Thursday, 5 May 2016

Food on my mind.

The urban and upwardly mobile middle class are always susceptible to waves of fashions, trends and fascinations more as a passing phase and peer pressure . Very often we find habits , styles and consumption of the society not being guided by necessity , reality or appropriateness but by the noise in the marketplace. And this covers everything of our daily lives . From the length of skirts to size of refrigerators or purchase of cars to selection of holiday trips , even eating noodles to brown breads , nothing is based on actual requirements or analysis of its use in our daily lives. They are more of choices shaped by the choices followed by our neighbours, colleagues, relatives and the ubiquitous TV commercials.  But that is a fact which we have to live with, in a consumerist society.

The peripheral choices which we make for our lifestyles beyond fulfilling our basic needs generally influence the evolution of culture in the society . Like all other things that evolve with time , culture also changes . These changes are but an ongoing process and there is no harm in accepting it. But that’s not what I am discussing here . The point which I am trying to make is the preponderance of fads which we follow for some time and then again opt for something new.

Food , or rather what we eat ,  is a very important part of our culture and perhaps this is the most  affected by swings of fancy and fads . This can take the shape of extreme fixations like obsession with healthy foods and diets and on the other end , a gluttonous craving for food with enhanced taste and elaborate processing. Somewhere in between lies the sad story of normal foods , which are relegated to has-been position . It would appear that as if  we have decided , either to burden ourselves unnecessarily with the guilty feeling of enjoying food or taken it upon ourselves to keep up with the jet setting class to try out the taste of exotic dishes , only because someone else has been there and done it .

 All around me and including me , I find an unhealthy emphasis on healthy foods . Now , this is an obsession which can be found only in the middle and upper class , who enjoy the luxury of a full fridge . And has the capacity to spend . So for them the big marketing juggernaut has come out with all the classifications like organic, vegan, local , grain-free, low-fat, multi-grain, low-calorie, high-protein  etc. There are much more of course , but I recount these names off-hand . All in the name of – Eating the right thing . And in India , with its eternal concept of variety  in taste , choice and acceptance based on regional and religious bias , the confusion is confounded . The circus is more entertaining to watch . Just for example and not to offend anybody , I can mention the concept of Jain food which is now a de-rigueur in parties and buffets . This is a recent phenomenon  and perhaps twenty years back this fad was not so open as it is nowadays. Being a carnivorous caveman , I personally find the idea  ludicrous . But there you are, as I mentioned before , this is a pointer to the society and culture.

And then , we have the overbearing presence of information and marketing strategies directed towards us over the media , through Doctors , through Babas , through religious customs and lately, the growing  tribe of nutritionists. And they are actually very confusing . Take the example of Olive oil . We are waking up to the wonders and discovering the virtues of this oil to such an extent everyday that every Coconut-Tam or Mustard-Bong has reached a point when they have started having a massive guilt complex for  not using it in their food. Then take the case of eggs.  Six or seven decades back , it was considered to be very much non-veg and in many households , a taboo . Even in some fish-eating families ! (Don’t be surprised , I know it personally ) . Then they said it was good for health and as a prescribed dietary supplement aided by the proliferation of poultry firms , it became a very common item of food in Indian households. Then again came the stigma of high cholesterol and eating of eggs was frowned upon . Now again, they are saying it is OK to eat eggs , because the correlation with cholesterol is not definitely proved. I mean , what the fun !

Recently , we have seen people being castigated for their eating habits , banning of foods and so much nonsense being allowed to be propagated , in the name of food habits expected to be followed. Some people get frothing at the mention of beef while some gets mad hearing the word pork and almost everybody gets a sense of horror at the mention of dog-meat. Some people get delirious at the prospect of eating fish ( me included), while some are thrilled with a plate of Govi-Manchurian (a travesty ) . You can feel pity for people who relish Paneer-Biryani or Veg-Biryani (oxy-morons, in the truest sense) , but there are hordes of them and you have to live with them .  Then there is the loonie brigade which wants to follow a lifestyle of fully vegetarian food and thoughts and there are some who would not even think of eating vegetables growing below the surface . And if you really think about it , foods like tea, white sugar , tomato , potato and many such items were not there in our country even in the times of Akbar . Again, an example of how food is an integral part of the evolving culture.

All these are still OK . The dangerous are those know-alls who get paid for peddling their ignorance about food and implores us to eat or drink things based on their super nutritional qualities or makes us feel like fat slobs with perfect bodies nurtured by some health food.  Even this is not enough , it seems . There is the vast galaxy of Chefs , enticing and beguiling us with exotic preparations like Aubergine-Timbuctoo , Khana-Badosh , Mexican- Fried-Octopus and things like that. And the upshot of all this is that now we eat not to enjoy food but to brag about its origin to our friends or to show-off our knowledge in a gathering .

The whole philosophy about food and eating should be the enjoyment and value derived from it . Neither should we create a dogma about our  choice of food nor should we indulge in it as an obsession , either for the body or the mind .  We should be responsible for our own body and health and should do the best . It is a duty that we owe to ourselves . But it should be integrated into our lifestyle rather than coming in the way of enjoying life in all its colours, smell , taste and senses . Let us divorce guilt from eating and cut out the noise. Enjoying a simple meal with small indulgences with family and friends is the real joy of life.

So,  who is inviting me for lunch after spending your valuable time reading this post till the end.  

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