Kinder Garden: You are what you eat, go local!

climate change, ragi, millet, eat local Ragi or millet is not as water-intensive as rice and wheat. (Source: Dreamstime)

Invest in eating right and change the habits of the next generation for better health, while fighting climate change as well! 

By Sachin Gupta

Today, mostly everything you eat has been determined by history, the government and the world market. It might come as quite a surprise to some that integral vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes and chillies were only introduced in India less than 200 years ago, and now it’s hard to imagine Indian cuisine without it! Before wheat and rice gained popularity during the green revolution of the 1950’s, most people in the country ate a variety of millets and barley.

And it was in this era of modern agriculture that our eating habits started negatively influencing the climate, ecosystems and the planet at a scale never seen before, not to forget the effects these have on our health. The first human societies spent thousands of years as hunters and gatherers. They ate many kinds of things, from nuts to berries, different mushrooms and roots, fruits and flowers and stems and leaves, foraging what was available seasonally and locally. Each day’s menu was different. The diversity in food that they enjoyed was phenomenal as compared to what we eat today! Eating like them would require a lifestyle change which may cause many to have a panic attack. The idea is not to eat like them rather to incorporate what we can from the ancients so we can make the right food choices.

Eating the right cereals

One of the biggest changes you can bring to your diet is by shifting to nutritionally rich and less water intensive cereals such as barley, ragi (finger millet), jowar (sorghum millet) and bajra (pearl millet). Wheat and rice require lots of water and fertiliser to grow. Millets and barley on the other hand are rain fed, require less fertiliser and are highly nutritious.

Eating local

Food production uses energy, great amounts of fossil fuels is burned to transport fruits and vegetables to you. In your next trip to the market, ask your vegetable vendor where the veggies are from. Buy food items that grew close to your home city or town. Opt for fruits and vegetables from a couple of hundred kilometres away than the ones from a thousand kilometres away. Try desi almonds over California almonds. Himachali apples over Washington apples. In India, it’s common to have bad seasons for certain vegetables from time to time. There will be days when tomatoes from only Andhra or Telangana are available. Don’t cook with tomatoes in that period. You will save a great deal of money and help fight climate change. After all, two hundred years ago, your great-great-great-great grandfather did cook without them.

Did you know? In 2017-2018, agricultural production (planting, harvest, storage and transport) in India released more than 433 metric tons of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) into the atmosphere, that’s toxic gases equal to the weight of 144 elephants!

Eating seasonal

In this age of globalisation we seem to be gravitating towards an American and European notion of abundance. Steer clear of supermarkets that boast of stocking mangoes in December and apples in June. These unseasonal fruits and vegetables that found their way to store racks were most likely grown on the other side of the world or in especially created artificial climate houses, sprayed heavily with harmful fertilisers and preservatives to make them look fresh and last longer. In winters you can enjoy cauliflower, carrots, radish, mustard leaves, methi, apples and oranges and summer is the time for watermelons, melons, mangoes, different gourds, pumpkins and cucumbers, to name a few. Eating seasonal is not only extremely beneficial for the environment but also your health.

Eating in a way that is healthy for us and the environment is not a difficult task. As Kantha Shelke, a food scientist at Chicago’s Institute of Food Technologists says, “Tastes are mostly learned; in a single generation we can change the relationship with the food we eat.” By incorporating good eating and consumer practices today we not only ensure a healthier future for our families but also enable our children with the right tools to shape what they grow and eat tomorrow.

(Sachin Gupta is a natural farmer and food forester. He is passionate about sustainable living and ecological practices. He works as a consultant at Edible Routes. Follow on social media @EdibleRoutes)