In the age of fad diets and more and more people becoming sensitive to food allergens, there is a new trend starting with dieticians spreading the word on embracing our roots and cultural diets. These are supposed to be the foods eaten by our forefathers, native and endemic to region where we came from. In theory, this is how it should be and it is something each of us should be following. If that’s true then why do we today suffer from so many chronic illnesses and intolerances and auto-immune diseases?
We tend to omit one big chunk from the information passed down generations down. One that not everything our forefathers did needs to be right for this day and age and second, we consider the last hundred odd years to be our cultural and native history. Most of us would have come across this bestseller novel ‘Sapiens’ which talks about where we humans came from and how the human history has evolved over the ages and what we consider native today could have in fact happened in a very short period of time over the last few decades. What we consider history is very myopic today.
Let’s look at the bigger picture!
Endemic foods came from what grew around naturally and was dictated by nature owing to the climate and the requirement of the life forms in that area. They were perfected over hundreds of thousands of years of nature correcting itself in order to provide us with the best possible resources.
Civilizations which started around the equator and warmer areas saw abundance of growth in grains and vegetables, each of which were well suited for the climate and hence the higher metabolic rate of the humans there. For example, because these areas had so much sun and had a balance of seasons, crops like rice, maize, quinoa, amaranth, pulses, and fruits and vegetables rich in essential fatty oils and water such as avocados, coconut, melons, pumpkin, gourds, etc. grew in abundance. These provided with all the essential macro and micro-nutrients required for a healthy day to day functioning. These are all easily digestible and absorbable foods, keeping in accordance with the high metabolic activity of people living and working in these areas. Similarly, the northern and slightly colder areas saw the growth of grains which sustained you for longer and helped the body produce more body heat due to lack of resources in these areas. For example sorghum, finger millets, wheat, cured meats etc., which could be stored for longer duration of time without any form of refrigeration.
Over hundreds of years, northern civilizations started moving or trading with the south since the south always flourished with growth. They started adopting spices and cultivating newer floras wherever they settled in the south and in return brought with them this wonder grain called Wheat. It behaves as you please. You can make bread with it, or even better pizza or pasta. You can tie it into a knot and bake it or make layers and make baklava with it. In fact they even recently unearthed one of the earliest made breads and it didn’t even get spoilt. But how did the world end up with a grain that grew in Nordic countries and was so popular in the middle-east?
With the spread in Catholicism bread started becoming more popular because wheat was the grain that Jesus ate and with most European kingdoms slowly colonizing southern countries, wheat also spread since they used the labor in these countries for cultivation and production. Without us realizing, a country like India, which has the influence today of Persia and a huge chunk of Europe, wheat now became ‘native’ to us. Chapati or the flat bread came from Persia in the form of naan along with puff pastry and every other possible form of wheat like semolina or what we call ‘rava’.People started consuming these because they were cheaper and kept us fuller for a longer time and vegetables and fresh meat was expensive and each household had a lot of mouthfuls to feed during a tough political and economic climate. Tea and coffee are the norm here now and if you’re not addicted to either one or both there’s an immediate reaction of shock. Two things that came with the British today is part of our culture so much that not consuming it has become somewhat blasphemous. Have any of us actually thought to take a second out and think why we eat what we eat?No, we haven’t. Because is has been handed down to us by our parents and grandparents, people we call our forefathers. It has become our culture within a couple of generations when in fact our grandparents might have been the first generation to have seen white bread and biscuits.
Every time I mention it to someone that I’m gluten intolerant I get a knee jerk reaction saying ‘Nothing will happen just eat it. Your body knows what to do. It’ll get used to it. You have been eating chapatti all your life how can you suddenly not be okay with it?’ To all the people who ask me this, HOW will my body know what to do? You may forget what you ate last night for dinner but the body never forgets. It still remembers the nose your forefather had possibly 8 generations back and you have the same nose. I am a south Indian and couldn’t be more south Indian genetically. How can I expect my body to know what to do with a grain which itself has modified over thousands of years but came to my land only a few hundred years ago when it still hasn’t forgotten that nose? It’s time we all find out roots by finding what we are and were made of. Get closer to who you are and what truly does or doesn’t belong going into that body of yours. Try and really celebrate where you come from and not where you think you come from. Go track that nose!