Sunday, April 10, 2016

The ignorance is not bliss

April’s Fool day 2016 came with the most comprehensive report on the global obesity till date. Read here ~ . The obesity has spread its tentacles all across the globe as suspected and expected. And it was not a joke, not even the last sentence of this article. What chance does the United States have to stop the rise of obesity by 2025? Zero, the study says.

I was not surprised at all. Not because the obesity rate inched up to 36% here as per the report in Dec 2015 despite everyone’s Herculean effort with a cost of $100 billion plus per year. But because of our experience for the last 2 years with Nirmal for Disruptive Eating when we brought the mission to fight the obesity or overweight prevalence here at the front, end and center of our Indian food venture.
Let me explain. Everyone agrees that the problem is real but whatever we are doing is not enough. So it took us almost 2 years to develop a concept of ‘Disruptive Eating’ as it centered around 75:25 rule which I heard first time from my Grandma in the childhood. Off course it came with ‘Early to Bed Early to Rise’ from Mr Benjamin Franklin of all-time greats. Again the ‘healthy’ was the first. I always marvel how my grandma with a 4th grade education in India used to know or utter these phrases. I don’t know how much it has changed. But here it is.
75% of the health issues in our life-time emanates from the unhealthy life-style, rest 25% from the hereditary or the accidental causes. 75% of the unhealthy life style depends on what we eat or drink and when, rest 25% on how much we sleep or play or work-out or watch TV or spend glaring at our phones. The last 2 items were not issues in my childhood though.
So we saw a distinct connection between the Indian food and a better way to eat or drink. Two data points help. First, the obesity rate for Asians in the US is only 12% including Indians. I am pretty sure it could be around 5% if only Asian Indians are taken into the account, same as in India. The overweight prevalence in India is 16% as compared to 70% in US and 28% in China. And I do have a reason to think so. The second data point, there are 500 million vegetarians in India, 42% of total population of India and 65% of the world vegetarians. For China, the vegetarian population is only 5% and for US, it is around 10%. And the credit goes to Indian Curry. So it could prove to be the best way to reduce the meat consumption here. Please read our earlier posts about why we believe that reducing meat consumption along with eating more plant proteins, more whole grain is the key to win this fight. Once you start eating Indian food, you would realize what we are trying to convey. I know Mediterranean cuisine has always been put at the high pedestal of the healthy eating in the US. But it revolves around the meat consumption specially beef and the obesity rates for the Mediterranean countries from the Greece to Italy to Lebanon to Morocco do not inspire any confidence.  Please read this article ~ . Did you notice exclusion of India from the table of countries? And that is our challenge and that is how the title of this article comes from.
But I don’t blame anyone. The way Indian food business developed here and is presented now, does not make it a choice for the healthy eating and the rightly so. The most popular Indian dishes here are the creamy ones. Barring the northern part of India specially Punjab, where they use mostly the butter, I don’t think that the dairy cream is used in Indian entrees anywhere. When I say anywhere I mean in India, the cuisine and the language changes every 500 miles, if not 100 miles. Like I never saw my grandma or Mom using any cream or even the presence in their kitchen. But it is a fact that Punjabis started the majority of Indian restaurants here. So while researching in 2009 about why there is no Indian food chain anywhere, most common refrain coming from the chefs was that Americans like dairy cream, that’s why we use it. My poser to them was then why the Chinese food is the most popular ethnic cuisine here which don’t have a single drop of dairy in their food. Or take the Naan white bread. It is synonymous with Indian cuisine here. It is made in Tandoor oven, a special type of oven, which people can’t or don’t keep in their home. So we Indians eat the whole wheat bread daily, off course in some parts of India, people eat rice only. We Indians eat Naan when we go to restaurant once or twice a month. Majority here eat outside and if we know the difference between the whole wheat and white bread (please read our website blog), what is the point in feeding the unhealthy option? Parboiled rice is 80% nutritionally similar to the Brown rice and I grew up eating Parboiled rice of all kinds. We used to eat Basmati rice on some special occasions or for the feast. Here white Basmati rice finds the pride of place. But the most bizarre thing which I found was very few Indian restaurants serving goat meat and few serving beef too here. The goat meat is the staple meat in India. Like if you know goat meat is healthier than even Chicken, 50% less saturated fat than beef, why the Americans won’t opt for the goat curry. Like not even 1% restaurants serve goat or lamb here, both taste almost similar. On top of that, the goat meat is the most sustainable. One pound of goat needs 127 gallons of water as compared to 1800 gallons for beef, 700 for lamb, 600 for pork. 
See more at~ .
We are now ready with our concept and the franchise model. We want to expand and take our message to all over Michigan and beyond. We have started talking with the VCs and pitching our concept at various events. The response to our effort is kind of disheartening to say the least. Like one VC in Michigan told us why you are trying to boil the ocean, just to use the exact phrase. Like why you don’t sell only food, let people decide what or what not to eat. In the sense he was asking us to focus on our goal to make the first Indian food chain. One VC in California told me that he does not think the Americans would start eating goat anytime soon even in California where water usage is a big issue and we talking about the water foot-prints of the food items. Or one gentleman wrote on our Facebook page – do we think people here are overweight as well as stupid?
My high-schooler kid told me about the Ignorance project at which she watched in her class. And it was so real, see it to believe it. Then I have had opportunity to attend a TEDx event organized by Ypsilanti District Library (YDL) last month at EMU. One speaker Mr Derrick Jackson gave us lot of hope. He is the Director of the community engagement at Washtenaw county Sheriff’s office. He talked about how asking questions make so much difference to one’s life or others’. He was telling a story about a prostitute who was arrested 11 times by the cops before someone asked her why she goes back to the streets again and again? Then began the journey for her rehabilitation and now she is working with them to give other women like her a second chance.
For me, the ignorance and the stupidity are very far apart. The ignorance is the result of us accepting the status quo, not asking the questions. The stupidity begins when you don’t hear the answers or our learning ceases. We share a platform to ask the questions and find the answers.
We don’t accept such skepticism of the global obesity report with respect to the USA as we believe in the American exceptionalism. Let us join hands together to prove them wrong. This article did justice with our vision -

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