The 2-minute noodle saga has died its own death, at least in the media. So what if the concerned multinational now has a green light from our courts to export what they cannot sell in India. We need to look deeper into the issue. This is about food, health and a lively, working kitchen that satisfies both the palate and provides nutrition to children. We are a nation with a deep-rooted culinary tradition that few countries can boast of. It even has a basis in Ayurveda, a lifestyle science that is now accepted worldwide. (You never know when we may have an International Ayurveda Day as well!!) How and why have things gone awry? Are children to blame for unhealthy, if not unsavoury food practice? Is something or someone else at the root? This case is on another platform and quite apart from the audio-visual blitzkrieg that imposes choices that are not our own but driven by advertisements. We are coaxed into buying stuffs that we never actually require.
I dare to say, Indian mothers are either getting lazy or in a changing social scenario, have become knowledge-poor in the vacuum of passed oral tradition. They also easily buy into the advertising glamour that makes them want to ‘belong’ to the fashionable this-and-now times. The price is heavy. Traditional food has taken a beating, while noodles, pizzas, hamburgers, chips and crunchy eatables accompanied by aerated drinks reign supreme. If you look into the variety of Indian snacks and meals across every state of India, there are enough options. Both for quick stuff and for food that actually just needs a bit of forethought. It is amazing to see how the ‘planning’ of food has got completely submerged in the ‘I want it here and now’ syndrome. Soaking, fermenting, long term seasonal interventions for a rainy day are no longer a routine in most Indian homes, specially in urban India. The scary part is, urban trends lead and by virtue of aspirational factors, influence practice in rural populations as well. Populations that are even more vulnerable to aggressive advertising and marketing.
In a recent article in The Washington Post, Roberto A. Ferdman, a reporter for Wonkblog, has written a very revelatory article. It is entitled “Scientists have figured out what makes Indian Food so Delicious—Researchers have Data Crunched 2,500 Recipes and found the Secret to their Success.” The research has been done by IIT Jodhpur, wherein they data crunched thousands of recipes on the Tarla Dalal website. The article and research reveal several details about Indian cooking.
One fact is noteworthy. There are about 380 ingredients, including spices, used in cooking worldwide. The IIT research shows that Indian cooking uses nearly 200 of them. Further, an average Indian dish would include about 7 ingredients / spices. More research is sure to reveal that these 7 ingredients / spices have a direct connection to the primary food item and its apt absorption in the body. That knowledge is rooted in Ayurveda. The time has come to re-discover and celebrate Indian food in our own homes and kitchens. There are a plethora of food shows on television that celebrate street food of all hues or fancy, and fancier complicated dishes.
Hopefully, soon, there will be a ‘fashion’ to celebrate good old ‘home’ food! Of course, we need to re-train our brains. Healthy food does not come in two minutes. We need attitudinal change to think in terms of at least 15-20 minutes. I daresay that is not too much time for the health of a child. The Washington Post article hints at the labour-intensiveness of Indian food. Well, another way to look at it is as a labour of love. There is a great pleasure in planning a good meal or snack—and placing a masterpiece in colour and taste on the table. Cooking may not be someone’s favourite thing in life. Having said that, if you give birth to children, it better be a must in one’s life. You cannot feed children the crap doled out by multinationals. There is a case for advocacy and behaviour change communication. We have unwittingly become victims of mindless consumerism that is so prevalent.
Multinationals have changed breast-feeding practice in the remotest parts of the world. Everyone was hankering after milk powder. Now, there is a worldwide movement for breast-feeding, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiating a programme in Bihar! Will it again be the white man who will bring the pride and value of Indian food back to us?