May 19, 2015

Getting back to roots - why I choose local foods?

One of the major sectors that's getting a lot of attention and at the same time, confusing the common woman(man) the most is the "Foods" sector. Every food brand tries in some way or the other to promote why their products are superior for your health. Even if you keep your eyes and ears shut on packaged foods and try to include healthy grains, fruits and vegetables, there are numerous imported products that are being promoted as healthy (or aids in weight loss or kicks diabetes out of the window or promises glowing complexion or DHA or omega-3 and what not!) and sold at ridiculous prices - quinoa, blueberries, oats, chia seeds, apple cider vinegar, kiwi fruit etc to name a few. The facts might be true too, but are these the right choices for "us" - is the question to be asked.

More often, these bombarding messages take away a very basic principle
keep it simple and local. 
This is my mantra when it comes to making sure my family and I eat healthy.

Years ago, my daily breakfast was a bowl of muesli in cold milk. A pack used to cost Rs.155 and would last for 4-5 days. It was quick and easy in the rush-hour mornings. Little did I know, that it was loaded with sugar, artificial flavors and other preservatives. Muesli by itself is a healthy preparation, provided you make it at home from scratch. But not as a packaged food.

My breakfast menu in the last couple of years has undergone a complete change - totally Indian (more South Indian, given my roots). I make different varieties of idli/dosa/upma/pongal/poha/parathas using multiple local grains and pulses. When I'm short on time, I resort to quick and healthy porridges made using either ragi (finger millet), bajra (pearl millet) or jowar (sorghum).

The same principle holds true for my lunch menu as well. I have reduced my consumption of white polished rice and instead have been eating my regular sambhar/rasam/kootu with red rice, barley and native traditional millets. I stock up on a wide range of millets, so I can mix-and-match over the week and not get bored. To give you an idea, here's how my carbs for last week lunch looked like:

Sunday - proso millet
Monday - red boiled rice (or matta rice)
Tuesday - barnyard millet
Wednesday - rajamudi rice (a kind of red rice native to karnataka)
Thursday - white rice
Friday - wheat rotis
Saturday - kodo millet

Every millet is good on certain nutritional constituents - proso millet high on proteins, barnyard millet high on iron, foxtail millet high on fiber and finger millet high on calcium.

Veggies for this week
 Apart from grains, I'm also consciously looking at the kind of vegetables I buy. The regular carrots, beans and potatoes are always there but I have also started to buy the local and seasonal vegetables more often. Bottlegourd, snakegourd, ridgegourd, broad beans (avarakkai), ladies finger, purple brinjal, banana stem, drumstick - the sheer variety that you get is just amazing. Leave me in a vegetable market stocked with fresh local veggies - I'm happy! :-)

When we have such amazing fresh and local produce, why run after the expensive broccoli and zucchini? Why force our taste buds to eat raw salads made with expensive cherry tomatoes and iceberg lettuce, with exotic dressing?

I'm definitely NOT saying that we shouldn't eat any of these exotic vegetables and grains. My only intention is that "Let the local, seasonal produce be our regular everyday staple foods and the exotic ones be reserved for special occasions(indulgences)". Your tummy would feel happy and yes, it is a better deal economically too.

Along the same lines, I have now shifted completely to peanut oil and sesame oil for everyday cooking. These were the oils my grandmothers used to buy and I know my genetic makeup would easily agree with them. I do stock up on olive oil but only for the occasional indulgence when I make pasta. Sorry, no Indian recipes with olive oil for me, please! Neither can I afford it nor I need to.

If you are taking efforts to become more "local" in your food habits, I would love to hear about your experiences. I'll be happy to connect and discuss more ideas.

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