‘You are what you eat’ is an adage that is mentioned in conversations surrounding health and fitness. There’s a clear wave of wellness that’s emerged in the post-pandemic world, but consuming avocados by the smoothie and herbs flown in from the South of France doesn’t exactly scream mindfulness. Le Mill spoke to Prerna Garg of A Dialogue, and Thomas Zacharias, Chef and founder of The Locavore on the intrinsic tie between honouring ecosystems and eating better.
How would you describe the work you do?
Thomas Zacharias: The Locavore is not just a platform; it's a movement that's centred around the idea of Doing Good Through Food in India. Through our work, we are working towards fostering a conscious and sustainable approach to food consumption, production, and appreciation. The platform also forms purposeful partnerships with conscious producers through its #TLPartner program, promoting transparency and ethical practices. The Locavore is dedicated to creating tangible impact through projects like the Millet Revival Project and the Worli Koliwada Project, envisioning a future where food becomes a catalyst for positive change.
Prerna Garg: ‘A Dialogue’ stands for precious traditional ecological knowledge that we built from centuries around nature and food. In the ever changing landscape of culture, traditions and ecological context. We initiate the conversation for our future. ‘A Dialogue’ takes its inspiration from the people living close to nature, from the memories of food, and preparations from the past. It is our commitment to conserve human-nature connect, oral history and culture of food through translational research, innovation and implementing ideas along with the custodians of the knowledge.
Why is food conservation increasingly becoming important?
TZ: Food conservation carries profound significance in the Indian context. Our culinary heritage is deeply rooted in respect for resources and minimal wastage. However, the urgency of food conservation goes beyond tradition. In a nation where climate change's impacts are felt acutely, erratic weather patterns, water scarcity, and crop failures threaten food security. The monsoons that once brought abundance are now unpredictable, affecting farmers and agriculture. The rural-urban divide becomes stark as climate-induced challenges push more people to the fringes of survival.
Conserving food isn't just a moral imperative; it's a necessity to ensure that every citizen has access to sustenance. It's about preserving the dignity of those who toil to produce our food. By reducing wastage and valuing resources, we contribute to a more resilient society and mitigate the human impact of climate change.
PG: Food conservation needs to be defined better in the present context. Today’s food system is a dialogue that has been built over centuries and has been passed on. This conversation is layered with beliefs, experiences, and knowledge and is mostly conserved as the oral tradition. Mankind has survived many adversities and built this ecological knowledge and defined the present food system. Food conservation (folk varieties-also called land races of rice, millets, indigenous native ingredients, seasonal fruits, berries, tubers etc.) needs to be talked about as a part of ecological conservation.
In the past few centuries, we have progressed but also faced the challenges of biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, mono-culture agriculture, climate change, poverty, hunger, malnourishment and loss of identity. Food conservation is an important link that can help us conserve better and provide a holistic solution.
How does restaurant culture impact natural ecosystems?
TZ: The burgeoning restaurant culture in India is not just a culinary phenomenon; it's a reflection of societal changes, economic growth, and evolving lifestyles. With urban India experiencing increased affluence, eating out has become more than a mere necessity – it's an experience, a trend, and a status symbol. However, as restaurant culture gains prominence, its impact on our ecosystems and food systems cannot be ignored.
Urbanisation and rising disposable incomes have fuelled the demand for a diverse range of foods, often sourced from different regions and even countries. This has direct consequences for our environment and local agriculture. Unsustainable sourcing practices, driven by the pursuit of exotic ingredients, can lead to over exploitation, poor farming practices, overfishing, and carbon emissions from transportation.
Furthermore, the influence of chefs and restaurants extends beyond the dining table. They have become trendsetters in the realm of food habits. What's served on their menus often shapes public perceptions of what's desirable, fashionable, and culturally relevant. This influence is powerful, impacting not only consumers but also local food producers. When chefs prioritise certain ingredients or sustainable practices, it sends a ripple effect throughout the food supply chain.
PG: Eating out has been a way to exchange culture and experiences with others. It has changed the way people think and consume. Restaurant culture is a reflection of the food culture of society, and it depicts a lot. What gets consumed in restaurants is not only aspirational but also a reflection of one’s identity. It can be a reflection of our vast biodiversity, ecological knowledge and the way we treat it and this phenomenon we are observing in nordic countries. I have a belief that an evolved society would respect its diverse ecology and also bring this knowledge to its plate. Even when we are at a cross junction of development, food culture (inside and outside of the home) can be an inspiration to design a tasteful, resourceful, responsible, and nurturing future.
If you could encourage individuals to change one thing about their consumption patterns what would it be?
TZ: It would be to cultivate awareness and make informed decisions. By staying informed about the source of our food, how it's produced, and the impact of our choices, we can gradually implement small but meaningful adjustments. These adjustments can range from opting for products with eco-friendly packaging to supporting local businesses or farmers directly, or even making mindful choices about the food we consume. It's the accumulation of these conscious choices that can lead to a brighter and more sustainable future for ourselves and the planet.
PG: I would encourage individuals to eat local, diverse and seasonal food and be more aware of what (surrounding ecology, season, people, history) has made that food arrive on their plate.