre of aromatic oil will go a longer way than the odourless and tasteless refined counterpart.
What is refining? It is a way of removing all that is natural about the food and giving it a longer shelf life by adding preservatives or additives. Changing the kind of ingredients we buy also means about eating food, for the most part, with a shorter shelf life.
Making a homemade tomato sauce is as easy as pulping fresh tomatoes, adding salt, spices of choice, natural sugar and allowing it to reduce on the stove. This can be done once a month or once a week depending on the requirement and time available. Making the switch also gives tremendous satisfaction of knowing exactly what we are putting into our bodies.
When people talk of allergies or issues with digestion, they are told to avoid certain foods by medical experts. Unfortunately we tend to overlook all that there is hidden inside seemingly simple foods.
For example, finding pure asafoetida is an exhaustive search but it is available. All one needs is actually a tiny (mustard seed size) quantity to imbibe the benefits. But since the processing is done by using a large amount of edible gum and refined flour, this resin powder is added in small spoonfuls without even realizing that the majority of that is actually a refined ingredient.
This is where problems arise.The body is unable to extract the particular nutrient when it is masked by so many other unnecessary additions. A refined sugar does only harm to the body because every bit of goodness has been stripped from it to make it blindingly white. The white brigade - refined flour, sugar, salt has the ability to highlight the colour and elasticity of baked goods to an extent that we may even forget that what we are actually eating is nothing which has any connection to the earth and where it came from. In one our earlier blog posts, we had written in detail about our obsession with refining that flourished in the last decade in India.
It’s like plastic surgery but for food. Beauty at all cost. The ones paying the price however is you, me and the environment.
Making a switch is so much easier than we allow ourselves to believe. Yes it is overwhelming to enter a supermarket and be assailed from every direction about this fortified flour and that new ingredient and a something flavoured cereal. But those can be occasional foods which we can maybe grab for a quick bite as seldom as once a month. The body can handle it then.
Free flowing salt is another food which is over-abused in our diet. It is really not the salt to blame but the manner in which it is processed and used. When using rock salt or sea salt, the balance comes automatically when cooking because the taste is so heavily felt on the tongue. We will automatically reach for less, just enough to enhance the food and not over power it.
Similarly there is unnecessary fear of eating traditional Indian pickles because of the salt content. When unrefined salt crystals have been mixed with traditional ingredients in a recipe handed down over generations, it is one that will undoubtedly contribute to health.
Half a teaspoon of this pickle is where from the body gets in a whole range of pre-biotics. This is different from the excess salt which enters the body by way of packaged biscuits. The former won’t harm whereas constant intake of the latter definitely will!
Making a lifestyle modification does begin in the kitchen. We want every rupee to count. It’s hardwork to put in hours trying to establish a good lifestyle. Food choices need to be the kind that adds energy rather than instill lethargy. Believe it or not it has to do with the kind of ingredients we choose - refined vs un-refined. People think that it requires time and effort to go looking for ingredients which are made in a conscious manner. It’s not difficult at all, thanks to the internet.
It’s not urban hoo-haa or trying to talk food literacy and reading labels. It’s necessary because we are moving away from a local and seasonal diet. How many of us know or tell our children what kind of grain or food to eat during the rainy season?
There are fruits, flowers and leaves which grow in every season and are meant to be eaten along with a particular staple be it rice, ragi, wheat, tapioca, jowar etc in a specific proportion. How are we to go back to that if our kitchen shelves are filled with cans, boxes, packets of foods and so on which is becoming a day to day sustenance?
Let’s start by taking a look at who benefits by refining natural ingredients. You will be surprised to note that it most definitely isn’t you. Any reason why your money should be spent on it then?
There are so many small time farmers and food entrepreneurs trying to do right by the consumer. You might want to read a blog post we wrote on why we should be supporting Farmer run businesses. Let’s find them and allow them to do just that!