Sunday, July 27, 2014

Decoding the 'disruptive eating'

When I coined the word ‘disruptive eating’ for what we are doing at Nirmal, I meant how Nirmal as an Indian food chain can disrupt the US food industry. Off course it would impact the health profile of the US in general for good. Most common use of ‘disruptive’ in recent times is with technology and we all can agree how it has changed our lives for good. More importantly how it has empowered an ordinary person to access and use the same information and facility which was beyond reach of so many people.
‘Eating’ is such a simple daily routine for all of us and using the same yardstick we need to show how the ‘disruptive eating’ can empower everyone to make a difference. In India, we have a saying that there are 2 types of the people in the world ~ one who eat to live and other who live to eat. Just to explain a bit more, the first category just gobble up anything when they feel hungry without batting an eyelid and the second one give due thought to what they are eating. And the disruptive eating asks you to opt for the second category.
Just for brief background, Nirmal is a self-service café in Ypsilanti, MI serving affordable and authentic Indian food with our flagship item being Food Box ($5 for 5 items). When we started way back in 2009 as Temptations, a fine dining restaurant with full Bar and the lunch buffet, our aim was to just establish the first Indian food chain. By 2013, we have had taken our food to 4 campuses and 8 corporate cafeterias in Michigan and launched our first franchise at Columbus, OH. We knew well that Indian food is tasty, nutritious and healthy but it was not reaching to who needed it more and our customer base was stagnant, mostly from the college educated and the middle and higher income populace. In the meantime I have had some personal experiences which told lot more about the US food industry and how people need more info to opt for the second category which I described earlier. Let me share some personal experiences. In India I grew up eating goat meat, our specialty and chicken and you may be surprised to know that goat meat is healthier than even chicken.
  1. One day I go to Jimmy John's for the lunch and they don’t have chicken or goat sandwich. They have Turkey sandwich and I know Turkey meat is healthier than chicken. But then why only pork and beef, why not goat, the healthiest meat among the red meats.
  2. My daughter wanted something burger or sandwich for the school picnic and I trooped into a nearby Burger King  by 9am. Same story played out again. They do have chicken burger but served only after noon. For veggie, they have salad.
  3. My daughter, 11 yr old, has had an American friend for the sleepover and we go to Wendy for their dinner pick-up. We end up with getting the beef item at our home for the first time in our life as her friend does not eat chicken rather only eat beef and pork. In our religion Hinduism (85% of population in India are Hindus), the cow is considered sacred, hence we don’t even touch or see the beef items.
  4. When we used to serve our food at University of Michigan campus cafeterias, one day the executive chef asked me what is today for protein? I was kind of perplexed but later realized that he was enquiring about the chicken items. So protein here in the US is synonymous with the meat.
  5. I came across ‘No goat left behind’ campaign by Heritage Food USA and it bordered on ‘eat goat to save goat.’ The goat cheese and milk are very popular in the US as they are very similar to the human milk and lactose-free. Hence the majority of baby male goats are killed at birth as the goat dairy farms are not willing to spend money for their upkeep and there is no such demand for goat meat here in the US.
  6. Lunch buffet is a good way to introduce our cuisine to the first timers. One common refrain from our regular patrons was how they overeat every time as our buffet is so good and they don’t want to spend $10 for a lunch 2-3 times a week. Also we found that only 3% of the customers who ate lunch buffet ordered from our dinner menu. In India, only 2% high-end restaurants offer any kind of buffet whereas in the US, 95% of Indian restaurants do buffet, not sure why. The very first thing which did during our transition was to substitute the buffet with $5 food box with 5 items.
We realized there is huge information gap and to be honest, there is no big change in the US food industry or the way people eat their food for the last 20 years or so. The proverbial last straw for us was the unveiling of synthetic burger on 5th Aug last year which hurried the launch of Nirmal. It was more than a coincidence that Nirmal was launched in the same week though it took us 3-4 months to finalize our format (read self-service and 1-page menu) and another 3-4 months to define the ‘disruptive eating.’ Now we are ready to take ‘Nirmal’ to the next level.
The meat production and consumption world-wide specially beef and pork is unsustainable in terms of the resources required and also accounts for 21% of the greenhouse gases, the main culprit for the global warming. So it is natural for us humans to look for the alternatives. What baffles me is why we wait for a synthetic burger’s price to come down from $325K last year to something reasonable in the future. And would it be affordable to the ordinary people? We believe Indian cuisine could be a better alternative and I would explain how.
Indian cuisine revolves around ‘Curry’ and the spices make the ‘Curry’ so flavorful that one won’t be able to discern much difference while eating Chicken or Soya Chunks curry. No surprise that India has 500 millions vegetarians more than all vegetarians in the rest of the world. The spices are beneficial and we have 5000 yrs of history to back-up our claim. Most of the research on the spices are being done in the US and European universities. So when we say under ‘disruptive eating’, you don’t have to eat meat for protein, we mean 2 things. First, soya chunks or lentils have twice or equal protein with 5 times less fat than chicken. And second, the ‘Curry’ can make it easy to skip meat once or twice a week with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options under Indian cuisine. And if 100 million people in the US can skip meat once a week, there would be huge savings in the meat production of 3.6B pound per year. Total world-wide meat production is 660B pound per year and the US alone accounts for 93B pound.
Let me dispel one more myth about the difference between the meat protein and the vegetarian protein. Protein mainly consists of various kinds of the amino acids and both type of protein consists of all amino acids. Only difference is the lack of B-12 vitamin in the vegetarian protein. B-12 is plentiful in the eggs and in the dairy products. So vegans would need to take supplement for B-12.
Another message is ‘eat goat if you eat meat.’ Goat is far healthier than beef or pork or even chicken. But what makes the goat meat sustainable is for the same amount of meat, the goat consumes 1/5 of the grain consumed for the pork and 1/3 for the beef. So by eating goat once or twice per week you not only would be helping the Heritage Foods USA campaign but also would be saving the huge amount of grain. The world meat consumption consists of 38% pork, 30% poultry and 25% beef and 6% goat. If we can promote the goat meat production at the world level, the huge savings in the grain could be used to eradicate hunger among almost 800 million people worldwide. Besides it the goat is a sturdy animal, could be raised in any type of climate. And they are considered browsers not grazers like the cows, hence the far less grass consumption. Please read other posts at this blog to know more.
So your journey to the second category of people ‘Who live to eat’ begins with our very first message under disruptive eating ~ ‘Know your BMI’ (Body Mass Index). The US has 74% overweight prevalence ranked 9th among almost 200 countries in the world and spends $116B in related costs to tackle the obesity and overweight issue. India has 16% overweight prevalence ranked 178th, and much of the credit goes to ‘Curry.’ Trust me once you know your BMI, you would start to think about what you are eating.

Each one of us can change the world by the simple act of eating whether in terms of reducing the global warming or eradicating the hunger worldwide besides taking care of self. I would urge you to visit our website or watch our video at

Recently I came across an article at about Rishikesh, India, a small town, being the spiritual Disneyland of the world and I was not aware of it. So the key is to try Indian food once and then decide if it is worth to walk the talk. And when you start with $5 food box, you would help us in our pursuit of making ‘Nirmal’ the first Indian food chain. And think of 500+ Nirmals in the US in the next 5-10 years which can disrupt the existing US food industry for a good cause besides the huge global impact. We don’t need to wait for the synthetic burger.

In a nutshell the 'disruptive eating' could be a small step by all of us, a giant leap for the humankind  if we tweak a bit what Neil Armstrong said while taking the first step on the moon.