Conscious Living – Food Habits

McDonalds in Tokyo is a terrible revenge for Pearl Harbour.
–Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa
(This is a fairly long post and should be read carefully. In case you are in a hurry, search for the word “Summary” and read thereon. The summary is not the same as the post!)

Food is vital to our being. We miss out a lot when we hurriedly summarise it as the “fuel” for the body. It is far more than fuel as fuel does not possess the capacity to alter or affect the personality of the machine it drives. Food is actually what we are made of and to treat it lightly is great injustice. I do not wish to romanticise the role of food in our lives, but if it is merely fuel, then we can always concoct a perfect potion of nutrients and minerals to provide to each human being and forget the entire idea of burgers and dal makhani. Beyond a mere gut feeling, I am certain that that will simply not work. Men cannot live (perhaps exist) purely on a dose of vitamin tablets and nutrient supplements. Try it!

Once we realise that food is not merely a bundle of nutrients, we can then move on to eating consciously. I do not hope that every (wo)man would cook with their heart and soul in it and make food the epitome of human taste (well, I would think it is), but to consume food consciously is vital and cannot be emphasised enough.

My mother and my grandmothers (both fine cooks though my dad’s mom is fantastic) had a very simple rule as far as cooking goes: eat fresh food and do not be comfortable with leftovers. We are vegetarians (we do not consume eggs though dairy products are ok). Most of our meals are cooked fresh and are exhausted with that meal. Yes, it is time consuming but so are most other activities like surfing the net or watching TV or talking over the phone for hours or going to work or anything. Whether any of them nourish you or not is debatable but cooking food surely nourishes you!! Touche!
I was watching this French movie called Girl from Paris (why do they corrupt a beautiful title which means “one swallow brought spring”?). There is this beautiful (because of this line that I will shortly mention) scene where Adrien reminds Mathilde that a particular vegetable is not eaten in winter because it is not available in winter. He says something like “There is a reason why they are available only in a particular season.” I thought that was so simple and true. I am sure the modern industrialist would think of a hundred ways to preserve it and ensure that they are available every single day of the year. I was reading Peter Mayle’s Provence series (yes, this paragraph seems like I love the French. Honestly, I love humanity but … anyway) and I thoroughly enjoyed their culinary adventures. The natives perhaps only cook rabbit throughout the year but plant different things at different times of the year and eat differently and according to seasons. Perhaps that is another reason for the French Paradox.
I think the primary problem with food habits is essentially North American (and British and perhaps other countries, e.g. Australia, with a similar society, lifestyle and thought). Most of Asia, Africa, South America and significant parts of Europe do not suffer from fast food, canned food, preservative laden food. Unfortunately, these “American” cultures are very good at influencing other societies to adopt their “cool” and “sensible” ways to nearly everything. A study and experiment by Kerin O’Dea with the Australian Aborigines proved that their adoption of a Western diet caused nearly all their health problems and when they returned to their native diet (including adopting the way they procured their food) nearly all their health problems reduced within a few weeks! There is no one diet that is perfect and I think it is vital to recognise that. The wisdom passed down the ages about appropriate diet and goodness is valuable and should not be ignored for fads and stupid wants for size-zero bodies!
Ayurveda treats food on par with medicine. Every food item has a guna associated with it and the person’s body type is recognised before prescribing medicines (food or concoctions). The beauty of this science is its holistic approach to the body and the nourishment it gets. Ayurveda doesn’t focus on the throat because you have a cold or merely on the shoulder because you have a sprain. To treat the body as a whole and to respect the role of each and every thing that we consume (air and water included) with due respect forms the basis of this science. Ayurveda goes beyond mere foods and medication to link the body with the spirit which people can brush aside till they read about alpha-waves in the brain and other recent phenomena and walk back in with the tails between their legs.

Though not Ayurveda, a recent study by TNSACS confirmed the role of nutrition and nutrient supply in the control of AIDS. So what we consume helps in many ways beyond merely being a “fuel”. Let us bear that in mind.

This post will explore conscious food habits at various levels. Some of theThe horn of plentym are:

  1. How we grow them
  2. How we process them
  3. How we purchase them
  4. How food is wasted
  5. Choosing what to eat
  6. The unfairness of a non-vegetarian diet

When we worry about the way we “create” our food nearly everyone thinks about pesticides, chemicals, genetically modified crops and so on. I wonder why no one talks about how in-humanely the meat industry works. If you find it somewhere, do read Arthur Miller’s tale where the narrator’s wife (set in the Monroe-dye) throws back the fishes which got trawled in but are not the kinds people consume. So, the fishermen simply throw them on the sand and let them die there. She goes and picks each one of them and throws them back into the sea! A very touching story.

Have you visited an abattoir recently? Or ever? Do you know where your nicely packed chicken breast comes from (No! Chickens don’t wear bras)? Or the bacon? Do you know how those animals were kept their living lives? What were they fed? How? Do you know how they were killed and cleaned so that you get that nice pink in your bulging sachet with chicken or goat caricatures drawn on them to make it look all very nice and cute and perfectly humane?

It might appear that I am making a case for vegetarianism. I would prefer everyone to be vegetarians but if you wish to eat meat then my appeal is different. I cal a conscious eater to be one who creates and handles his food with fairness and with some ethics. If you go out and hunt your meat with something that has a range less than or equal to five feet (so guns are out) then I think you are being fair. To have a few acres of living animals grown and cut up without giving them a say in the matter is ridiculously unfair. How would you feel if I raise a few hundred test-tube babies (no making love so no emotions involved) and subjected them all to manual labour or supplied them shrink wrapped to the cannibals of Andaman or Africa (if there are any left without being converted by some missionary)? Inhuman? Why? These animals are raised, separated from their mothers (I suppose fathers don’t always count) and friends, simply taken into a stinking room and slit. Sometimes that death seems better compared to the horrible conditions in which they are made to live, packed like sardines in a can, sweating on each other with no hygiene. They would shit in the woods or meadows and not walk all over them, had they been left to themselves. Then comes the sickening act of choosing the breed (more meat, juicier, consumes less, etc.) and eliminating the ones you don’t want. If you think I am making this up, then visit this link. There are many more such reports and “realities”. If you thought this was a recent phenomenon, then read this. So, yes, I think it would be best to be vegetarian and if you are worried about the concerns that mis-informed non-vegetarians have about vegetarianism then don’t worry: our family has lived for centuries on pure plants and plant products and most people have died due to natural causes (usually beyond the age of 70) or due to accidents (which has very little if any concern about dietary practices).

The great concern about Vit-B12 deficiency amongst vegetarians is mis-placed as no one in the family and in any family of relatives have anaemia. Stupid scientists have attributed the “Hindu” phenomenon (of being vegetarians and not having Vit-B12 deficiency) to the existence of insect larvae, eggs and faeces in the leafy vegetable and other vegetables. Seriously, are we to believe that we don’t wash our veggies well enough and eat mosquito shit? If that is the case, then so be it. I’d rather eat invisible mosquito shit than disgustingly butcher animals. And, FYI, animals do not produce B12. We are capable of synthesising it and the entire chemical reaction of food in the oven as well as in our gut is far too complex to assume that we need all our nutrients on our plate in clear demarcated spaces and quantities before we can start eating.

If I were stranded in the Amazon (not the .com one) and had to find myself food, I might pick berries or hunt a rabbit and cook it. That doesn’t mean that all planned and systematic murder is justified. To treat animals like a bunch of hub-cups off an assembly line reeks of our hypocrisy. To stuff them with what we want to find on our dinner table is also sickening. I know of cases where a camel (or some hoofed animal) is fed alcohol till it dies (or is anyway killed) and then the meat is marinated for a while before tossed on a spit. Very creative but so was using Jewish skin off the holocaust for lampshades. And if you let the body wallow in urine the skin is softened to provide easily workable leather which one can then shape into really classy handbags. Tanning such leather, I believe, is also very easy.

So feel free to fish and cook what you catch. Hunt a boar and carefully slice it (you can carefully scrape the “inside” of the skin to obtain fat which can be cooked for stuffing vegetables). Preserve them like they do in Italy or other Med countries. I recall a very elaborate procedure of hanging the meat with salt coating on it, etc. And if you are going to hunt them, welcome their hunting you too. Do not have some forest reserve authority shoot down a tiger which just attacked your house and dragged away your 2 month old daughter. You just had her cub last Sunday. Do not kill animals because you need to protect yourself. Protect yourself the way they protect themselves; with your body. If you believe that animals that behave unruly and kill human beings should be killed, then so should butchers. Is it remotely possible for you to be absolutely fair? Wait for your chickens to lay eggs. If you cannot hunt animals, then rear them and let them die. When they naturally do, then eat those dead animals. Yes, you will be called a scavenger. So what? I thought you liked the meat. There is nothing unethical or barbaric about consuming meat though it is atrocious and vulgar to consume meat the way it is commonly produced and distributed in most cities.

Vegetarians too need to be concerned about the food they eat. Lots of chemicals used and hybrid varieties (larger, juicier, longer shelf-life) not only taste bad (compared to the pedigrees) but are not good for your health (if you so fancy, please use a straw in one of the pesticide bottles and sip away). GM crops are a total no no. GreenPeace reports on how the main manufacturer of GM crops stopped the supply of its own produce in its own staff canteens!

Urbanisation and “civilisation” have sterilised us from the actual food production cycle and intricacies. We are happy in not knowing what went into that bowl of cornflakes we eat in the morning. Animals being fed something which is not their natural diet (so that we can get better beef) or plants being grown in unnatural conditions (though not for food, Bt-Cotton is an example of fudging with Nature) and the whole impact on land, water and air (the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by livestock is second only to the industrial gaseous effluents) are somethings that we need to closely monitor and perhaps make it mandatory to publish on the packaging. That wouldn’t be of any use for packaged meats though a picture of the dead animal (whose meat looks so cutely pink) on the package might be good.

Processing food is not merely a matter of how as hinted above, but how we do things based on our ignorance. The way we whiten rice or manufacture all-purpose flour would reveal that our fancy for things white and clean make us lose a lot of nutrients (and they are simply washed away). Bigger tomatoes and potatoes don’t matter. Smaller ones grown properly are tastier though of course you need to peel more of them for the same meal. Do not buy canned fruits and vegetables. They taste horrible.

You might wonder (as I did) how can this be avoided as long as we need to feed so many mouths. I will address this in another post, so please bear with me. Let us look into our buying habits and wastage.

Most people in the city prefer buying at the supermarkets. I do too because I can accomplish a lot in one trip and the best looking girls are there! But these are for emergency purposes only (to me). I always prefer buying at the mandis (the Indian equivalent of buying from a farmers’ market to collective in the US or UK). Not only is it cheaper they are fresher and one can buy them in good quantities. Circumstances have left me with a separate refrigerator for my veggies. So I stock them in there and I don’t visit a market for the next 2-3 weeks. I would prefer making the trip every week but logistics is an issue. Buy fresh vegetables from the farmers or farmers’ union store them well and use them judiciously.

I overcook (somehow a whole wok full of coloured delicacies soothes me more than just a quarter full) and we have constraints on what can and cannot be stored in the fridge. But most often we would carry over to the next day. Do not throw away food. Feed a dog or the birds in the park. If the quantity is good and can be parceled, ask your maid if she would like to have some/all. We have some traditional recipes (so reducing wastage and recycling is very much in our culture and has been around for a few decades, at least) to utilise the greens and tubers that remain. One fantastic dish my mom makes (which my sister is crazy about) is the yericcha kuzhambu (burnt kuzhambu). I don’t know the recipe and I think it is something made extempore (with some basic guidelines in place).

Another reason to avoid supermarkets is the amount of food they waste. WRAP recently published a report which estimated the food wasted (simply dumped) to be about 4.8 million tonnes per year. Do you realise how much people in Somalia would bless you for passing this same food on to them? Every year! No, this is not humbug. I referred to this link for an idea.

Since commencing her EU mission, HMS Northumberland has safely escorted a total of 43,743.92 tonnes of assorted relief food, carried on six vessels over three different voyages. According to the World Food Programme, the above quantity of food will feed 2,550,000 people for a month.

That is 2.55 million people’s requirement for a month. UK alone wastes 100 times that amount per year!! Mind you, 4.8 million tonnes is the usable portion of the 17 million tonnes that is actually wasted! If we could only manage the 17 million tonnes well enough and channelise them to places where people are hungry, we would have a huge problem solved. But we cannot afford to live consciously as it is not profitable and it will not give us the sense of being superior.

What has all this got to do with Conscious Living? So much that we think it is a totally different and disconnected concern. Food is what people need (we can do without iPods and F1 racing). To be able to create them in a manner that doesn’t destroy the fertility of this earth, doesn’t ruin the air around us or pollute the water bodies on and below the surface of the earth is being conscious about how we produce our food. To assume that we can go on and on producing any quantity and hoard is being irresponsible. To think that we can change Nature and consider Nature stupid to have produced crops and pests alongside as well as seasonal crops (as in, why should I wait for the next crop cycle) is a typical trait of one who cannot think beyond his immediate wants (more, more, more) and conveniences (I should just have this rice which never dies). That is not living consciously. To treat animals as if they were created only to be lanced by our forks and spoons is immature and very self-centered. We can also be their food and they have every right to enter our homes and attack us and eat us. To protect the human race at any cost and treat the rest of the Earth and its inhabitants as variegated Granola bars is myopic and extremely destructive if not vulgar and outright barbaric. Whom we call barbarians were only so in matters of modern etiquette and in figuring out whether the fork should be to the right or left. They were genuine citizens of this world in taking only that much from Nature as they could return. Then greed and insensitivity crept in. Man lost all value for wisdom and kept manufacturing at a breakneck speed. We will surely not suffer any of the consequences of this mindlessness. Our grandchildren will and if you care only for yourself and your families, then please realise that Conscious Living is a focused effort to making life easier for your grandchildren (your family). This is not about caring for the child in Darfur (and you would only be human if you did care about that little one there) but about your own family. If you do not believe in expanding your circle of concern, so be it, but at least care about your grandchildren and the world you are going to leave behind for them. Shouldn’t you pass on the best genes to them. Eat properly, then. Eat consciously. Live Consciously.

Allow me to summarise this rather large post.

Summary:

  1. Eat just enough to last till the next meal
  2. Eat mostly plants
  3. Eat seasonal
  4. If you must eat animals, be fair to them. Give them a chance to fight for their lives. Look into their eyes when you hunt them.
  5. Cook slowly and carefully
  6. Eat fresh. Canned food is not food.
  7. Preferably buy your veggies and grains from the farmers
  8. Plan your meal such that there are no leftovers
  9. Buy only as much as you think you can eat (and deduct 20% on that estimate before buying)
  10. Pass excess food on to others who need them. Don’t be insecure.
  11. Make it a point to visit or learn about the manufacturing process of the stuff you eat. By keeping it simple (veggies, grains, legumes, salt, spices, etc.) you need to spend less time on this.
  12. Try and enjoy at least one meal in a day
  13. Eat slowly
  14. Introduce colour and variety in your meals
  15. Exercise but do not adopt fad diets

I can never understand the excuse of people being so busy that they can’t cook a proper meal. Would you give the same excuse for doing your job properly (that you were too busy to do it properly)? Please hire a cook, at least. If you cannot slow down to the point when you can live consciously, then why bother living and in a variety of ways create problems or support the destructive agents?

I urge every reader of this blog post to buy a copy of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. If you find it too expensive, drop by and we can discuss the book.

Links: (I am not annotating them. Perhaps I will over time)
http://www.nutraingredients.com/Regulation/Food-policy-expert-fears-impact-of-nutrient-profiling
http://www.wrap.org.uk/
http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/yorkslincs/series7/supermarket_landfills.shtml
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3560306/Don’t-blame-supermarkets-for-food-waste.html
http://www.greenpeace.org/india/campaigns/sustainable-agriculture
http://discovermagazine.com/2008/oct/12-man-who-aims-to-feed-humanity.s-future
http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7791854.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7753267.stm
http://www.frenchentree.com/france-food-cuisine/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=3033
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1527738.ece
http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/business/5-reasons-not-to-shop-in-supermarkets/271

ps: Please forgive typos (if any) in this post. This was written in one sitting and the mind can only be this alert… Do let me know if you find any.

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4 thoughts on “Conscious Living – Food Habits

  1. Dear S,My god! Where have you been? I really did miss you on this blog. Welcome back. Glad you found the post so! 🙂Dear M,Very true. Some people can’t believe that orange juice could actually be packed into an orange sphere!

  2. Beautiful. A lot of learning can be had from this post alone. You have put in a lot of thought and sincerity into this issue.Do publish your other posts on conscious living. They are long due.

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