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?