A new year brings new resolutions, and for many of us, that includes focusing on our health goals. But a few days in, we find ourselves slipping back into old habits. The shiny new calendar turns into a daunting reminder of how quickly we have given up. What if the calendar itself inspired us to incorporate healthy ingredients on our plates? The Forgotten Foods Calendar 2021, brought out by organic collective Sahaja Samrudha in collaboration with NABARD, does just that.
The calendar is edited by Meenakshi Boopathi, an IT professional who is also the brain behind the Forgotten Foods Facebook page. ‚ÄúThis is something that I‚Äôm deeply passionate about. There is so much diversity around us, but because people are not aware, they fail to reap the benefits of these less-known foods,‚ÄĚ she says over a phone conversation.
The Forgotten Foods Calendar has been divided into five categories ‚Äď edible flowers, fruits and seeds, remedial leaves, stems, roots and tubers. ‚ÄúWe wanted to highlight the fact that every part of a plant is edible, which is why we have divided the calendar in this manner,‚ÄĚ Meenakshi explains. The pages unveil a dizzying world of food options like the Agati flowers (Agase huuvu), Butterfly pea (Shanka pushpa), Glue berry or Lasura (Challe hannu), Chicken weed purslane (Goni soppu), Palm shoots (Thaale kalale) and Purple yams (Ratalu). Along with images, a brief explanation educates the reader about the benefits of consuming the food. The bilingual calendar provides information in Kannada and English.
Butterfly pea flower
Although Meenakshi launched her Facebook page in 2019, she has been championing diversity on the plate for several years. ‚ÄúI come from a family where food is very important. We have lived in many cities across the country. In every place, my parents went out of their way to find traditional ingredients and cook meals using them,‚ÄĚ she says. The realisation hit her when she began working. The contents of her lunchbox were widely discussed, and her colleagues began requesting recipes. ‚ÄúI‚Äôd write down recipes and names of ingredients for my friends and colleagues. I was surprised to see that so many people were looking for this information, which is why I decided to document it for a wider audience," she adds.
Apart from descriptions, the Forgotten Foods Calendar also lists five recipes, one for each category, contributed by individuals working in the conservation space. SR Syam Kumar of Ambadi Goshala, an organisation in Kerala‚Äôs Pattazhy that works towards protecting indigenous cows, shared the recipe for an Arrowroot halwa. ‚ÄúOur ancestors had deep knowledge about food and its constituents. What we eat today is so far removed from that. We need to understand that our food habits also influence those from the next generation. We need to set an example for them by reviving traditional foods,‚ÄĚ says Syam.
Food-focused calendars are a part of Sahaja Samrudha‚Äôs ongoing efforts to help people expand their plates. In the past years, their calendars have focused on millets, traditional rice varieties, and roots and tubers. ‚ÄúIndia‚Äôs agrobiodiversity is so vast and varied. There are many individuals, farmers and organisations working to preserve nature‚Äôs bounty. Unless consumers adopt these different ingredients, they will not be able to sustain their efforts,‚ÄĚ says G Krishna Prasad of Sahaja Samrudha.
Sahaja Samrudha has been working on several initiatives to build awareness about indigenous foods among urban consumers. On their website, one can find the rice and millet diversity maps of Karnataka, which showcase traditional varieties across districts in the state. Recently, the organisation also conducted a ‚ÄėRoots and Tuber‚Äô mela in Mysuru. ‚ÄúThe calendar merely scratches the surface. We want to encourage people to rediscover their food culture and see changes on the plate,‚ÄĚ Krishna Prasad adds.
Last year, food designer Akash Muralidharan started a 100-day project ‚Äď the Cook and See Challenge ‚Äď to find out why many of the vegetables mentioned in S Meenakshi Ammal‚Äôs timeless cookbook Samaithu Paar (Cook and See) are no longer found in Indian kitchens. While researching for the project, Akash sent out a list of vegetables to his neighbours asking them to select the ones they used several times in a week. Based on his limited survey, he found that the commonly used vegetables were the usual suspects ‚Äď carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, onions and beans.
This is exactly what Meenakshi is hoping to change through the calendar and her Facebook page. ‚ÄúI remember posting a video about Chicken weed purslane, and someone reached out to thank me for the information. The plant grew profusely in his garden, but he never thought of using the leaves for cooking,‚ÄĚ she shares.
Krishna Prasad weighs in and adds that despite being easy to grow and rich in nutrients, traditional ingredients are ignored. Beyond cabbage, carrots and cauliflower, there is a treasure trove of ingredients waiting for people to experience. The Forgotten Foods Calendar team hopes that people are inspired to dive into this scrumptious world.
Sharmila Vaidyanathan is a freelance writer based in Bangalore. Her articles have appeared in Scroll, The Better India, The Goya Journal, Nature in Focus and other publications.