I’ve a friend whose Facebook timeline reads like a blog on food, albeit of ‘organic’ variety. From recipes that he’s innovated by including every herb and shrub under the sun and discarding all things processed, to random posts such as why turmeric-cauliflower flatbread could “fight inflammation and cancer with every bite” and how cassava bread and beef and barley soup were “life nourishing,” it was here that I had my initiation in healthy eating.
Clearly, he is more than your regular, urban-based guy who would ‘go organic’ just because it’s a fad. An Environmental Policy graduate, my friend is someone who you’d call a health freak at best.
His friends know his interest and they feed it duly. But he is not easy to please. Thanks to my Facebook newsfeed, I was recently witness to a sweet little post (by some Latin American friend of his) on how peanut butter “loves your heart.” He wasn’t satisfied with the “benefits” listed in the post, and so he declared that this needed to be investigated further. Someone suggested upping the ante and came up with a solution: organic peanut butter. Which prompted reactions ranging from “yuck” to “as good as f&%$”. Again, my friend was not pleased. The post eventually went quiet with him deciding that they shall try Guyanese organic peanut butter.
Though I can’t beat him at this sort of fanaticism, I have my own personal affair with organic foods going steady. It began when I was first reported as having alarmingly high LDL cholesterol and borderline glucose levels. This was well over a decade ago. Before that time, I was the no-bother kind, who would consume calorie-rich, paratha-anda-for-breakfast-and-karahi-biryani-for-lunch as a routine.
I was warned of dependency on drugs, and more, if I didn’t have 40 minutes of cardio daily coupled with an entire diet chart of what to and what not to avoid in foods. Oh, back in the day, I only wanted to avoid popping pills. But exercise and diet? Not my cuppa tea.
I almost saw myself dying young — more of starving myself than a heart stroke or something. Till I discovered this neatly laid-out, pocket-size cookbook by Tarla Dalal, an Indian chef, at a popular store in Lahore. The book seemed to have one bedazzling antidotal recipe after another, for the kind of issues I had. Clinically put, it was the ‘materia medica’ of foods with therapeutic quality. And, it promised some nice taste too. Fair deal, I thought to myself.
Sadly, my joy was, like all manic states of mind, short-lived. A lot of food items mentioned in the book I didn’t know where to fetch from — fresh parsley leaves or kale, for instance. Not that I expected our roadside vegetable vendor to have a clue to these, but I was amazed when the helper at the Fruits & Veges section inside this shopping mall almost choked when I mentioned artichoke.
A couple of things I was able to hunt down — such as celery. Many other things, I was almost invariably checking up on the internet for names in vernacular, assuming this would help. This did help, but only partially, because I was again at the mercy of the retailer.
At the kitchen counter, I ended up trying — not innovating — some recipes I had noted, with variations: Out went parsley, and in went coriander leaves, and my salad bowl was good to go.
By now, I had become a bran-bread regular. Any sandwich I made (or had made for me) had to be ‘brown.’ Even the palao, what with brown rice. Honey had to be organic, and eggs free-range (if not omega3-rich). It also meant more of fish and less of any other meat (white or red), cold pressed juices, grains and grams.
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Enter Haryali and Khalis Food Markets. While I have had my retail therapy done at different editions of these very expensive markets I have been to, somehow I’ve always come back home with this feeling of near-guilt. Perhaps, because I now realise that cooking ‘healthy’ for yourself isn’t half as difficult as we sometimes think it is. And, that you don’t need to splurge on a lot of things you can find cheaper alternatives of. So, I replaced brown sugar with jaggery (gurr), and had some seasonal herbs grow in our kitchen garden.
The big, wide world of web is still there to entice me with its innumerable recipes and remedies, the non-medicinal way. But I would rather go back to the FB timeline of my very organic-food savvy friend whose latest culinary experiment is a delight to read. It’s a strawberry cake, prepared “without any artificial sweeteners” and with the sweetness extracted from dates and figs and raisins.