Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Disruptive Eating ~ Many Dimensions

Recently I was listening to Diane Rehm’s show on NPR (national public radio), a live program and a listener called in to say that the media is not doing their duty with respect to the Keystone XL pipeline project by not informing the people about its more cons than pros. One lady panelist on the show responded that if only Kim Kardashian can break the internet records almost every month, then one should not blame the media.

I realized how difficult a job for us to inform people about the ‘disruptive eating’ which empowers everyone to change the world.
One patron opined in the yelp review recently that we are going overboard on BMI (body mass index) putting BMI at the entrance and even in our toll free phone no. In Nov 2014 there was a global conference for obesity and overweight issue in Rome, Italy under the auspices of UN FAO. Total 2 billion people out of 7 billion world population are obese or overweight and total cost to fight this is $2 trillion. For the US, 74% of the population falls in this category with the price tag of $116 billion. So my question is when is the time to go overboard?
Also the last month FDA (Food & Drug administration, US) came up with an order for all restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to display the ‘calorie count’ for all food or beverage items. It would include the grocery stores selling prepared food and the food joints in the movie theatres etc. No doubt, it is a good first step. But it is kind of ‘better late than never’, not a war given the gravity of the problem. What is worrying more in the US that the poor or less educated people are afflicted disproportionately with the overweight or obesity problem and they have fewer choices to come up trump. Can ‘Nirmal for disruptive eating’ make a difference?
We talk a lot about the vegetarian food as well as the goat meat for the non-vegetarians. Indian cuisine is synonymous with the vegetarian food and the ample proof comes in the form of 500 millions vegetarians in India alone (42% of the population) which is more than all vegetarians combined in the rest of the world. Some analysts tend to highlight ‘poverty’ or less income as a cause of the vegetarianism in India. What they overlook is, in India, the egg is considered a non-vegetarian item and the vegetables are not cheaper than egg. Out of 500 millions, 375 millions are pure vegetarians not eating eggs. In my view, our ‘curry’ based food with plethora of spices is the key to the ‘vegetarianism.’ India was famous for its spices since the last 5000 years and still 75% of the spices produced in the world come from India. For comparison, China has 65 millions vegetarians, just 5% of their population.  But I would suggest you to try Indian cuisine to get into this debate.
Similarly when we started to promote ‘goat meat’, many patrons were perplexed. Is goat, a red meat, better than Chicken? We used an article from Michigan State University, one of the top agriculture university in the US, to authenticate our claim. I grew up eating only ‘goat meat’ in India and I have seen rearing of ‘goat’ by our neighbors in the village. At that point I was not at all aware of its health quotient or about India being the second largest producer of the goat meat. (150 million heads to 4 million in the US). Goat meat could be the answer to the unsustainable meats like the beef or pork. Specially for the poorer regions of the world, the goat rearing could be a tool to reduce the social inequality or to reduce malnutrition. Please see the link ~ .
But our challenge is immense. Think of the sister cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti ~ the home to 2 big universities of Michigan and having the most educated and diverse population in Michigan. Out of 300 restaurants all around, Nirmal may be the only restaurant serving goat meat. So even if you decide to try goat meat, where you would find. Trust me once you try our goat curry or goat biryani, you won’t go back to the other fares. And it baffles me more as Indian or Mediterranean restaurants don’t have goat meat and these regions are the biggest consumers of the goat meat. 
Talking about the challenges. For the last one year, we started promoting subtly ‘whole wheat bread’ called Roti at Nirmal in place of Naan bread made of white flour.  All of us know that the whole wheat has five times more dietary fiber than white flour and its glycemic index is low making the whole meal more fulfilling. But we still have 80% of our patrons opting for Naan though 10% down. But what hurts me more personally is we Indians at home here or in India eat Roti as a staple item and eat Naan only in the restaurants. As in our culture specially in India we eat out once or twice in a month, so we rarely eat Naan. In the US when we eat out, mostly try other cuisines, so little chance of eating Naan. Actually the first time I ate Naan when I was 18. Also very few may know that naan bread is cooked in Tandoor oven (special type of clay oven) by pasting the bread on the inside walls whose temperature reaches 900 F and it remains continuously ON to maintain its wall temperature. For the burners in the commercial range, this temperature is 500 F which we use to make roti bread on Tawa (kind of flat pan made of iron or steel). It is anybody’s guess how much nutrients left at such high temperature. Operationally it is far better to use Tandoor oven  but it consumes 3 times more energy. So I have always asked this question myself ~ why we are serving Naan made at Tandoor oven in the name of authentic Indian cuisine which we claim as the healthy eating? And when we are trying to make Indian cuisine your regular meal instead of once a month extravaganza. Come 2015 we plan to discard the Tandoor oven and the naan, synonymous with Indian cuisine here in the US whereas only 10% of the population in India specially in the northern states may eat naan. Off course an article from the Vegetarian Times helped us to make this decision, the excerpt given below. We know this would hurt our business as our 'no buffet' decision did but it is in tune with our mantra of 'eat healthy, save energy, save our planet.'

 *In a 10-year Harvard study completed in 1994, men and women who ate high-fiber breads had fewer heart attacks and strokes than those whose tastes ran to bagels and baguettes.
*Simply switching from white to whole wheat bread can lower heart disease risk by 20 percent, according to research from the University of Washington reported in the April 2, 2003 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. 
Most importantly with Tandoor oven out from our kitchen, it becomes similar to the kitchens of any American or Mexican restaurant having a commercial 6-burner range, a fryer and a flat top grill. Eventually it would help us expand our presence in Michigan and beyond and actually we are actively looking for the partners who believe in making the positive difference through a business venture.
So it boils down to the same feeling. Eating is so mundane that we don’t care or rather don’t give a hoot. Talking of the ‘calorie count’ of food items in the restaurant. New York was the first city to introduce these guidelines way back around 2004-5 and the survey after survey pointed out that only 30% of the people took notice of it. At least I can claim from the roof top that 90% of our patrons would have known or observed what we are trying to convey ~ BMI everyone should know or the goat meat is healthier or why eat Lentils. So are we doing the right thing? Is not this right time to forgo our modesty and speak what is good for all of us?
The disruptive eating has 2 more components ~ fresh, affordable and nutritious Vs taste and wastage and to promote the home cooking going forward. I come across the comments that our food is often late. Our chefs make everything from the scratch and make it the way we eat at home. That’ why you would find our food more spiced with less dairy cream and off course a different taste though the original. One big impact is we have almost eliminated our wastage as we cook once an order is in. Not a brainer when we offer lunch or dinner starting at $5. Earlier when we used to do buffet or have had some back-up, we used to waste a lot and the wastage cost passes to the patrons. In the US alone, the food wastage costs $165B and 40% of this wastage comes from the food joints or the grocers, the rest by the consumers. Talking of the taste more. We introduced vegan naan bread at Nirmal, a first in the US, by not using milk and egg for its dough. Does this make the naan bread less tastier, yes? But this makes naan a bit more nutritious and palatable to so many vegans and specially the vegetarians from India.
Another agenda for 2015, we plan to start sharing some recipes with you which you can cook at the home easily. The first item would be Rice lentils curry called ‘Kichhdi’ in India, the ultimate comfort food. It is vegan and we offer now on Saturdays only at Nirmal. Eventually we plan to hold the free cooking classes at Nirmal on Sundays. This would bust so many myths about the Indian cuisine and bring the cost of Indian food down if cooked at home.
Any type of cuisine represents its culture and off course India has long history of the culture and the traditions. I would like to share 2 things which represent India ~ ‘Gita’ and ‘Yoga.’ And I would tell you why. Just for a brief background, we are celebrating this year ‘5151’ st anniversary of Gita, you read it right, five thousand one hundred fifty first anniversary. And ‘Gita’ is the spiritual embodiment of everything what India represents. ‘Yoga’ came to the world stage this year when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi proposed an International yoga day during his UN general assembly address in New York and just this month UN declared June 21st as the International Yoga day. You may get surprised why it took so long for ‘Yoga’ to get the center stage when the UN observes so many days ~ .
Let me admit as I grew up in India, I became aware of these 2 things very late in my adult life. Now when I look back, it seems a bit ironical. My kids are fortunate having come into contact with Gita at their young age as there are so many avenues here in the US. Somehow, in India, these 2 things got identified with the majority religion ‘Hinduism’ in India and in the name of ‘secularism,’ we missed out on 2 biggest character building tools for the young minds. You judge yourselves why these could be limited to just a religion or a region~ . Yoga is very popular in the US though not affordable for everyone. I would share what I learned by self and practice daily ~ .
If you want to know the benefits of Yoga, please see this link on a research at Harvard University ~ . Recently I came across a book ‘World Order’ by Henry Kissinger, one of the most famous diplomats having served the US and it quotes extensively from ‘Gita’ and the ‘Arthashastra’ – the 2 most famous books from India. Please see ~  .
When I see so much turmoil or disagreement here almost on everything, I always wonder what is the way out. We need physical, mental and spiritual well being for all of us. And the physical starts with your eating habits. Second thing, we always think ‘one tree does not make a forest.’ But each of us can change the things and a simple step of right eating can make a global impact. Once you are physically fit, then you can indulge in the pursuit of your mental and spiritual well being. And then you are ready to use and SHARE the power of ‘knowledge.’ We all know that food and fear & sleep and sex ~ these 4 things are common to us and the animals. Only ‘knowledge’ makes us humans different and the knowledge is not about knowing the dimensions of Ms Kardashian’s anatomy.
Today the young people are blessed in the sense that Gita or Yoga or so many character building tools are just a click away on their phone or the laptop. And ‘Yes you can’ can combine into a big ‘Yes we can.’