Eating right in a climate-risked world

  • CSE releases its latest book in the ‘First Food’ series -- The Future of Taste 
  • Connecting climate change to food and its production, the book offers over 100 unique recipes from across India: food that is sourced from local biodiversity
    that can offer succor to a world ravaged by climate change
  • Four of India’s most celebrated chefs and cuisineers launch the book 

New Delhi, March 12, 2024: “How should we practice agriculture and food production in our climate-risked world, so that we can ensure security of livelihood, nutrition and nature? This book – The Future of Taste – and the ‘First Food’ series that it is a part of, gives us some answers: by bringing us the color, essence and joy of a biodiverse food that is good for nutrition as well as for nature,” said Sunita Narain, Director General, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) here today. 

Narain was speaking at the official release of CSE’s latest publication, First Food: The Future of Taste. The book was released by a galaxy of celebrity chefs and cuisineers, including Jatin Mallick, Chef and Co-owner, Tres Restaurant, New Delhi; Manish Mehrotra, Culinary Director, Indian Accent, The Lodhi, New Delhi; Manjit S Gill, former Corporate Chef of ITC Hotels and Founder-President of the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations; and Rajiv Malhotra, Corporate Chef, Habitat World, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. 

Says Vibha Varshney, the conceptualiser and creator of CSE’s First Food series of books: “Local communities in India knew about millets much before they became fashionable. In fact, they know much more – about how to create healthy and nutritious recipes from a host of products available in and around us, from weeds, tree-borne foods and seeds which can be stored for long periods, to plants with short life-cycles, and even those parts of cultivated plants that are generally wasted. Our book brings together over 100 of these ‘non-mainstream’ recipes, foods that could turn out to be ideal for a world that is struggling with the ravages wrought by climate change.” 

In 2018, about 11 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions came from the food the world produced. While emissions from agriculture and food systems are a reality, Narain points out that there are two distinct agricultural worlds. She explains: “One, based on an intensive industrial model where food is manufactured in factory farms at a massive scale; and another which is subsistence level, practiced by farmers in the developing world with small landholdings, who grow food for their livelihood. The agriculture and food production sector, thus, creates a divide between a world that emits for survival and one that emits for luxury. At a time when the survival of farmers is threatened across the world by climate change and other factors, we cannot go ahead with the intensive, luxury-emission based model of food production.” 

The book says that in such a scenario, it is the farms and food of “our world, of countries like India” that will provide answers to the future. Among other things, the book recommends opting for crops that are both nutritive and compatible with the local environment. Says Narain: “For instance, where there is water shortage, farmers should grow water-prudent crops such as millets. Government must enable policies that will promote the cultivation of these crops.” 

The Future of Taste also recommends measures such as promoting multiple cropping to minimise risk; improving soil health by using non-chemical alternatives to fertilisers and pesticides; and encouraging low-input, cost-effective agriculture. 

“Most importantly,” says Narain, “we must realise that what our farmers grow depends on us – the consumers. The food on our plates has lost the meaning of nutrition. We know we need good food to live healthy, but we continue to eat wrong. If we change our diets, it will provide signals to our farmers to grow differently, to cultivate food that is good as well as climate-resilient.” 

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