With Akash Muralidharan
Notes and reflections from our monthly meet-up #8 held on 5th June 2020.
The monthly meet-ups at Edible Issues, started as a way to take the conversations offline and meet and engage with people, who, like us are curious about the Indian food system.
We have a wide audience from versatile backgrounds who attend our conversations – from entrepreneurs, producers, chefs, scientists, and the everyday eater, like you and I.
Since COVID-19 our meet-ups have taken an online format but nevertheless we hope to engage as many people wanting to be a part of a better food future for India.
To say the way we eat today has changed is an understatement. Beginning from our diets, to what we choose to put on our plates, to what is available to us, has changed. And this very much applies to vegetables.
Akash’s research into forgotten vegetables started off as a personal inquiry sparked by India’s pickle queen Usha.
In his 100-day project of cooking with forgotten vegetables from the book “Samaithu Paar”, Akash has shared recipes, illustrations, and stories on his Instagram channel.
Why is it important to think about biodiversity (or the lack of) on our plates?
Most of the vegetables of what we eat today have been reduced to a handful of varieties.
According to a 2013 FAO Article, 95% of world’s energy needs come from 30 species of crops. Our quest towards a standardized diet in interest of food security is one of the main reasons.
In Akash’s research, he also raises an interesting point about cooking traditions and the link to vegetables used.
Akash’s presentation on forgotten vegetables: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zty7j3B55balJqgDuHdhm00hK4dOVA49/view?usp=sharing
Activity: Understanding vegetables used in mainstream restaurant menus.
We also called out most of the vegetable based dishes from the popular Swiggy restaurant – Homely. Since Homely promises ghar ka khaana, we wanted to see how many of the vegetables were present in their dishes.
This activity sparked a lot of conversations around restaurants and the role they play in influencing our food choices.
What ends up on our plate is often an action that we don’t have a lot of choice in. With 8 companies controlling pretty much seeds of everything that is grown, the myth of choice is something we choose to believe in.
Dr. Prabhakar Rao, pitched in with his experience and expertise of running Hariyalee Seeds. Check out Hariyalee Seeds and the varieties they have here: https://hariyaleeseeds.com/shop-seeds/
From the conversations:
Apart from the main conversation following Akash’s presentation, we also had some interesting breakout conversations in the chat. Here are some snippets:
Religion’s role in forgetting vegetables
“While we spoke about vegetables and fruits we miss, I wanted to add that in recent months there’s one vegetable that got added in our diet – doodhi (bottle gourd). We never bought it as my grandmother had given it up for religious reasons but with a new family member, it’s now part of our diet. 🙂”
Food blogs and cooking with local vegetables.
“I’m not too sure if the assumption that looking to food blogs for recipes is a cause for diminishing variety of vegetables in the market. The recipes on blogs are a result of what’s available in the author’s market, maybe the author’s childhood and as Dr. Rao said, seasonality. I don’t think it answers your fundamental question of why they have disappeared from the market itself.”
I find that although I find some wild variety of vegetables or some unfamiliar vegetable in the market, I hesitate buying because I have no idea how to cook them. And the instructions that the vendor gives are pretty vague.
Dr Rao shared with us this calendar for the vegetables in our diet.
How reduced biodiversity leads to the slow loss of foods we love
Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security https://www.pnas.org/content/111/11/4001
Forgotten Food blogpost: https://genomicgastronomy.com/blog/