Sunday, February 7, 2016

Indian food is more than just delicious

2016 started on very positive note for us as I was accepted as a leader for, a subsidiary of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is fighting the childhood obesity in the US and we are proud to be the part of its huge network of 3800+ leaders and 300 K supporters all across the US. Also it is one of two organizations with links at Let’s Move, the First Lady’s initiative to fight the childhood obesity. So it is a kind of megaphone for our concept of ‘Disruptive Eating’ which we practice and promote at Nirmal.
When Nirmal was launched in Aug 2013, our first aim was to fight the obesity or overweight prevalence in the US as evident from the title of our blog you are reading. Though now we have broadened our canvass with linking #DisruptiveEating to the fight against the troika of global issues – the warming, the poverty and the hunger. Please read our earlier posts. We want to demonstrate that the eating may be the most mundane part of our daily routine, its impact is far reaching if we #EatRight.
Then I came across an article from the Washington Post~ a scientific explanation of what makes Indian food delicious - . This article talks about how Indian food has so many ingredients read spices with no overlap of flavors unlike the other cuisines. When I say your taste buds won’t be able to differentiate between Chicken Tikka Masala or Tofu Tikka Masala, I am talking about the spices in our curry, Tikka Masala here. The flavor of the spices is so dominant that Chicken or Tofu takes the back seat. ‘Curry’ is the main reason why India has 500 million vegetarians, 65% of the world.
For the last 2 years, when we launched ‘Nirmal for Disruptive Eating’, I am kind of struggling to pitch ‘Indian food’ as the flag-bearer of our concept. And the reason lies in my childhood and my grandmother’s phrase. When I was 10 and whenever I used to ask her ‘May I eat this or that’, her constant response was ‘Aprup Bhojan Parrup Sringar’ in my mother tongue Hindi. It translates to 'you eat as per your choice but you dress as per others’ choice.' But then whenever I tell my kids about their dress or their make-up, pat come their reply, you are outdated or this is the new trend. So I use to tell myself it’s time to move over from the childhood’s phrase as the world is changing fast, really? At least not the way we are eating.
But the deal clincher turned out to be the last year’s obesity report. Despite everyone’s Herculean effort, the obesity rate has inched up to 36%. Specially 56% among the African American women and 46% among Hispanics women were heart-breaking. When we launched #DisruptiveEating on the social media last year on the Mothers’ Day, it was just not symbolic. We entrusted the mothers to ensure #EatRight in 7 steps. And when the mothers themselves are struggling with their own obesity, how they could take care of kids and other family members?
See something is very wrong somewhere. Because the way we are eating now is not good for our own health or the community’s health or the Planet’s health. Let me share why?
First, here 70% population are overweight and 36% are obese. 60% of adult population does not know Body Mass Index (BMI). The #ProteinProfile is way out of ideal 25:25:50 (my take, no science involved yet), the ratio of Meat:Milk:Vegan here be 60:30:10, my guess-estimate. We are eating excess meat and excess protein, less whole grain, less veggie, less fruit.
64% of agriculture land is used for growing feed for the animals and birds what we eat eventually. Is not this absurd? Like in 2050 the world population would be 9 billion from present 7 billion. We need these agriculture land back to feed these people. Also the meat consumption alone accounts for 21% of greenhouse gases, more than all modes of transportation combined.
Then now the pattern of the world’s meat consumption is 36% pork, 31% chicken, 25% beef and 6% goat. But one pound of beef needs 1800 gallons of water, 700 for pork, chicken 500 and goat only 127. And the goat, a red meat, is healthier than even Chicken. Read MSU article on our website. Then why we don’t eat goat? Goat cheese is wildly popular in the US but we have ‘Eat Goat to Save Goat’ campaign from Heritage Foods USA. Trust me I grew up eating goat in India, I can vouch for its taste and now the science too.
So why we need Nirmal for Disruptive Eating? Because the food part of our venture revolves around 2 themes – First, You don’t need ‘Meat for Protein’ and we offer the lentils, soya chunks, tofu at Nirmal as the meat substitutes. Second, for the non-vegetarians, the goat is the best choice. And how Indian food is the best for our concept? Because both the lentils and the goat are the staple food items in Indian cuisine, India being the 2nd largest producer in the world for both. Also our eating style, more whole grain less meat, because of ‘Curry’ is the key to achieve the ideal #ProteinProfile.
Lentils is the cheapest and the best source of protein and dietary fiber combined. How many of us know Canada is the largest producer of the lentils? Then why we don’t eat lentils here by correlation? Like it is far easy and affordable to cook lentils, parboiled rice or whole wheat bread at home.
When I talk about ‘Power of We’, I think of how we the people can change the narrative for everything. We designed Nirmal to cater to disruptive eating. Like 5000+ Nirmals all across the US can disrupt the existing US food industry. But there are 3500+ Indian restaurants in the US and you can change the way they do business. Like you can ask for whole wheat bread called Roti (from Tawa) or Parboiled rice or the goat or less dairy or vegan option for anything or ask 2 items in your curry like we do at Nirmal. How about goat tofu Kadahi? Like due to Curry, Indian food is flexible, not any rigid standard for any item.
It took us almost 18 months to discard the Naan, the white bread and the Tandoor oven, a special type of oven used to make the Naan and other Tandoori items. The article at our website ‘Why Whole Wheat’ triggered our action which tells how one whole wheat bread is equivalent to eight white breads. Let me admit Tandoori chicken could be easily the tastiest item in Indian food and it is healthier too. But the Tandoor oven consumes 3 times more energy than Tawa and it is a health hazard for the person using it specially making the Naan. Not worth the taste.
Two more things I would share. My research for how to make an Indian food chain in 2008-9 enabled me to crisscross the US from Texas to Michigan to Seattle to New Jersey. I used to ask the chefs and the owners of various Indian restaurants, why you use so much cream in Curry. Like I never saw any dairy or cream in my Mom or Grandma’s kitchen. Their answer was because the Americans like it. Then I countered how the Chinese food is the most popular ethnic food in the US without a single drop of cream in their food. Why you do the buffet, not good for business or for the patrons’ health? Like in India, only 2% high end restaurants do the buffet, here 95%. Or why you use MSG (Mono Sodium Glumate) in your food specially Biryani? MSG, commonly known in India as Azinomotto (the company who makes it) is used mostly in the Chinese food and it is not banned by FDA here. But it is not good for health, read this - .
Second, the reviews about the Indian restaurants. We get kind of nasty and weird reviews. Like the Biryani was awful, in one sentence no why. Yes because once you get used to MSG, our MSG-free would taste awful. One more reason, it is made from Parboiled rice which is 80% nutritionally similar to the Brown rice. And the white rice of any kind, Basmati or others is not even whole grain. We don’t even have Basmati rice or Naan, the white bread. Because we want you to watch out for #GlycemicIndex (GI). Or Nirmal is a restaurant or the Nutritionist’s clinic? Yes come to Nirmal, you won’t see ever the Nutritionist’s office, our guarantee. Like we are ready to fight back such ignorance come what may.
But then I started looking the reviews all across the US and I was shocked. How the same buffet or the Curry could be excellent and awful on the same day at the same restaurant? See yes Indian food has no rigid standards to follow but such a huge gap? Then I realized why and that too from my previous experiences in India. On 3 occasions, I was not able to complete my lunch or dinner because of food so alien to my taste buds. Once in Mumbai, the New York of India, for a chicken item made with coconut oil, not milk as they do in Kerala. Once in Nagaland, the North-Eastern part of India, again the chicken item. Once in Surat, Gujrat for the vegetarian food as all items had so much sugar in it. Like there are 22 languages with the pride of place in Indian constitution but as the saying goes, the dialect and the food change every 100 miles in India. So I grew up in the eastern part of India and our family eat the North Indian food with more cream once or twice a month and the South Indian food may be once in 6 months. Yah sometimes we do find some items bizarre for our taste but I never felt confident to slam those items as awful. Like for the Americans if they started eating Indian food with Punjabi (north Indian) restaurant or chef, they won’t like the South Indian food. Indian food uses 200 out of total 381 or so flavors as mentioned in the Washington Post article and not all flavors you can like. And it does not make any food awful if you don’t like it. Off course I am not talking about something being stale or not fresh.
Here is our choice! Go for Disruptive Eating and eat what the mother nature has given us. Off course we need to tweak our eating habits. Or wait for synthetic burger for its price to come down from $350 K in 2013 to $3.50 in when? No guess here!

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