…we need to go back to our grandparents, re-examine their lives as a whole and then try reconstructing our own on those very principles that pervaded theirs.

Besides politics, these days the next issue which is being talked on, diligently discussed, argued about and fought over for finality, is food. Every day, you will come across articles, messages, videos, advertisements, and whatnot, about the way you should deal with your gut. Be it something as understandable as managing your bowel movements or something as incomprehensible as the workings of the solar plexus, some information or the other is being served up perpetually. Then again, most of the knowledge that is gained is contradicted with a new set of ideas and guidance even before one has properly taken to it. Mind you, each time it is said to be supported by more advanced scientific research and even further delving into the Ayurveda and other systems of medicine. And so, what happens to a person like me? I am left baffled and bothered wondering which advice will assist me in cracking the code to becoming a healthier and happier self.

Before I ventilate my feelings about today’s preposterous obsession with food, I would urge you to reflect upon the quintessential nature of it. Fundamentally, food is any substance that is required by a body to keep it alive. Growth, sustenance, and repair are the prime functions that are facilitated by the intake of food. Yes, it is that simple. Yet we have made it so complex an aspect of our lives that it seems that the purpose itself is defeated. On the contrary, if we look into the lives of our grandparents and their previous generations, we’ll see that they were perfectly content with the rudimentary use of food. They never considered fretting about it. As cliche as it might sound, they would “eat to live” and not “live to eat.” To this day, the less privileged classes (say, for instance, a farmer or a porter), who do not have any access to such evolutionary nature and innovative role of food, eat the simplest and live the longest.

Right now, food is no longer food. It’s humility and spread seems to have shrunk in the showiness and constricted character of something called A Diet. Unlike the all-embracing essence of food, a diet restricts one to the few and the chosen. On top of that, there are so many types of diets. One of the trendiest diets currently is The Paleo Diet. It is primarily based on the elimination of sugar and dairy, the two certified villains in the food scene. Processed foods, grains and legumes are also knocked off from this kind of dietary regimen. Another one, which is fast gaining popularity is The Vegan Diet. It calls for no consumption of meat or any animal products. There are controversial diets as well. The Dukan Diet or The Atkins Diet might be successful for some while speculative for many. And who doesn’t know about the Keto Diet? It sure has assumed a celebrity status by now. It’s a high-fat, low-carb, no-sugar diet and one has to be too rigid to reap the desired results. But with so much compartmentalization of food, how is it even possible to enjoy it, an experience essential for its appropriate assimilation. And if you haven’t had enough of diets, you could fancy The Cabbage Soup Diet, The Lemon Detox Diet, The HCG Diet and so on. Believe it or not, there is a Baby Food Diet too, popularized by the American actress Jennifer Aniston (remember the sitcom, Friends?) but it was soon slammed as unsustainable.

Of all the dieticians I get to hear and read about, the leading Indian nutrition expert, Rujuta Diwekar appeals the most to me. Her plain and holistic approach to food and eating is understandable and workable. Her emphasis on certain easily accessible food items and very simple habits actually reminds me of my grandmother, what she ate and how she lived.

An ordinary day would start with Thakuma (Bengali for grandmother) getting up early, performing her ablution and settling down for her morning prayers and meditation. It was only after she was done with those rituals that she would break her fast. A ‘ghoti’ (brass pot) of water and then a portion of the ‘prasad’ (offerings to God), which was a fruit and sometimes a sweet, usually made of jaggery, was her first meal. She would then cook her own food, a hassle-free, undemanding meal comprising rice and vegetables. Always the seasonal and local ones. Once in a while, when she would feel a little lazy, she would toss everything into a bowl and let it simmer. The aroma and flavors of the resulting concoction were irresistible. A generous helping of ghee and a sautéed tomato would invariably accompany her lunch each day. She would have this meal sitting on the floor, cross-legged and not uttering a single word during its course. Ah, I couldn’t do that for a day! She also had her meals in brass utensils, which she insisted on cleaning up after she was done. Her days would roll by, filled with activity and animation, and never did sickness dampen her spirit. Dinners would be early though she was a night owl (she loved watching movies)! It would be just a glass of milk and a mini bowl of puffed rice on the side. At times, she would relish a ‘Sandesh’ (an Indian dessert) along with it. Needless to say, my grandmother lived a no-leftover, no-microwave, no-refrigerator and yes, a no-medicine life. She missed the centenarian mark by just a little less than a year. I’m sure she was as disappointed about it as we were! Hardly did I know then that my grandmother was effortlessly doing all that we doggedly aspire towards but desperately fail to achieve — eating healthy and living right.

Ah, I think you didn’t notice this. My grandmother was fasting all along. 14 to 16 hours on a daily basis and two times for the whole day in a month. Now that is the new thing that is being talked about, right? Intermittent Fasting, which means not eating anything for a span of 12 to 16 hours. Presently it is being deemed as the only means of absolute detoxification and cellular purification. But as the famous modern-day guru, Sadhguru, rightly points out, fasting, intermittent fasting or for that matter any other name that we attach to the practice, had already been an intrinsic part of the Indian gastronomy since time immemorial.

We had deviated from that way of living (and of course eating) consciously or otherwise over a significant span of time. And now that the result of such choices has proved detrimental, even disastrous, we are coming up with what-we-believe-new foods, ways of eating and lifestyles to correct the health losses that we have invariably incurred. At this juncture, let’s face two facts. One, all that is hyped as the up-to-the-minute addition to the, let’s call it, ‘stomach script’ dates back to ancient times. Two, the diseases that we have evolved due to the tremendous transformation in our traditional circumstances are not only difficult to reckon with but have had an epidemic effect on people and populations. So as of now, the ideal option is to uncomplicate the most elemental act of life — eating.

To do that we need to go back to our grandparents, re-examine their lives as a whole and then try reconstructing our own on those very principles that pervaded theirs. While we do that, we could keep in mind the hearty suggestions of the renowned cardiologist and author Dr B. M. Hegde, who is noted for debunking many myths associated with medicine, health, and eating. “Listen to your body… What you eat is the least important… Fat is not bad… Physiologically humans are vegetarians… Don’t overeat and eat only when you are hungry… Exercise, relaxation and having friends are integral to good health.” So let’s just practice gastronomical gratitude and believe in our body to do the best.

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