Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why #EatRight resonates with the Valentine’s Day

Today is the Valentine’s Day. As the world celebrates the message of love and compassion, #EatRight in 7 steps empowers each of us to take it further from ourselves to the family & friends to the community to the country to our planet. And It is so fitting for 2 largest democracies of the world – the India and the US-to be the part of this democratization by bringing Indian food to the mainstream US populace. Off course we are not donning the mantle of Columbus the explorer who like many traders of his time was sailing to India for its spices and discovered the US. So the history connects us here.
 Let me start with an incident from the last week. The health inspector of our county came calling in one afternoon. Like we do have half-yearly surprised inspection which we have had in January. So we were a bit flustered. She had come on a customer’s complaint. The complaint was about how we are serving the meat with tofu in a vegetarian item. We were taken aback. Like we do allow co-creation in which our patrons ‘make their own curry’ and we allow them to put 2 items in their choice of curry. Like goat chickpeas korma or tofu chicken kadahi.
We finally figured out what was the issue. We do offer Food Box in $5 with 5 items as a substitute for the buffet. We want to position this as a tastier and nutritious alternative to the tacos, burgers and pizzas. In fact, the Food Box is ‘Curry in Hurry’ given that Indian food may easily be the slowest food. So one day for lunch we had Tofu Chili, Chili being an Indo Chinese sauce. We mix soya chunks (Nutrela brand, not Nutella here) in this item because tofu is also made of soya. I would tell you why. I have been eating soya chunks of the same brand for the last 25 years or so and it is perfect meat substitute, please see our website. It has more protein than any meat item with almost zero fat. So we tell patrons about it and give it for sampling. So when a patron complained it about being meat, we were happy. Finally someone from the local populace confirmed it tasted like the meat. The health inspector did not know about it and we showed her what it is and how we use it.
But what distressed us was why he has to complain this to the health department. Like if we eat or get take-out and find something abnormal, we call first the restaurant, not the health department. Let me admit we do face greater scrutiny for everything and I can understand why. India is a poor country with lot of poor but there is nothing wrong with our food, culture or intellect. And yes India got independence only in 1947 after 1000 years of servitude first under the Muslim rulers followed by the British empire.
I remember talking to one patron about India having 500 million vegetarians, 65% of the world vegetarians and he thought it is because of poverty. I explained on two counts. First, only 125 million of this 500 million are ‘Eggatarian’, like they eat egg, no meat. And I don’t think the vegetables are cheaper than egg. Second, the poor in India do eat all kind of meats from the rats to the birds to the pork and beef. Don’t get surprised. India do have 85% Hindu majority population and the cow is revered, hence no beef for the majority. No sure about why we Hindus don’t eat pork, may be due to the long period of Muslim rule. Pork is strict no-no for the Muslims. So the beef and pork are cheaper than the goat and chicken, 2 most popular meats in India. What I was trying to emphasis our ‘Curry’ makes veggie eating easier and I asked him to try Tofu Tikka Masala or Chicken Tikka Masala and tell me the difference. He could not agree less.
Talking of Curry, one more thing I would bring it here. Curry is made from the base sauce of onion, tomato, or spinach, mixed with plethora of spices. Curry is liquid and trust me it is messy. Its handling and spill-over here and there make it tough to keep kitchen or the floor outside clean all the time. Most of the reviews revolve around our cleanliness. But it does not impact our food anyway. Like our curry is cooked at 200 F and it is served hot. The spices need boiling at high temperatures to get dissolved with the base sauce and also to seep in the meat or the vegetables. Same with the parboiled rice and the whole wheat bread. Only cold item we have is Rice Pudding, a dessert, served from the cooler at 40 F. Touch wood, I have not heard yet any food borne illness or recall coming out from the Indian restaurants or the Indian groceries.
Take our culture, I talk about Gita and Yoga for the mental and spiritual health as the final and 7th step for #EatRight. Gita is equivalent to the Bible and the Koran and celebrated its 5151 st anniversary two years back. I always marvel at its relevance as well as resilience if you think of onslaught it suffered almost for 1000 years. Another 1000 years was in the news last week when Pope met with the Russian orthodox church leader last week. And how their parting of the ways led to the birth of so many denominations of the church was on their agenda. Yoga is more popular in the US than India though its democratization is far away in the future.
In 2014 India sent a shuttle to the Mars, the fourth country to do so after Russia, US, and Europe. But 2 things stood out. First, only India did it in the first try. Second, it spent only $60 million whereas it was almost $600 million price tag for the US. Just for comparison, one F 22 fighter jet costs $90 million. So being poor is not always bad. It pushes you to find the ways to achieve the same result with the limited resources. 
See we humans are the social animals with lot of prejudices and biases. No surprise the most of turmoil in our community could be attributed to our mindset. Let us take the first step with #EatRight and let ‘Power of We’ do the wonders, a fitting tribute to St Valentine.

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