Fortune Cookie

Why Our Ghee-Sprinkled Ayurvedic Diet is a Better Answer Than the Mediterranean Diet to the World’s Food Conundrum

Posted: July 14, 2017 at 3:31 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

YOU’RE as good as what you eat. It was ayurveda that first popularised this theory, which is why the Indian science of dietetics is held up with respect around the world. It is time, in fact, to consider the ‘Ayurveda Diet’ as the worthy replacement of the ‘Mediterranean Diet’, which doctors around the world have been propagating for the past three decades, and which was responsible for the overnight skyrocketing of the sales of extra virgin olive oil and red wine.

The ‘Ayurveda Diet’, which is in urgent need of codification by the medical community working in tandem with chefs and home cooks, and regulatory bodies such as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), is based on the principle of balance and portion control, and you don’t have to be a vegetarian to practise it. Also, as we become increasingly conscious about the carbon footprint of the food we eat, we can go back to ayurveda for inspiration — generations of Indian vaids and hakims had taught us to eat seasonal and buy local, which has now become a sexy concept because the West is going ga-ga over ‘farm-to-fork’ and ‘zero-mile’ diets.

There’s a reason why nature wants us to eat mangoes and watermelons, apart from the humble trio of tinda, karela and lauki in summer. As long as we respected nature’s wishes, without succumbing to the lure of Washington apples and New Zealand kiwis, or of aloo-gobhi through the year, we enjoyed good health despite being exposed to an array of infectious diseases. It’s not surprising that the world has finally hailed the virtues of the humble moringa (drumsticks; sajina), or cow’s milk ghee, or millets (bajra and ragi, in the Indian context, which are high on protein and fibres), which are the new ‘super foods’. Our ayurvedic gurus were drawing on centuries of wisdom when they celebrated these and other gifts of nature.

These thoughts came to my mind deep down south at Kairali-The Ayurvedic Healing Village in Palakkad, Kerala, where I had gone to attend a chefs’ retreat anchored by Gita Ramesh, co-owner of that swath of paradise and author of the definitive Ayurvedic Cookbook, published by Roli Books. The invited chefs were Manjit Gill, India’s most distinguished spokesman for the ayurvedic diet; Abhijit Saha, one of the earliest proponents of Progressive Indian cuisine who divides his time between Singapore and Bangalore; Arun Kumar T.R., who is the new face of South Indian food; and television chef and Mexican cuisine specialist, Vikas Seth.

I asked Gita Ramesh, who has a degree in ayurveda and is married into a family of distinguished vaids, to summarise the dietetic principles of ayurveda and she said: “Eat everything that is in season, but in moderation.” Ayurveda is also not against non-vegetarian diets, as is commonly believed, but during treatment, you have to turn vegetarian, which is not very hard to do if your meals have all the right ingredients (ghee included) in the right proportions, so that the medicines prescribed can be absolved easily by your body. Hence the idea of ‘Healing Recipes’, the central principle behind the chefs’ retreat.

Ramesh reminded me that the foundational belief of ayurveda is that each person has a unique constitution, which is why the ancient science categorises us into three types of people based on body characteristics and personality traits (doshas) — vata (must stay away from potatoes and chickpeas); pitha (endowed with a high power of digestion); and kapha (advised to go slow on cold food because of sluggish digestion).

The head of the ayurvedic hospital at the Village pointed out that each one of us is a sum of at least two doshas, understanding which is the first step of any ayurvedic treatment protocol. Ayurveda also propagated what is believed to be a modern idea — preventive care, or swastha — and its notion of shodana, or treatment, targets not only the outward signs of a disease, but also its internal causes.

One can write reams on this wisdom, but before anything else, we need to take up the challenge Ramesh posed to the visiting chefs. Good food practices must be made to travel, she said. In Kerala, for instance, a newborn baby is fed ragi porridge after three months. Isn’t that a much healthier alternative to an industrially produced baby cereal? Think about it.

THERE’S SO MUCH BREWING IN INDIAN COFFEE

The Coffee Board has branded Indian coffee into 13 regional and three product variants so that the world partakes of the stories that make the brews so special.

THE Coffee Board rarely ever made news except for its piling financial losses (fortunately, they’re going down now!). It is finally emerging out of the shadow of its lacklustre past to lead an ambitious branding exercise that attempts to lend a personality to our coffees, which have found a growing following across the world. The provenance of food products matters more now than ever in the global market because of the preponderance of mass-produced, mass-consumption commodities — and Indian coffee comes with so many interesting stories that a branding exercise was overdue.

To rekindle the romance of Indian coffee, the Coffee Board has pigeonholed the product into 13 regional and three product variants, from Bababudangiri (the birthplace of Indian coffee in the Western Ghats at Chikkamagaluru, Karnataka, named after the Sufi mystic who is said to have smuggled in the first coffee seeds from Yemen in the 1600s) and Coorg (the country’s largest coffee region) to the once-barren hills of Araku Valley (Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh), Brahmaputra in Assam, the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu (famous for the Kents variety) and Wayanad in Kerala (India’s largest robusta-producing region). The three varieties that come with their individual labels are the Monsooned Malabar, a prized specialty coffee, the intensely aromatic Robusta Kaapi Royale, and the fruity with hints of spice Mysore Nuggets.

These coffees are grown in the shade of trees in cloud-kissed heights extending from 700m (Chikkamagaluru) to 2,000m (Pulney Hills, Tamil Nadu, home to the bluebell-like kurinji flowers, which make an appearance once in 12 years), where rainfall ranges between 800mm to 4,500mm, in the company of jackfruit, orange, banana and mango trees, pepper vines, and vanilla, ginger, garlic and chow chow (squash) plants. Unsurprisingly, with such flavourful company, Indian coffees are gaining a worldwide reputation for their unique aromas.

Indian coffee also protects the biodiversity of the places where it is planted. It does not grow at the expense of existing vegetation on the hills because coffee vines climb on trees, which provide them with shade, the soil with an insurance against erosion and the growers, who are mainly impoverished tribals, with a second means of livelihood. In fact, a number of coffee estates have come up in (and restored the green cover to) hills that had been denuded because of shifting cultivation. The next time you go buying coffee, make sure you pick an Indian label.

INDIAN WHISKY WORLD’S NO. 2 LIQUOR BRAND

Officer’s Choice whisky follows soju brand Jinro in the second spot of the authoritative IWSR Top 100.

There was never any doubt that Indians have a hearty appetite for alcohol, but the latest IWSR Top 100, the most anticipated industry ranking of alcoholic beverages around the world, has set any debate on the issue to rest. Officer’s Choice, a whisky launched in 1988 by Allied Blenders Distillers, is the world’s No. 2 alcoholic beverage brand at 32.3 million nine-litre cases.

Of course, it dwarfs in comparison with the Korean soju brand, Jinro, which at 65 million cases, or 2 per cent of the world’s alcohol consumption, is, to quote the IWSR Top 100 media release, “more than the total of the spirits markets of the UK, Germany, France, Mexico, Spain, Poland, Italy or travel retail, to name a handful.” Officer’s Choice, like the rest of the Indian alcohol market, the media release noted, took a hit in 2016 because of the introduction of total prohibition in Bihar and the slowing down of liquor sales following demonetisation.

The first ten brands of the IWSR Top 100 include two other Indian labels — McDowell’s (Diageo; 25.6 million cases; No. 6) and Imperial Blue (Pernod Ricard; 18 million cases; No. 10). Notice how the old market leader, the hallowed rum brand Old Monk is nowhere, having fallen to No. 75 from No. 70 between 2015 and 2016. None of the international brands we know are anywhere in the first ten: Johnnie Walker (No. 11), Bacardi (No. 12) and Jack Daniel’s (No. 16) are the prestige labels that come closest to No. 10, and they are in the company of the Indian middle order of Royal Stag (No. 12), McDowell’s No. 1 (No. 14) and Old Tavern (No. 20).

— This is my bi-monthly column, Fortune Cookie, which appeared in Mail Today on July 13, 2017. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.