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Re-Thinking Our Food Choices

-Poorti V

Every celebration and life event is unique in its own way. Yet, the one aspect that is common is that they are defined by the food presented in each case. Moving beyond events, it is safe to say that our entire lives revolve around food! We are what we eat and food is something that humankind will not get tired of exploring.

While we look into where food comes from, half of the Indian population is directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture and allied activities (Economic Survey,2018). Globally, around 1 billion people are engaged in agriculture and about 60% of households are dependent on agriculture worldwide (FAO, 2011).

Further, given the gender division of labour that continues to exist across cultures - food and its making is stereotypically considered the preoccupation of about half of the world’s population - the women. Yet, it is these same people - the rural poor and the women that have significant undernutrition across India. 4 out of 10 children are not meeting their human potential because of chronic undernutrition. 1 in 2 women of reproductive age has anaemia and most of it can be linked to our diets (Sahayak Trust,2020). Simultaneously, there is a slow but alarming rise in lifestyle-related diseases in India. (Global Nutrition Report,2020).

Moving beyond the current statistics, food systems have shaped world history. Learning how to cook on a fire and later the invention of agriculture are significant milestones in human history (Bramen,2010). Thus, the history of food, our relationship with it and the evolution of humankind go together.

Today, with the use of modern technology in food production we have been able to ensure adequate grain production which became synonymous to food security (Shiva, 2016). However, this has come at a cost.

Today we are witnessing an unprecedented loss of agricultural and ecological biodiversity and an increase in pollution levels. Just 9 plant species account for 66% of the total global crop production (FAO,2019). The World Bank (2020) states that approximately 70% of all freshwater is being used for growing food. According to FAO, almost 1/5th of the food produced goes to waste. Food production is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and by 2050, we will have two billion more people to feed.

With these projections, the question of our food choices today and in the future is pertinent with direct impact on the fate of humanity and the planet. In the existing socio-economic system, the access to safe and nutritious food - a basic human need is unfortunately a privilege.

The current food crisis may seem too huge/ all-pervading for a single individual to make an impact. However, every choice of consumption comes with a small or large footprint. In this context, it becomes important that those of us who can - if we actively, consciously demand safe food it will be a step in the right direction. If the larger problem isn’t enough to nudge us to ReThink our food choices.

Here are the reasons why our food choices are important at an individual level -

1. You are what you consume, literally.

We are well aware of the basic biology behind how the food we eat provides us with the energy to sustain and thrive. We know how food becomes ATP - energy currency that we need to function and cannot be stored by the body.

Thus, while some macronutrients like fats and proteins are stored in the body, other essentials need to be replenished daily. Components and quality of our diet have immense curative powers and are key to thriving health and preventive care.

2. Food and Well Being

Food is life. All of life is food. Food is considered sacred across beliefs. There is a whole set of norms around it. In Ayurveda, it is believed that certain foods create specific psychological dispositions in us.

Modern science calls the impact of food and digestion on our mind as the “gut-brain connection”. The emotional connections to the food consumed are crucial to how our body will respond to it.

3.“Eating is an agricultural act” (Berry,1989)

In the times of convenience foods, it may be sometimes easy to forget that the actual origin of that cereal box was actually in the soil. The culinary cycle of the simplest to the ultra exquisite dishes begins with the soil, water and sunlight.

Thus, Soil is the foundation of Nutrition. (FAO) Studies have shown the link of specific micronutrients and minerals present in healthy soils and its favourable impact on human health.

4.“Eating is a political act”(Pollan,2015)

Food is one of the driving forces around the world. Historically, the outcome of conflicts, including the American Revolution depended on which side had better food supply. Every time we make a choice about where our food will come from - from industrial plants or living plants, from the local farmers market / family-owned grocery store or the giant supermarket.

We are choosing whether we want to be a part of a circular economy or an extractive one. Who grows it for us - a happy farmer with a sustained source of income to raise her family with dignity and opportunities they deserve, or a desperate farmer on the verge of suicide. We are making a choice towards the kind of world we want to create, we want to live in. Choose wisely.

To conclude, taking care of ourselves, our bodies, people and this planet is inextricably linked. The future of food and thereby humanity can be impacted by what we collectively choose to consume for breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between - every day! The next time you are having/making a meal, take a moment to pause and think about the enormous journey that each component has taken to reach you and the many people part of the process.

Offer compassion and gratitude as you undertake this beautiful act of self-care. Simply put, a wholesome diet that is based mostly on local and seasonal plants is good for the planet and ourselves, in every way.

Having said that, our food choices are deeply ingrained in our culture and lifestyle, hence it is important to begin with small, sustainable changes.

Watch this space to know more about HOW to ReThink Food Choices.

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