Photos: Vibha Varshney (left) and Sunita Narain; the book cover. Pics by Albin Mathew
By Shevlin Sebastian
Every morning, the Kolha and Santhal tribals of Mayurbhanj in Orissa pluck chakedopaah (pennywort). Then they prepare a chutney and have it with their breakfast of watered rice. The tribal belief is that a few leaves a day enhances memory and checks body tremors among the old.
Meanwhile, members of the Lingayat community of Karnataka take the leaves of the narale (grape family) and make a chutney. Elderly people in the community believe that the chutney consumed once a year prevents cough and stomach infections and strengthens muscles and bones.
When food and nutrition consultant Sangeeta Khanna got married, she noticed her mother-in-law boil the leaves of the parijaat (night-flowering jasmine) to make kadha (a herbal mixture) to ease the pain in her joints.
These are examples from 'First Food – Culture of Taste', a stylish cookery book brought out by the Centre of Science and Environment (CSE).
The idea to do the book came up when reporters of 'Down To Earth' magazine, (a sister organisation of the CSE), would return from field trips and inform the editors about the varieties of food that they ate. “That's how we started working on the project more than a decade ago,” says book editor Vibha Varshney. “'Culture of Taste' is the second book in the 'First Food' series.” (The earlier book, published in 2013, was called, 'A Taste of India's Biodiversity').
But there was another urgent reason. “We want to revive India’s traditional culture of eating home-cooked food with seasonal ingredients,” says CSE Director Sunita Narain. “It was getting lost because we are losing the holders of that knowledge – our mothers and grandmothers. Our food today is getting 'multinationalised', 'industralised' and 'chemicalised'. In short, it is a McDonalidisation of food.”
The book has been divided into different sections: leaves, flowers, fruits, vegetables and seeds. “This is the pattern followed by rural communities. They consume all parts of the plant, like the leaves, flowers and fruits, as and when they became available. This method ensures the availability of food throughout the year,” says Vibha.
For example, in Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh, when tender pink leaves appear on the peepal tree towards the end of March the locals cook and eat it. Then during the spring season, everybody picks a leaf or two and chews it, because it strengthens the teeth. Later, the bark and the fruits are also consumed. “This is a method that urbanites can also follow,” says Vibha.
Meanwhile, when asked about the target readership, Vibha says, “It is for those who want to eat healthy food. This option is available in our Indian diet, but we have overlooked it. It is far more healthier and nutritious than the processed food that we eat now.”
Title: 'First Food – Culture of Taste'
Publisher: Center for Science and Environment
Price: Rs 950.
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)