Nov 11, 2019

Self-reliance in Food

One of the goals that I'm working towards is to become self-reliant as much as possible in different walks of my life. Given the uncertain situations related to climate change, environmental degradation and the various health-related issues, I believe that becoming self-reliant is the ONLY way to cope with the challenges of the future, for the sake of our's, our children's and our planet's well-being. The concept of self-reliance is not a novel idea - that's how most of our grandparents and our ancestors led their lives. Our generation (and to some extent, our parents' generation) completely moved away from this principle of self-reliance. We are dependent on market forces for every little thing to lead our day-to-day life - right from the toothpaste we use the first thing in the morning to the mobile app we use to track our food intake by the end of the day.

As these market forces are becoming more and more centralized, a few big corporations dictate what the general public should buy. From being a country with many small scale entrepreneurs, we have shifted away to a model where we allow ourselves to be dependent on these 4-5 big corporations for our every single need. 

Self-reliance concerning food is what I want to talk about in this post. Let's look at our relationship with food across different stages - food cultivation, food preservation, cooking and consumption. This is a random post of thoughts across different areas of food. As I gain more clarity, I should be able to articulate this whole concept of self-reliance in a refined manner. But I hope you get a general idea here.

As I make my grocery shopping list every time, I want to reduce the number of items I buy from the store as much as possible. As I don't own a farm, I'm dependent on an external vendor from whom I procure the regular staples like rice, millets, pulses, spices etc. As I don't own a press for extracting oils, I'm dependent on a vendor from whom I buy cold-pressed oils. 

For the value-added products, I prefer to DIY myself - spice powders, batters, pastes etc to name a few.  As I don't buy any ready-to-eat packaged foods, I make most snacks at home. I strongly believe that home cooking is the ONLY way to preserve our health.  The enormous VC funding that is being poured onto food delivery apps indicates that these brands want to grab our wallet share of the daily food budget, which is neither good for our health nor for our environment. 

Our reliance on external factors doesn't stop there. We continue to depend on apps to tell us what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat etc. The fact that users log their daily meals seems to be THE main criteria that boost the valuation of health and fitness tracker apps these days. Yes, food logging is a helpful activity as a post-facto to make us feel conscious and aware of the food we eat daily, which is very much possible using a simple notebook and a pen. If we listen to our stomach, we will automatically know whether we need to eat 2 idlis, 3 idlis or no idlis for breakfast today. Yet, we seem to outsource this simple task to a tracker app and make ourselves dependent on one more external factor. How our personal data is being misused and missold is something to be concerned about.

Let's take a moment and travel back in time - homemade snacks, homemade pickles, homemade spice powders, flours ground at a local mill, homemade pappad/vathal/vadagam etc, green leafy veggies grown in the backyard, some of our grandparents even had a few fruit trees in their home garden. 

If we cannot be self-reliant on some of these areas, let's at least take the help of our local community - 
buy greens from a local organic farm (instead of buying from a multi-chain supermarket), 
invest in a community farm and get a share of the produce grown locally (instead of buying imported produce), 
buy snacks/pickles/healthy homecooked food from a home chef (instead of ordering from Swiggy or loading the fridge/pantry with junk foods), 
patronize the flour mill in your neighborhood (instead of buying highly processed branded flours) 

These are just some of the ideas that I could think of right now. I'm sure there are more we could come up with. Such a model generates employment opportunities and enables REAL value creation. It is appalling to see so many business models generating pseudo-value and getting a ton of investment from VCs. Influencer marketing, being one such business model.

Anyway, from a personal standpoint, these are my goals in the near future towards attaining self-reliance in food:
  1. Learn about organic gardening and grow more greens and veggies in my balcony garden
  2. Find a good flour mill nearby and get the flours ground by myself (no more packaged flours)
  3. Learn the recipes of value-added products that I currently buy - sathumaavu kanji, kadala urundais (chikkis), papad, pickles.
What are your thoughts on self-reliance? If this is something that you are pursuing, let's connect and share ideas.

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