Are we Indians becoming obese? Isn't a large part of our population suffering from this problem? WEIGHT GAIN.. WEIGHT GAIN... wherever you go.. everyone is talking about this.... but what are the reasons? Junk food? Lifestyle? Pandemic? (Lack of) Culinary skills? What then are the solutions? Dieting? Intermittent Fasting? Gyming? Exercise? Are these the only solutions?
Our forefathers ate ghee; did that affect their health? No, in fact that generation was far healthier than us. Do you know why? There are many factors - method of cooking, time consumed to cook - cooking on a slow flame in an earthen pot, use of local seasonal ingredients, using basic methods of fermenting, drying, etc, satisfied lifestyles. Ah, you'd say, but that's so much time consuming, isn’it?
As the French say, "Avoir du pain sur la planchet" meaning 'Have a lot to do'. With changing times, life has become busy and fast, and we have adapted ourselves to cooking in the least possible time with modern electrical appliances.... in fact, we now cook smarter keeping the nutritive values of the food intact, at least that's what the fancier kitchen appliance adverts would have us believe; after all, 'Eating is a necessity, but cooking is an art'.
Living in the digital era, we cook our food with the help of so many gadgets – the food processer, the mixer grinder, the hotplate, the microwave, the steamer, the pro cook utensils, etc. etc. Look at the produce we now consume – from locally sourced to the more exotic to organically grown to hydroponically grown, and then for those who can afford it, imported vegetables and fruits at fancy prices. With globalization, the availability of cuisines from different parts of the world – step aside Chinese and Italian, we now have Ethiopian, Korean, Japanese, Mexican all vying for a place at our tables. We can now satisfy and develop our taste buds to try out different cuisines and put an Indian spin on them – e.g., our desi Chinese will certainly go unrecognised in China should one of our enterprising hoteliers decide to open a restaurant there.
Traditional cooking (albeit with modern gadgets) has helped many 'a simple housewife' find many takers for her offering – be it the achaars and murabbas, the papads and wadis, the ladoos and the halwas. The pandemic provided an opportunity to many enterprising individuals to show off their culinary skills and find a ready market for their wares. In fact, during the pandemic, cooking came as a boon to many... a stress-buster, an opportunity to lose oneself in the kitchen and find the crea-tive streak within. Pandemic also taught how to use things sparingly, to innovate and alternate, and at times to eliminate – all in the name of try-ing one’s hand at something hatke.
By the way, are we eating enough? Didn't the previous generation eat more than we did? Probably yes, but the amount of physical activity they did helped them remain fit and healthy. Of course, cooking provides an opportunity to bond with the family, to enjoy the process itself especially where each member of the member brings something to the table.
Today's Gen Z has all the time, means, creativity, availability, knowledge, social media to help them learn and acquire cooking skills... there is a constant search to come out with something unique – a traditional serving with a contemporary twist... and voila! A new dish is born!! Of course, with innovative ready-to-eat food packets, some of the Gen Z are more than happy to subscribe to them as it gives them an opportunity to engage in 'far more productive activities'.
On the flipside, modern cooking has also and continues to contribute to several health-related issues, either directly or indirectly. A decade ago, when my mom was alive, she would always say, "Aa fast food na jamaana ma tame badha fast fastupar jai rahyacho" meaning 'In this age of fast food, all of you will exit that much faster'. I realise now how true she was. It is like she had this epiphany a decade ago. She would also say, 'Jevo aahaar tevoo vichaar'.
Many households now have a cook coming to prepare the meals. He/ she comes in at the appointed hour (hopefully!), and rushes through the cooking before flitting to the next household. The mood and thoughts of the person cooking are known to transfer into the food – what sort of vibrations would someone who is under constant stress of everyday life impart to the food, you think? As the French say, 'Ce n'est pas la tarte' meaning 'It's not going to be easy'.
Ayurveda also encourages use of satvik food to remain fit and healthy, and advising that eating too much of tamsik food adversely affects one’s thoughts. Aren't we seeing that now? We use ingredients like soda-bicarb, baking soda, preservatives like vinegar, taste enhancers like MSG... these affect everyone, especially the younger generation which is most addicted to fast food and restaurant food and street food. For some it may be majboori as they live away from their families, but for many, it is their tastebuds which dictate what they eat.
Look at the youth around you. Aren't they more assertive, intolerant, abusive, impatient, arrogant, aggressive? I will go so far as to say many are no longer connected to The Almighty, many identify themselves as being atheists. The youth seem to be in a hurry to do most of the things – even fall prey to a host of health issues which one believed afflicted only the older generations - diabetes, obesity, brain stroke, heart attack. Sedentary lifestyles, high levels of stress, irregular and faulty food habits, unhealthy competition – it’s a volatile cocktail alright! On the other hand, the older generation was or is much more connected and humbler.
While the well-known saying goes, 'Clothes maketh the man', I humbly submit, 'Be that as it may, food both maketh and also breaketh the man'.