Going ‘slow’ in Mumbai

The last two decades have been good in terms of obvious progress in the fields of science and technology.  It means that I am able to connect globally from my doorstep and that is great.  Apart from the obvious the last decade has seen an influx of all things that we thought were ‘foreign’.  Foreign fashion and food have affected even common people and homecooks like me.  The exposure has helped us all to turn our ‘rasois’ into gourmet kitchens.  Its a case of pasta meeting sevai.  Great so far.  But progress always comes with a catch.  It may mean the slow death of tradition.  Thankfully, someone saw this early and decided to impress upon people the importance of slowing down the pace and appreciate what really belongs to us – that which is local, organic and sustainable.  These are the essences of ‘Terra Madre Day’.  Terra Madre started in Torino, Italy in a bid to remind consumers that good quality food is best sourced from local bodies.

For me there are many reasons to appreciate ‘local foods’;

Reduced carbon footprints – The more we eat locally, the more we contribute to the earth by reducing our carbon footprints.  How?  Sourcing food from far off places involves transportation.  The farther off the food source, the greater the distance it needs to travel and consequently, the fuel expended is higher.   Remember that fuel is also needed to preserve the foods in order that they travel well.  If each of us sources our food from our local surroundings we can help such wastage.  When you eat local, you are also helping the earth live longer.

Curtailing costs – The farther the source, the higher the cost of the product.  Check for yourself.  Is it not wiser to spend less?  Source local foods.  They are cheaper but fresh.

Quality assurance – This is the major reason why I think people should shop locally.  It is common knowledge that vegetables and fruits have low shelf life.  The closer they are grown the better the chance of them being fresh.  You are assured that they have not been treated with preservatives to keep them fresh.  That is needed only when they are sourced from far off places.  In other words, go seasonal, shop local, and give yourself longer, healthier life.

Food is part of evolution much like us – Human beings are intelligent and learnt to dress according to geographical and climatic conditions.  Our food habits too follows the same analogy.  Nature, diligently, produces fruits and vegetable customized to each region, with a reason.  It is sad that now it is fashionable to shun what is available and run for that which belongs to another region, and suited to another climate.  The more we eat what is locally available, the higher are the chances of being healthy.

Preserving food traditions – Monuments can be preserved in time.  Unfortunately habits cannot.  It is something that we have to practice and follow and handover to the next generation, in order that they carry it forward to the next generation.  Otherwise very soon our traditional foods will soon die with us.  The best thing about Terra Madre is that it helps us celebrate with pride, the recipes, tricks and secrets handed over to us.

Helping sustenance of farmers – When we shop for local vegetables and fruits, we assure that the local growers who cannot afford to spend money on long distance transportation and packaging can support themselves.   Buying closer home ensures that the prices are fair to both the consumer and the farmer/producer.  Shop locally and become a responsible citizens.  No amount of Government funding can help farmers as much as consumers can.

Preserving bio-diversities – By relying on fast foods, junk foods, canned foods, preserved foods and imported varieties of rice (for eg. arborio, sushi rice etc.), vegetables, fruits and legumes leads to slow death of local variants.  Everytime a farmer is forced to give up farming, it signals that something has gone wrong.  Every region in India, has many local species of rice which do not even appear in super markets, nor are they encouraged in cooking on cookery shows.  You know what grows around you.  Choose local varieties when you make your puddings, risottos and pulavs.  It may not be the same in taste, but remember that you helped a local strain stay alive. Preethi Sukumaran has written a very informative article on this subject where she ruminates on rice in her blog ‘Krya’.  If you can find time, do read it.  I was surprised to learn that during the vedic period India had 4, 00,000 varieties of rice!  I can count the rice species I know on the tips of my fingers!  They are so few.  By going local, you are helping save the bio-diversity of your land.  Isn’t that a privilege?

It is sometimes necessary to take off from our fast lives to stop and appreciate the bounty of Nature and the food we eat, because we all have just one planet, and we just cannot afford to take it for granted.  Ideally we should do it every single day.  But the invasion and temptation of straying is high and that is why, it has become necessary to set aside a day a year to slow down, to look around us, to support the local environment that supports us and to celebrate the treasures that are available around us in our lands.

The 10th of December has been set aside as ‘Terra Madre Day’ for this reason.

Yesterday, many conscious communities gathered in small groups and large, to celebrate regional foods, flavours, and traditions in their part of the globe, and show their support to the ‘slow food movement’ as opposed to ‘fast food’.  Yesterday, in Mumbai, the Mumbai food bloggers got together too.  Each of us brought in traditional delicacies from our native place.  We discussed the methods of cooking, the flavours and also discovered new foods.

Nikhil lent his terrace for this celebration.  About twenty of us gathered, and I am thankful to our group for always kindly catering to my diet too.  Since mine is a vegan blog, I am only mentioning the dishes I tasted.  Rushina has covered the entire event on her blog as well.  Do catch up there.  The potluck was attended by Nikhil, Rushina, Simmi, Vishwas, Tanvi, Pushpa, Rithika (another vegan), Saee, Vinda, Lalita, Renita, Megha, Shireen, Aneesh, Urvashi and Snigdha.

The vegan repertoire consisted of
Undhiyu (Nikhil)
Rasam and koorkai mezhukkuvaratti (me)
Thalagam (Rithika)
Stew (Lalita)
Neer dosa rolls (Renita)
Stuffed peppers (Saee)
Solkadi (Vinda)
Imli bhindi (Snigdha)
Pathrode (Shireen)

Since Christmas is drawing closer Nikhil decorated one corner with a Christmas tree laden with bells and cookies!  Snigdha, Megha, Saee, Vinda and Rushina played Santa by distributing lovely goodie-bags to all of us.  It was a day spent in appreciation of Indian foods, discovering regional foods and bonding big time!  Did you celebrate ‘terra madre’ too?  Tell us about it!  Celebrating terra madre includes using traditional recipes, using traditional vessels or cultivating crops and sharing your traditional agricultural experiences with others.

Lalita’s baby boy was fascinated by the ‘ding-dong bells’ and cookies on the Christmas tree, while his curls stole our hearts.  Not to mention the stew too!  Vikas Khanna, celebrity chef, and one of the judges of ‘Masterchef India’ joined us for a quick look into the celebrations before he left for another venue.

Related photographs can be viewed here.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this Harini. I have been trying (in small baby steps) to eat more local produce since I began reading the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. However, I still find myself picking up imported fruit and sauces when I head to Nature’s Basket…after reading this post, I think I am going to take slightly bigger steps into eating locally. Fingers crossed!

  2. I have been reading a lot about Terra Madre in many food blogs – It was very nice to hear about this in your blog. By going vegan, you have already cut down the footprint of your food, so it was really great to hear your thoughts on eating local, sustainable and ‘slow’ food.

    I once met an urban farming couple who told me (quite proudly) that they had lived for an entire year off their farm, eating only what they grew themselves. This entailed some sacrifices on their part – as their farm is off Chennai, they got a lot of aubergines and gourds (ridge gourd, snake gourd, etc) , but no potatoes, so they spent a year without potatoes.

    Most of us are far away from this sort of sustainability – but it really helps when good food bloggers like yourself give us another way of thinking about food (besides nutrition and taste). The idea ,that by choosing what I eat wisely, helps me contribute to raising environmental sustainability, makes my food choices that much more important.

    Thank you for writing about this.

    • I have read something similar too, but I am not sure whether I can go that far. Kudos to the people who are already doing this! I recall that this is exactly what we practised when we were children. My parents grew their own vegetables according to seasons and we would end up having the same veggies every two days, though my mom was pretty innovative in creating a different dish every now and then. It was a joy to go and pluck ‘gawar’ or pick cauliflower for that days lunch. I wish we could do that but we do not have the privilege, or rather I haven’t paid that much attention to farming yet. Someday I hope to do that. Meanwhile at least we can try and buy local veggies and restrict the fancy ones for occasions.

  3. Have been reading about Terra Madre on quite a few blogs over the last few days. koorka mezhukkupuratti is one of my favourites.

  4. nice.. you guys are celebrating a bunch of things every few weeks.. there was only one event in seattle for terra madre.. and it was canning local tuna.. meh..

    on the other hand, one of the local farms started smaller box options and we signed up. usually they had a family size delivery and you couldnt choose to reduce the size, hence wasting a lot of the food, since we are just 2 people, unless we start feeding the neighboring families everyday:) the produce is gorgeous and fresh and seasonal, which is why now i have to cook up squashes and rainbow chard and brussels sprouts.. instead of relying on gobi and aloo..:) it automatically forces one to be creative!

    I remember growing up the same way, mom cooking only seasonal veggies. We just got spoilt when we moved to the US and got all veggies ready to use any time of the year. I do want to eat the bhindi, karela, tindora and other indian veggies, but i realized that though some are grown in the warmer states in the US, most of those come here from India or other tropical countries! that is one big carbon footprint right there! I cant completely say goodbye to those, but i will definitely find the sources closer now.

    • Oh! 🙁 Maybe you can get together with the vegans in your area and plan for something next year? Fresh farm produce sounds really good! We have a scheme of ‘hari bhari tokri’ here which brings organic and fresh vegetables straight from farms but unfortunately there is no pick up point anywhere near Thane. 🙁 I am sure you are going to come up with a lot of fusion cooking now! I understand how it must be for you to cook Indian food. It is not only physiological but also an emotional need to cook and eat! So that occasional deviation is justified to some extent, but I really hope you can find sources closer home.

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