Why slow food should get a round of applause

DIET PLAN

Why slow food should get a round of applause

There was a time in the not so dim distant past when you never saw a fat kid in Asia. Now they are bulging out of their low-slung hipster jeans from Bangkok to Bangalore. It’s distressing to say the least, especially when for me India is the gastronomic capital of the science of healthy eating and longevity. The Indian diet is a perfect blend of science and sublime taste. Every spice has some medicinal or preventative or balancing quality. It’s very difficult for me as a Westerner to follow what is called a Western diet in India. First of all, it’s insanely expensive; then it takes a long time to cook; and then it never seems to work with the environment or the season. Also, it makes me fat.

Obesity, usually seen as a quintessentially Western phenomenon, is fast becoming a major health problem in developing nations such as India, where economic advancement is rapidly changing lifestyles. Studies show that 17 per cent of Indian children are overweight or obese and are potential candidates for type-2 diabetes.

About 17 per cent of 2,000 teenagers living in New Delhi, aged 14 to 18, recently surveyed by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) were obese or overweight, suggesting prevalence above a global average of 15 per cent for all children. While lack of exercise and the so-called “thrifty” gene, which seems to be a reason for Indian children to carry more body fat than the average Western child, are also contributors to these statistics, if you see a fat kid in India, he is more likely to be a city child, wealthy and showing a preference for the fast food outlets of the West.

Not that the Western diet is any good for Western children either. Western kids are already suffering from obesity and diabetes, ADHD and premature onset adolescence. All of these health issues are linked to a diet that is high in preservatives, hormone-fed or genetically modified-corn fed meat and “other additives” or controlled food substances. Now, if a food contains something that needs to be controlled by an outside agency, then it isn’t a food I want to feed the people I love. It isn’t even food actually.

Indian kids who previously gnawed happily on sugar cane for years, without even knowing that it could be refined to such a degree that it robbed local farmers of water and went through a whole lot of processing to deliver them with something that doesn’t taste as good as the original humble sugar cane, are now falling prey to modern diseases such as diabetes at an alarming rate.

In a fast food restaurant in Delhi recently I watched a pair of grandparents treating their grandchild to a burger. The grandparents were not even drinking a cup of coffee, but watched with faint horror at the speed in which the ‘meal’ disappeared into the rapidly expanding jowls of their beloved child.

The only way to deal with this is to give the kids so much junk food that the child’s own good sense and taste buds revolt. Kids are usually much smarter than we think.
As a grandparent myself I know this to be the proof of the pudding. Whenever my grandchildren come to stay with me, they will turn their noses up at any offer of fast food and insist instead that we cook our meals. In fact, they often arrive with the weekend’s menu already prepared in their minds.

The reason these kids prefer good old fashioned home cooking is three-fold. First of all, there is engaging with the food and deciding the menu based on vegetables available in the garden or at the farmers’ market. While we are doing that it’s a good opportunity to discuss seasonal food and why it’s better to eat spinach out of the garden than out-of-season food frozen or flown to the market.

Then, there is the taste of fresh food which simply can’t be beat and any foodie worth their weight is going to tell you that Slow Food is the new fast food; it’s better for the health, the soul and the heart.

Finally, there is that taste which no fast food establishment is ever going to be able to recreate and that’s the taste of love. It’s the reason you can copy your mother’s recipe for palaak paneer and never quite capture the same taste. Love is the nebulous, nefarious essential ingredient of any meal and that’s something I was taught in India.

But then India is the land of extreme contrasts. While figures suggest that obesity and type 2 diabetes are a growing concern for Indian children, there are still kids starving to death or seriously malnourished in villages. Or grain rotting in storage houses while kids go hungry. The gap between rich and poor in India is growing as fast as the waistline of India’s urban adolescents.  If you want to talk about food combination, then that’s some pretty heavy food karma going on right there. So, the next time you want to take your kid to a burger joint for a treat then think of this: you would be doing them a bigger favour if you made them run behind the car on the journey there and back!

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