Sunday, March 19, 2017

The infamous 'O'

Let me start with my recent TwitterWar.
Nirmal Indian Curry Retweeted Joe Walsh
this is what I call 30% syndrome~read @WalshFreedom Poor also deserve quality of
life #obesity denies it @ypsireal
Nirmal Indian Curry added,
Joe WalshVerified account @WalshFreedom
Due to Philly's soda tax, Pepsi in Philly is laying people off. Such a shame the Left doesn't understand economics.
9:23 AM - 7 Mar 2017
Wow @WalshFreedom 200 K poor people in #Philly can die 15 yrs early due to #obesity that is nt a Shame but 100 people losing job is~30% synd
The background of these tweets starts in June 2016. Philadelphia became the 2nd city in the US to impose #Sodatax. Please read my earlier posts or at least 10% vs 30% vs 60%. There was a big fight put up by the soda companies and off course Mayor Bloomberg did his bit to stave off their challenge.
Fast forward 9 months. Due to #sodatax, there is almost 40% reduction in the soda consumption in the city and its suburbs and Pepsi Bottling plant there is laying off its 100 workers. I did mention in my post about the Union boss fearing such situation.
This tweet was from Mr Joe Walsh, a former Congressman. it talks about the ‘shame’ for left or so called liberals. I could not believe that people could be so ignorant or simply oblivious to their surroundings. I would tell you why.
Philly do have 70% overweight prevalence including 36% obesity rate as in the whole US. So just taking the city’s population of 1.5 million, 42% of them African-American and then knowing the obesity rate among African-American women being 56%, you would reach at almost 400 K people, not less, suffering from obesity. And if you know the obesity or overweight prevalence is precursor to majority of the health issues, you would agree that this is the reason why the US with 5% of the world population ends up eating 52% of the world medicines.
Besides that the obesity disturbs your day-to-day life as people spend more hours at the hospitals, lose job hours, or their kids lose their school hours or the quality time with their parent. And yes data after date points out that the obesity kills people 15-18 years early.
Then why 100 jobs for 100 people with 400 family members become more important than the well-being of 400 K people. Because they are poor or they are African-American. Or they deserve to live like this or die early. Why this becomes a left or right issue here? Like we are talking about our fellow human beings, not some aliens from other planets or our beloved pets. That shocks me to the core.
I don’t want to argue with anyone that Soda is bad for us humans in any form. See my earlier post - why #SodaFree restaurants. Whoever talks about the #FreedomOfPersonalChoice they are so ignorant. This freedom has led to more drug overdose deaths in the US than the guns or the motor accidents.
See we live in democracy and yes we should have freedom. But freedom must come with the full disclosure. Let the soda be marked with pH of 3 as it is most acidic drink. Let people know they can use it as a toilet cleaner too (normally has pH of 2) as demonstrated by Ramdev baba in India. Or it has Glycemic index of 90 as compared to 100 for Sugar. Let people know we should maintain 75:25 ratio for alkaline:acidic food. See here - .
If you go through this chart, you may agree that this is common sense, not the rocket science. Why you think we are fighting over the health care reform for almost 20 years now. Because we spend more time on finding health insurance than thinking about how to eat right or healthy. Because we worry more about jobs for 100 people than letting 400 K people live a miserable life.
But I recently understood where this is coming from. We transformed our cafe into a mission-first food vendor in 2013 and to fight obesity, overweight prevalence is our life-time mission. We lost 60% sales straightaway but I believe that our mission fits into our goal of making the first Indian food chain anywhere. So I always look to share our concept of and how it empowers each of us to take care of self, the community and the planet. We have got some recognition as we were ‘Space awardee’ at Motor City Match awards and then I got an interview at Michigan Business Network below-
Then we were contacted by @SaludToday in St Antonio, TX about our charter for #SodaFree #OnlyWholeWheat restaurants. Also our Twitter handle @NirmalCurry has 1800 followers with 15 millions secondary followers. If your tweets are liked by Ms Helen Clark, the UNDP administrator and the former prime minister of New Zealand, you may have some valid concept.
But I got jolts closer home. There were two events in Ypsilanti, MI where our Nirmal cafe is located. The first was Pitch Ypsi 5000 and 5 ventures were selected from 60 applications to present before the local audience. I have pitched all around in the South-East Michigan and I was confident to make it. But 5 selected were one theater group, one Microbrewery, one food vendor with Honduras connection and the winner was Grove Studios who create creative space by using the shipping containers. All worthy participants but no one talked about the health equality or eat right. Then I applied for TEDxYDL organized by the Ypsilanti library. There were 10 slots and all great speakers again here - .
But again no mention of health or obesity. That pushed me into introspection. I started thinking - do I know a single obese person? The answer was big No. Yes no one in my immediate family, friends or acquaintances are obese. The obesity rate among Indian Americans may be around 5% same as in India as we eat much less meat than other Asian Americans. So no surprise here. Is not 30% syndrome working here what I mention in my blog post. Like we don’t know any obese person or we are eating healthy, so we don’t accept that if obesity at all is a problem what we need to take care off. This is what I call ‘I am OK You are OK.’
I believe our concept has so much relevance as we believe that the health equality is the key to fight the income and educational inequality - other two components of the social inequality which we all love to talk about. Think of #ProteinProfile #SLowCarb or Glycemic index or the water foot-prints of food items, the HPP (high pressure pasteurization) we talk about, majority may be not aware of it or don’t care about it. Let me share HPP’s efficacy in reducing sodium in food or reducing food waste.
But Philly’s Soda tax proved one thing that if you go on harping about the same thing over and over again, people take notice of it. Or how you would explain 40% drop in the soda consumption. Like the tax is 1.5 cents per ounce, so a 2-liter (67 ounces) soda would cost $1 more. At the restaurants, it could be 10 cents rise for big one.
But let me share one thing if someone thinks this obesity or the life of these affected people don’t make impact on our lives. Yes it does. Our health insurance premium or health care costs are inching up day-by-day because we have so many unhealthy people to take care off. When they are not able to take care of children, these kids go on streets and then land up in the prisons all round the US. Again the US with 5 % of the world population has 25% of the world prisoners, all prisons run by our tax dollars.
We can do much better. We are done with the famous ‘O’ though I would miss the lady ‘O’ using the bully pulpit for the health related issues.

Its time to bring infamous ‘O’ at the front, back and center of our debate, no less.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why #SodaFree #OnlyWholeWheat restaurants

Happy Valentines Day to everyone ! This day of universal love and compassion inspires us to do what we are doing with the same vigor and determination. It was Feb 16th 2015 when we made switch to #OnlyWholeWheat restaurant. Last year we shared 7 steps to #EatRight. This year we decided that 7 steps are too many, how about just 2 now.

Last week we have had a 2-star Yelp review about how Nirmal cafe in Ypsilanti, MI don’t have a Soda fountain and the water filter looks so awkward. She had other complaints too though not sure how much role the absence of soda fountain played in 2-star.  I don’t blame her because we may be the only #SodaFree restaurant in Michigan or even in the US. So when we transformed ourselves into Nirmal in 2013, a self-service cafe practicing ‘Disruptive Eating’ from a full service full Bar restaurant, first thing we did was to call Coke and asked to dismantle the soda fountain. But we continued to serve soda cans for the next 4-5 months as we wanted to go for smooth transition.

Before I dwell on why Soda free was our first agenda, I hereby mention that the lady with review admitted to our public response that she understands and appreciates our fight against obesity and how being #SodaFree makes sense. Only I wish she could have done it publicly.

Soda is bad for our health, period. Is there an adult anywhere who does not know? Kids know better than us but I am not including them here. I see big fight here for #SodaTax and how Philadelphia became the first big city to impose it in June 2016, only second city in the US after Berkley, CA. Does that surprise you? Me not. Like I come across people all the time who do not eat even potato, are not going to touch soda with a barge-pole. Then who drinks it? The low income populace or non-college educated ? The obesity and overweight prevalence is highest among the low income populace. Do you see a correlation?

In India too, there was a big fight against Cola companies and it was led by Baba Ramdev, who is credited with bringing Yoga to 200 millions or more people. Before him, Yoga was an elite thing almost same as in the US, he took it to all sections of society. He commands considerable political influence too in India. So he persuaded top Bollywood stars to not endorse Colas. Let me share one link below which and other similar links would give you an idea of anti-cola feeling in India.

Is the #SodaTax big enough to dent the cola companies here, NO? I don’t know how many of us would notice 10 cents rise in 2-liter Cola price. In Mexico, they are doing it for last 2-3 years with very little impact. One thing for sure, the Soda tax won’t do much to the damage what soda is inflicting on hapless people.

Let me share my take. Most of people know Soda is a sugary drink and we should avoid sugar or minimize its consumption. So Cola companies are smart and they offered Diet. But I don’t see mention of Soda being most acidic drink with pH of 2.5, no kidding. See the link below.

For us, discarding Soda was easy if you see our 2nd 75:25 rule - eat 75% alkaline and 25% acidic food. If you see the chart of alkaline vs acidic foods, you would find it no-brainer. These are the food items which take us to ‘Prevention is better than Cure’ mode.

But the majority of soda is still sugary with high glycemic index (GI) of 90-95. So when we see something sugary, we can’t control ourselves as it gives our blood sugar high spikes and instant satisfaction. Its another matter you feel again hungry in 2-3 hours and end up eating more junk foods in the form of chips and soda again.

So when we talk of ‘Disruptive Eating’ and how Indian Curry makes it easier and tastier as we eat more whole grain - whole wheat bread or Parboiled rice, lentils are our staple food, all these items have GI in the range of 25-50 which we should aim for. Zero GI of meat items is equally dangerous as it makes you fill your stomach physically not with blood sugar spikes and you end up eating far more specially meat.

So when people enter Nirmal cafe in Ypsilanti, MI, they don’t see a soda fountain, the first jolt. Then they see our menu, still soda is missing. But then they see plenty of other Indian drinks from Chai tea to Lassi (yogurt drink) to Cumin drink to fresh lemon water, you won’t find all these even at other Indian restaurants. Like lemon water would be the most alkaline drink to contrast with soda.But what we have done extra is to offer all these drinks including juices, 2% milk in 8 Oz for $1, same as soda drinks. Again may be few restaurant have such options. So if you don’t drink soda, you end up coughing up $2 for smoothies or other drinks. In our earlier fine dining avatar, we used to have 16 Oz mango lassi for $2.

But yes soda drinks may account for 10-15% of a restaurant’ sales and it has high margin of 80% as compared to 35-40% for food. Or other drinks may have 50% margin at most. So why restaurant owners would go for #SodaFree. 2-3 reasons I can think of.

  1. First, as a restaurant owner, we are serving the same community in which we live. We don’t get customers from Ohio or Grand rapids, MI at Nirmal. So if we know by serving soda, we are harming the innocents, that could be the major influencer.
  2. The City can do its own part. How about subsidizing the license fee for #SodaFree restaurants or the Utility providers like DTE giving 15%-20% off in their monthly bills or the local banks coming up with interest free loan to cushion the initial revenue loss.

#OnlyWholeWheat restaurant is equally important and it is easier to achieve. It does not entail any revenue loss on the part of restaurant. I do mention all the time in my blog posts why we should go for Whole wheat. The heart disease is No1 killer in the US and just switching to whole wheat reduces the heart disease risk by 20% as per the research of University of Washington and Harvard’s on the similar lines.

One more thing if you don’t know. Sugar or the white breads are used to calculate the Glycemic index (GI). Yes the white breads are that bad. We struggled a lot to discard the Naan white bread at Nirmal and it took us almost a year. Naan may be the most popular item in Indian cuisine and it is made in special oven called Tandoor. See our earlier post ‘Why whole wheat.’

Once majority of restaurants start serving only ‘whole wheat bread’, its price would go down. Or restaurants may keep option of white breads if someone asks. Because the whole wheat breads does not have much processing, hence it should be cheaper than the white breads which goes through whole lot of processing. But because majority of us don’t care about it, we pay more for healthy eating - whole wheat bread.  

Healthy people make a city great, not only jobs and businesses. We have long taken refuge in #FreedomOfPersonalChoice and the small governments. If 5% of world population would continue eating 52% of world medicines as we do here, basically we are letting more government in our life in the form of subsidy in the health insurance, or food stamps as our health does not permit a stable job or kids losing the school hours often resulting in the school closures here in Michigan.

All of us can do our part - ask your cities to promote such cafes and restaurants and you do it by discarding Soda and white breads at all costs. We owe this to our community, country, the planet and our future generations.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Detroit, our battle-ground

Detroit is on the comeback trail, no doubt. But we believe that the health equality is the key to fight the income and educational inequality - the 3 components of the social inequality. Specially it becomes more relevant for Detroit if you think of its 500 K out of 700 K populace living in the food desert. Michigan recently slipped from 8th to 15th among the fattest states in the nation. But we did not do anything as our combined obesity and overweight prevalence still hovers around 70%. Other states got fatter.

Our sole focus is to make people healthy and the healthy people make a city great not only jobs. The obesity kills the people 15-18 years early leave aside the impact on our day-to-day life in terms of lost job hours, kids missing schools and other normal activities.Though they are not on CDC's chart like the heart disease or Cancer. Please visit our websites at,  and the Twitter handle @NirmalCurry to know more about us and our concept.

It took us almost a year to devise 3 tools for #WarOnObesity in Detroit.

Our first tool for fight against the obesity and overweight is the packaged and HPPed curry in 8 oz ($3) and 16 oz ($5) which we plan to launch by Jan 2017. This would be a first HPPed Indian food anywhere in the world (patent pending). HPP is the high pressure pasteurization which does not use any preservative and keeps Curry good for 75-80 days in the refrigerator against 10 days for non-HPP curry. Indian food uses 200 seasonings ingredients out of 381 known so far and HPP keeps the original flavor of Curry intact. HPP can reduce the food waste at both ends - the grocers and the customers.

We plan to place our packaged curry into Save-a-lots, Dollar generals, Aldis, the local grocers and also Krogers, Meijers, the Whole Foods of the world. By using all type of stores we hope to catch the attention of our target low income and the non-college educated populace. We want to position Indian food as a tastier, cheaper and healthier alternative to the tacos, burgers and pizzas.  Indian food now is consumed by the middle-income and the college educated people, only 5% of the population. HPP enables us to reach out to the stores like Dollar Generals or Save-a-Lots as we can place our products with ‘pay as you sell’ option.  There are 3500 Indian restaurants all over the US and the packaged Indian food is now available at the Costcos, the Whole Foods, Meijers, Krogers, not at the local or low-cost stores.

These curry are not ready to eat meals and it comes with a recipe book. Or the patrons can go to our website to watch the videos how to use it. We want to promote the home cooking to make healthy eating (read more whole grain and less meat) more affordable. These curry are basically 'seasoning in liquid form.' and you can use it in so many ways. Once we launch our curry, we plan to do the cooking classes in the food desert localities in Detroit specially at the Church kitchens, the apartment complexes, the community halls to dispel myths about the Indian food. The biggest myth to dispel –Spices or any seasoning don't make food spicy (read Hot), the Chili does like in any other cuisine. 

Our idea is 'Disruptive Eating' and we want to disrupt the way people eat or drink now. USDA does recommend about almost 1/3rd of calories coming from the grain (6 ounces) and 50% of that grain should be whole grain. On the average, people here are not eating even 15% whole grain on average and I can suspect the low income people may be eating much less. In Asian or Indian diet, we get 50% calories from the grain (USDA also does recommend getting around 50% calories from Carb) and eating parboiled rice or whole wheat bread could not be so bad as it made out to be. Like for Asians here in US have the obesity rate of 12% against 36% for the general population and the Asians are the highest income group in the US.

One example of our ideal meal. For a family of 4 including 2 kids - 2 lbs of parboiled rice ($2), 2 cans of kidney beans, 15 Oz each ($2) mixed with 16 Oz of our Curry ($5) - the complete meal for lunch or dinner with requisite protein- total $9 for whole family, it is less than 2 toppings 2 large sized pizzas in $15 for lunch or dinner. Our option is much healthier, tastier and cheaper. Tastier is much important component as normally we want to substitute the meat options with the baked vegetables, soups or salads. And that is not working. Once people start eating whole grain, naturally they would eat less meat. Also the grain is the cheapest source of calories and the plant proteins like lentils, legumes, tofu, nutri-gget (both made from soyabean) are the cheapest source of protein. Detroit with 500K food insecure people out of 700K population needs cheaper options.

The second tool is the brick and mortar restaurant which we have at Ypsilanti now and we want to locate one at Detroit. We are the ‘Space Awardee’ at Motor City Match awards in round 4 and Brightmoor Nirmal would be our first real ‘Nirmal.’  Two things we want to demonstrate at our cafe. Our flagship item Food Box in $5 with 5 items proves that Indian food is not elite and second the direct messaging. Nirmal may be only restaurant now in Michigan with #SodaFree and #OnlyWholeWheat items and our principle is simple - we need to restrict access to bad food along with the access to the healthy food. The choice of personal freedom has become the freedom to let people suffer.

Cities can promote such restaurants by not charging the food license fees, or the utility companies like DTE giving 50% off or the local banks giving interest free loans. If we want to make a healthy community, everyone needs to pitch in. Soda companies are tough nut to crack as Philadelphia became only 2nd city in the US to impose #SodaTax recently. Also #SodaTax may be good first step but its impact is minimal as evident from Mexico’s example. #SodaFree is about individual restaurant owners and we don’t think majority of us won’t prefer to serve unhealthy items like Soda, the most acidic drink, to our fellow community members. See link ~ .

A ‘Checkers’ restaurant opened last week just across the road from Nirmal in Ypsilanti. There were long line of cars almost whole day for the first 3-4 days. I was kind of bemused like we have Wendy, McDonald, Burger King on the same road within 500 meters. I got my Checkers burgers too eventually after a week. Definitely they are less costly than others but one thing bothered me again – they don’t even ask for whole wheat bread option, same as others. How many of us know:

1.     Just switching to Whole wheat bread reduces the risk of heart disease by 20% and Heart disease is No 1 killer here
2.     Or one whole wheat bread is equal to 8 white breads
3.     Or white breads like sugar are used for measurement of the glycemic index (GI)
4.     Or Parboiled rice is better than Brown rice, read my earlier post, Slow Carb vs Low Carb

See link here ~ and read ‘Why whole wheat’ at our website.                       

We have huge information gap and Nirmal café may be effective to bridge that gap in conjunction with the city officials, the community leaders and other stake-holders.

The third tool for #WarOnObesity is our unique mobile App. The users can earn the points for eating healthy which could be converted into the discounts for buying Nirmal curry and the healthy items from the participating vendors. This would be only App which would monitor how much grain/whole grain you are eating, how much protein from which source not only calories. It would award bonus points for the home cooking or skipping soda or meat for a day. We want to give people a purpose to #EatRight and to be a part of the fight against the global warming, the poverty and the hunger.

Our aim is simple. To reduce the fatness index (prevalence of obesity and overweight) by 25% in Detroit by 2020. Once we have proof of concept in Detroit, then we can venture for our regional and national expansion. But we need lot of resources and the support from everyone to pull this off. This has potential to reduce the health care costs drastically.

We are honored to be short-listed as a participating venture at ACE (Annual Collaboration of Entrepreneurs) 2017 on 26th Jan 2017. We are only food vendor among 25 ventures selected but our impact is far reaching and goes much further. We need your votes at ACE to bring 3 things at the center stage in Michigan – the fight against obesity, HPP and the Indian food – exactly in the same order. Are you in?