Sunday, April 17, 2016

We need to boil the ocean

The first time I heard this phrase, I was dumb struck. I was meeting an expert at the entrepreneurship center of a big name university and his first question was ‘why you are trying to boil the ocean.’  Implicit in his question was you are asking for the business advice to build the first ever Indian food chain. So why your business plan looks like that of a non-profit or at most a social enterprise? I fumbled completely to explain how our mission is integral to our business and that meeting went haywire.
But I don’t blame him or anyone who slams us in the reviews. Like are we a restaurant or nutritionist’s office, why we are making such a big deal of saving energy saving planet or we don’t get it why we serve only whole wheat bread, parboiled rice or why we discarded sodas from our menu. One gentleman predicted our mission would boomerang on us. It did actually it bomb-ranged. Like we lost 60% of the sales in the last 2 years and we have barely survived. But we are still hanging on the hope that the people would come out of this ‘Ocean.’ Let me explain.
Everything is so oceanic peaceful. People are eating or drinking whatever they want and without thinking about their choices. The result is 70% population being overweight and the obesity rate being up now to 36% from 33%. But there are so many gyms, health clinics, weight loss surgeries, diet plans to take care of you, no worry. As being overweight is precursor to most of the health issues, the trips to the hospitals are ever increasing. But the doctors won’t tell you to check your BMI, the Body Mass Index or you being overweight because it would violate your privacy or be offending. So 60% of US adult population don’t know their BMI. The hospitals and the health insurance companies are the most profitable business here. The health care costs are going out of the roof, no worry. Because the politicians are there to take care. Like we all are seeing the fight over the Obamacare for the last 6 years.
Who suffers the most for this oceanic nonchalance? No prize for guessing. The low income populace who does not have money to buy diet plans or can afford weight-loss surgeries. The people who don’t have insurance despite of Obamacare. We are convinced that the health equality is the key to fight the income and educational inequality- 3 components of the social inequality.
Am I sounding like 99% vs 1%? But I am more in 10% vs 30% vs 60%. 10% are super rich here, if not billionaires, no need to waste any line here. 30% are the upper or high middle-income, they have insurance, they can afford the healthy food of all types from the Whole Foods to the soup-salad bars. 60% people live here from the paycheck to paycheck. They can’t afford the healthy food or some of them don’t have insurance. They lose their pay for their absence from work or can’t afford day-care if their kids become sick and miss their schools. And once they fall into this vicious health inequality, it become an uphill battle to overcome the income and the educational inequality.
Not a single day passes in the news cycle without the mention of Obamacare or the school of choice debate or the food stamp fight. How many times you hear about the healthy eating or the media coverage about the celebrities denouncing the excess meat consumption here or vouching for the plant protein like we do. May be everyone would agree that this could be the root cause of the overweight prevalence or the obesity menace. Like the government comes with the dietary guidelines once in 5 years. Is that enough if you think of more than $100 billion spent per year for this fight? Or the last sentence of this article in CNN - .

What chance does the United States have to stop the rise of obesity by 2025? Zero, the study says.

If I remember correctly we hear about ‘Prevention is better than cure’ may be in the 4th or 5th grade and it is true for all aspects of our life, not only for the health issues. But how many of us are in ‘Prevention’ mode or may be some of us can’t afford this mode when we talk about the healthy food options for 60% populace. ‘Prevention’ is always much cheaper than the ‘cure.’

The foundation of ‘Prevention’ rests on the knowledge or sharing the knowledge. And I can say with confidence now that Twitter is the best or may be the fastest source for the relevant knowledge. Like you don’t have to tweet anything or you can always retweet whatever you like. Just have an account and follow the handles you need to. Our Twitter handle is @NirmalCurry. One caveat here never take any article or statement at the face value, always dug deeper. I always do and come across amazing info.

So when people say we are condescending because we share the nutrition charts or resorted to the food exclusion, hurt us most. I would share a personal example. I grew up in India eating goat meat, a kind of staple meat. I first ate chicken when I was 16. So we used to have both lamb and goat at Nirmal café and most of the patrons opted for the lamb. Very few Indian restaurants serve the goat meat because there are not enough customers. I was not ready to accept such fate because I and our chefs always felt that the goat curry is unique to Indian cuisine and far tastier than any lamb item.

One day I chanced upon the Michigan State University (MSU) article about the goat meat being healthier than even chicken, see our website blog. Much later I learnt that the goat is far more sustainable too than beef, pork or lamb. See link here from the National Geographic  -
Like one pound of goat needs just 127 gallons of water as compared to 1800 gallons for one pound of beef. We discarded lamb altogether from our menu and that started our food exclusion spree. We eventually discarded the Naan white bread and the Sodas. The last two exclusions took a year more.

This info was coming from one of the top agriculture universities in the world, worth sharing. So when I sent this article to my uncles and aunts in India, they were shocked. The goat is a red meat and majority of Indians quit eating goat in favor of fish and chicken mostly around the age of 50-55 as a prevention. If you think of recent WHO guidelines about the red meat, it centers around the grilled meat. We Indians eat everything in curry with boiled and cooked meat and only grilled items we eat are Tandoori chicken. But the Tandoor ovens are used in the Indian restaurants only. So I am not sure if my uncles and aunts would revert to the goat meat or not despite all logical back-ups.

What I want to emphasize that people know what they want to know. Like I have had no inkling about the goat being healthier though eating goat for last 30 years or so. What about my uncles and aunts? Are they stupid, NO? But some are stupid for sure. There is huge uproar over the ‘BeefBan’ in India last year when one person got killed having beef at home. The war of words continued for 3 months among all sides. Beef is banned in India on the religious grounds as the cow is revered by us Hindus and the Hindus form 85% of India’s population. I wished and tried to share the MSU article and National Geographic link with all and sundry. I personally don’t believe that any food item should be banned on any ground. But no one even acknowledged my tweets.

Each of us needs to take charge of this ‘Prevention’ mode. We are not saying what to eat or what not. But when I do see the beef item in the tweets of the Food network or BBC Good Food or as a part of a diet plan, I want people to know 3 things – the beef has 40% more saturated fat than goat, the beef is the most acidic meat along with the pork and the beef is not at all sustainable.

Talking of acidic-alkaline food items which I came across only last week at Twitter. And I dug deeper as is my wont. See this link  -
I found this article most comprehensive. Still some confusion persists with respect to the goat meat and the soya chunks, no info in this article. I am exploring further. But the key is to strike a balance and for this we need info.

One of my fellow Twitterer sent this tweet – I had a look at your blog. Go and read Tim Noakes, Gary Taubes, Jimmy Moore, Nina Teicholz + Weston A Price

They are big names no doubt but we are so different on many counts.

    1. We are in ‘Prevention’ mode, not in cure, no diet or meal plans, we keep it simple. Eat Indian food if you want to eat more plant protein, more whole grain, more vegetables, less meat, period
    2. We back-up our thoughts with the food at Nirmal café now. If we say that #DisruptiveEating revolves around the lentils and the goat, we aim to bring both these items in the mainstream of US food scene one day in the near future. Till then ‘Power of WE’ can do the needful.
    3. We talk of ‘EatRight’ in 7 steps just not ‘EatHealthy.’ We want to bring the water foot-prints of the food items, the food wastage, the energy saving, the home cooking at the center-stage of our discussion. Watch out for our Mobile App. #DisruptiveEating empowers each of us to make the world a better place.

We want ‘Tsunami’ in this ocean of status quo pervading for so long. What a better time to challenge the status quo as we wade through such tumultuous Presidential election season.

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 -