FIRST FOOD: CULTURE OF TASTE Reclaiming India’s culinary heritage | Centre for Science and Environment


FIRST FOOD: CULTURE OF TASTE Reclaiming India’s culinary heritage

Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant and chef Manjit Gill will release CSE’s new book on food which explores the nature-nutrition-livelihood linkages

“We are in imminent danger of losing nature as well as the knowledge that links it to our food and nutrition. This book is about the rediscovery of the knowledge that is not all lost, and the urgent imperative to fight back to reclaim our food and our habits”: Sunita Narain

  • First Food: Culture of Taste delves into the knowledge of the natural environment that shaped India’s cuisine. Expounds on how food diversity is linked to diversity in the biological world, and how this is linked to food and nutrition.

  • India’s traditional culinary knowledge is disappearing because we are losing the holders of that knowledge—our grandmothers and mothers who managed our food and brought to it cuisines that were local and nutritious.

  • India has the opportunity to be different in its food journey. The country does not have to first eat badly and then rediscover healthy and medicinal food that is not filled with toxins.

New Delhi, February 28, 2017: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) will release its latest publication First Food: Culture of Taste, here today at 6.30 PM, at the first Tasting India Symposium: Eat in India | Make in India. The book will be jointly released by Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog and Manjit Gill, corporate chef, ITC Hotels and president, Indian Federation of Culinary Associations in the presence of CSE director general Sunita Narain.

Speaking about the book, Narain said: “This book is not about gardening. It is not even about food. This book is about knowledge—the knowledge of nature that is the essence of food that delights our palates and nourishes our bodies. This is the critical food-nutrition-nature-culture connection.”

She added that the Tasting India Symposium was an ideal platform to talk about a publication like this, as the symposium seeks to introduce opinion-makers in the country and around the world to India’s gastronomical heritage, its potential to emerge as a culinary tourism showcase for the world, and its vast wealth of wisdom relevant to the current worldwide debate on sustainable lifestyles.

The food-nutrition-nature-culture connection
The book is an attempt at reviving India’s traditional culture of eating home-cooked food with seasonal ingredients. The book is divided into separate sections dealing with the various groups of ingredients that make our food -- seeds, stems, roots, leaves and flowers. Through recipes from across India, the book explores the country’s indigenous knowledge of food that, apart from satisfying the palate, is also centred on a culture of nutrition and nourishment. 

The book is the second in a series, the first being First Food: A Taste of India’s Biodiversity, released in 2013, which explored the linkage between food and diversity in the biological world through a compilation of recipes from across India.

“We need to know how food diversity is linked to diversity in the biological world,” said Narain. “If biodiversity disappears we will lose the food wealth on our plates. Food will become impersonal. It will become a sterile package designed for universal size and taste. This is what is happening today as we eat packaged food from plastic boxes. Conservation of this biodiversity, indeed its celebration, requires us to cultivate it on our plates. Otherwise, not only will our food become sterile, but we will also lose nature and the knowledge that links it to food and nutrition.”

Losing the narrative?
The book is important in the current milieu of industrial and junk food that has led to a proliferation of foods with high fat, salt or sugar. Such foods are increasingly becoming an intrinsic part of our consumption patterns. This disturbing trend, as has been attested by several experts and nutritionists, is a major contributor to lifestyle-related diseases, including cardiac problems and juvenile diabetes.

To add to this, our traditional culinary knowledge is fast disappearing because we are losing the holders of that knowledge—our grandmothers and mothers who managed our food and brought to it cuisines that were local and nutritious. It is also getting lost because we do not value their knowledge. “Our food is getting “multinationalised”, industrialised and “chemicalised”. It is the same anywhere and everywhere. Strangely, this McDonaldisation of food has been peddled as a sign of modernity and prosperity. It has become aspirational,” says Narain.

The entire blame however, doesn’t lie on the shoulders of the industry alone. Somewhere along the way, India’s science of food culture has been lost because of our own indifference, whether due to lifestyle changes or conscious choice, say the writers of First Food.

Reclaiming India’s culinary legacy
India has the opportunity to be different in its food journey. The country does not have to first eat badly and then rediscover healthy and medicinal food that is not filled with toxins. India has a living tradition of healthy food still eaten in our homes. “We have never understood that the Indian diet has the hallmarks of the healthy Mediterranean diet. It too is based on eating seasonal, eating local produce and traditional preparations,” said Narain.

“Now we need to fight back to reclaim our food and our habits. The only way to do so is to rediscover food as pleasure and be thrilled, not just by its smells and tastes, but also by the knowledge it embodies. This is First Food. We need to look for the seeds, stems, leaves and flowers that would make up our daily food,’ added Narain emphatically.

This might not be easy as the natural habitats of these plants are now covered with concrete. The most biodiverse regions of the country are under threat from industry. CSE researchers say we need to create a demand for the biodiversity-rich foods that have served generations before us, and we need to protect the environment where these plants grow. There is an urgent imperative to change the narrative by creating a demand for the biodiversity-rich foods that have served generations before us, and to protect the environment where these plants grow.

This book is about the rediscovery of knowledge that is not all lost. Many of the plants that make these recipes are still found in our own backyards, or can be grown and harvested for food. Yet many of the plants are difficult to source, many difficult to grow locally. “This is a challenge,” says Narain, “It is only when this biodiversity is lived that it will live. First Food is certainly about treasuring this knowledge and creating new knowledge, which brings culinary art to our plates. The aim is to create cuisines that sustain nutrition, nature and livelihoods. It is only when we take control of our food once again that we will have good food. It is the connection of our lives—food-nutrition-nature—that will celebrate the joy of living.”

 

• For the release function details: http://cseindia.org/content/tasting-india

• For more details or for review copies, contact Hemanth Subramanian, Media Resource Centre, CSE; hemanth@cseindia.org; 9836748585

 

 

 

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