Taking control of our Food & Health

“Why do we have a kitchen in the house? It is such a waste of space. All we need is a microwave sitting on the side-board in the dining room, and we are done!” A unique perspective? 

We heard this way back in 2006 over a Thanksgiving Lunch in small town America from one of the guests. And our jaws dropped! Is this a new trend, we wondered? 

True, most Americans had indeed stopped cooking at home by then. The Coffee Maker makes you coffee any time of the day. Cereals for breakfast came from branded boxes, the milk came from branded cartons in the fridge, and Juices, Ready To Eat (RTE) dinners and lunches were so easily available in supermarkets - across brands presenting choices like in a restaurant. Salads, entrée, deserts - you name it. All one had to do during the weekend trips to the supermarket was to buy these RTE dishes and throw them in the microwave when needed, and truly, you were done. So really, all you need are some of these appliances, and indeed, you can replace the kitchen. Your home can actually be like a hotel room!

And we pondered over that. We then found there were residential complexes coming up with apartments with no kitchen! We wondered then if Indians will take to this trend. We thought we Indians were more rooted to our food and cooking, and there is no way we are going to go this way!

Well, we were wrong! We began seeing ads from popular food delivery apps about how you need not worry if your maid was going on an unscheduled vacation! The trend is here now. But in a different way. We have almost replaced the kitchen, but not limited to just these appliances, but “hot, fresh, tasty food” from our choice of restaurants in town brought to you by the food delivery apps.

So here is 2023. Most middle class households are quick to order breakfast/lunch/dinner online. Convenient, right? Why not, right?

Well, here is what we at Bio Basics believe (our point of view):

We as a society are going through what sociologists call “Alienation". In the interest of time and money, we tend to choose the short-cut, and outsource the job. And here are what we call the “5 degrees of alienation”.

Degree #1: We don’t know how to grow our food. We have outsourced it to farmers. And we don’t know our farmers either. Some kids today think that rice grows on trees or that it comes from a supermarket! The farmers also don’t know us. So they tend to use more chemicals (and in combinations not advisable) to get better yields, save labour, and show better outward appearance of the crop.

Degree #2: We don’t know where our food comes from. Its provenance. We go to a supermarket, which is filled by a wholesaler who procures it in bulk from farmers, and stores it in godowns. The shelf-life is critical. So chemical fumigation is common. Pest repellents are used commonly. Adulteration (aka blending) to reduce cost is also common.

Degree #3: We don’t know what goes into the processing of our food, what makes it in the shape or form that it comes to us in. The inconvenient bran or fibre is removed, chemical flavours are added, so also, preservatives, additives, and all those fancy names for chemicals. Lots of salt and sugar are added to make it more tasty, more colourful, low-cost, and with high shelf-life. This food comes from a factory, not from the fields. Biscuits, cakes, cookies, coffee concentrates, juices, snacks, sweets, bread, buns, iodized salt, ice creams, malt powders, noodles, idli/dosa batter, extruded cereals, breakfast/protein bars, protein/fibre powders. Foods our grandmas won’t even recognize! In this process, we lose nutrition. The new kid on the block? Fortified rice. 

Degree #4: We don’t know who cooked our food, when, how, and where, using what ingredients? In the good old days, we used to eat out in hotels/restaurants once in a way, and preferred “ghar ka khaana” (home-cooked meals), but thanks to the food delivery apps, we tend to eat out almost everyday. Hence the doubt - why cook and why kitchen?

Degree #5: And finally, we don’t know what to do when we are sick, resulting from all the above degrees of alienation. We don’t even know if and when we are sick, until it is too late. For small ailments, we rush to the doctor or a hospital, and are happy to pop pills at the slightest. Because we have outsourced our health to others. As commercialism has permeated the health care systems across the world, this leads to us being exploited for narrow commercial gains. We are also now prone to diets and fads galore. And to all those “experts” who claim to know all about our body.

These degrees of alienation are not natural, but are caused by the following forces:

Technological intervention in food and farming - use of chemicals, genetic modification, fortification, food technology to create flavour or texture or colour and higher shelf-life. Regardless of their adverse impacts on our bodies.

Consumers chasing cheap food and convenience at all costs, especially the cost of their health.

Farmers and food companies chasing low cost inputs, higher yields, and more profits.

To deal with these 5 degrees of alienation, here are 5 mantras:

Start a kitchen/terrace garden, grow some of your own fresh food for your family. Inculcate respect for the food we eat, the farmers and the hard work that goes into farming.

Choose your retailer well. Ask him questions about where he sources food, is it local and seasonal, how are the pests handled, does the food have chemicals - if he does not have answers for you, search for someone who cares enough and knows better. Ensure no chemicals are used for storage of these foods. Avoid faceless supermarkets, where no one cares what happens to you, your family or your health. 

Choose your food brands well. Reach out to them with questions, check out their processes, evaluate them for their genuineness, learn more about the processing of food, avoid man-made forms of food, stick to basic ingredients. 

Cook at home. From scratch. Using basic ingredients, not mixes. Home is where the hearth is. And health is where the hearth is. Eat out, only occasionally, say once a week to try things that you cannot make at home easily.

Food is medicine. Before you pop pills, take rest, sleep it off, use home remedies, eat right. Exercise. Get enough sunlight. Remember you can prevent most ailments, if you eat right and take care of yourself. And you can cure the rest, at home. You may need expert intervention only rarely. Save time and money visiting doctors, hospitals and diagnostic centres.

Let us therefore think about and understand this deeply. Let us eat mindfully, applying our thinking, and not eat blindly. Let us then finally create a strong legacy for our children and the coming generations of growing the food we can, knowing about our food deeply, processing it minimally and eating it as Nature intended, bonding with our family and cooking at home, and taking care of our bodies ourselves in sickness and health using food, rest and exercise. 

Let us “take control”. Let us “stick to basics”. Bio Basics! 

Ramesh Chandran, Founder, Bio Basics

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