Vijayaragavan Viswanathan, a scientist with the European Organization for Nuclear Research, resides in the Czech Republic, but he’s no stranger to his native land’s agrarian woes. Growing up in southern India, Viswanathan saw firsthand how limited access to education and basic crop information kept many farmers locked in a cycle of low productivity and poverty. To combat this situation—and capitalize on the fact that India, a nation with 1.2 billion citizens, now has almost a billion mobile subscribers—he developed SmartAgri, an app that communicates with underground sensors to deliver easy-to-understand data, such as soil moisture and mineral levels, to farmers’ mobile devices.
India is in the midst of a war of sorts — a war over eggs. To eat them, or not to eat them. Actually, it’s more about whether the government should give free eggs to poor, malnourished children.
It all began in late May, when Shivraj Chouhan, the chief minister of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, shot down a proposal to serve eggs in government-run day care centers (anganwadis) in some tribal areas.
These communities have high rates of malnutrition, says Sachin Jain, a local food-rights activist in the state. “The idea behind the proposal was to address the gap in protein deficiency through … eggs,” he says…
No one within memory in his family, extended clan or village had reached 100. Determined to get there himself, he cut down on the yolks in the raw eggs he swallows daily for breakfast, took extra care on his daily four-mile walk to the local Hindu temple and started planning for a party the likes of which few here (or anywhere, for that matter) have ever seen.
Early in January, Mr. Chettiar celebrated his century, and threw open the doors to his pillared ancestral house in this remote village in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, to what appeared to be every person he had ever met — about 7,500 of them.
I recently spent two weeks in Bangalore, India doing research viagra online 50mg on geographical indications and on the food industry in one of the global IT capitals of the world. More about that in the coming weeks, but when I was there, I could not help but be intrigued by recurring news in the newspapers and on TV about the unexpected surge in the price of onions. The widespread coverage and the heated discussions surrounding the issue prove its enormous relevance in Indian politics.
Due to a bad crop in Maharasthra and excessive rain in Karnataka in southern India, by mid September, onions were sold at 80-82 rupees per kilo (more or less US $0.70 per pound) at the greengrocer’s, while the wholesale price hovered around 60 rupees (about US$ 0.50 per pound). In the past five years, the wholesale price has oscillated between 25 and 45 rupees per kilo, with a sudden peak in 2008 at 55, according to the Times of India. Many outside India would think that onions are not such a fundamental staple that a price increase would cause such a stir. It would be easy to discount the onions as basically cheap and the difference just as a matter of cents.
However, the onion is one of the most prevalent ingredients in many Indian cuisines, especially considering that a considerable segment of the population is vegetarian (although those following sattvic principles — as we will see in a future post — consume neither onion nor garlic). There are reports that some restaurants are slightly changing their dishes in order to make room for the swollen price of the vegetable. And the spike is likely to put a serious dent in their food budget of many poor families, raising fears of inflation.
Opposition parties such as the BJP (the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party) are taking stock of the weather vagaries and the unusually abundant rains during the monsoon, but nonetheless they are using this sensitive issue to blame the present government and the Indian National Congress party of corruption and mismanagement. As elections for the lower house of the national parliament will take place in May 2014, the clamor about food prices is much more likely to influence a large part of the citizenry compared to the slowing economy, the falling rupee, and a high current account deficit, which more directly affect the burgeoning middle class.
There are precedents to these debates. In 1980 Indira Gandhi managed to dominate the 1980 elections for the lower house by riding on the discontent among citizens about the soaring prices of, precisely, onions. Some even attribute the 1998 defeat of the BJP in Delhi to a spike in the price of onions. It is a widespread opinion that a government that is not able to control crop prices, especially for the most modest and common foods, should not guide the nation. The argument is even stronger after the passage of a food security bill in September that subsidizes wheat and rice for around 800 million people — a measure spearheaded by the Congress party that many criticized as a ruse to increase its chances of reelection and a nail in the coffin for the rupee.
Whatever the political backlash, the law is an important step towards food justice in a country were many are still hungry or undernourished, in particular the farmers that are suffering from the corporatization of the agricultural sector (especially in terms of seed availability), state control over prices of food crops, and a complex chain of exploitative intermediaries between the farmers and the consumers. In the heated pre-electoral climate, and with food at the center of the economic and social disputes, it was inevitable that the humble but inescapable onion would make her appearance again on the political horizon.
Fabio Parasecoli is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of Food Studies at the School of Undergraduate Studies for The New School for Public Engagement. He also a Senior Editor of The Inquisitive Eater, and regular contributor to The Huffington Post.
Wine lovers and even absolute amateurs have recently been getting invites for the craziest pairings in town. In Mumbai, the Cheesecake and Wine Wednesday by Sula is just one of the many occasions when connoisseurs and actual walk-in customers are egged on to pair their wine with a cheesecake. All in a bid to grow the nascent wine industry.
Ritu Mathur poked the soil in the potted plants and flowerbeds of her garden filled with organic vegetables and fruits. “Snails!” she exclaimed — before finishing, “are a problem.” Getting rid of pests can be the biggest challenge in organic farming, which is done entirely without pesticides or insecticides. Mathur uses pheromone traps and sticky traps as well as a garlic and red chili paste to get rid of the bugs. Still, rats can be a menace. So why go through all this trouble? For Mathur, it’s been a lifelong dream to spend her time growing flowers and vegetables. So five years ago, she left her cushy job as a designer in a multinational corporation, her world for 15 years, and started Upvan, an enterprise that teaches people living in urban areas to do organic farming.
Cattle rustling, called “lifting” here, is a growing scourge in New Delhi, as increasingly affluent Indians develop a taste for meat, even the flesh of cows, which are considered sacred in Hinduism. The police say they have increased patrols and set up roadblocks in an effort to stop the trafficking. In some cases, officers have infiltrated gangs in hopes of catching them in the act. But the brutal kidnappings continue, and the victims — scrawny cows, which are slowly losing their sacred status among some in India — are slaughtered and sold for meat and leather.
There are two kinds of people when it comes to tattoos: those who have them and those who don’t. It’s that simple. Those who don’t have tattoos either don’t want one or can’t decide on their chosen ink. Some are reluctant because of the impending pain, some fear social repercussions and a majority are just unsure of the design that would become a permanent feature. I was a member of this group until a humble porcine being became an integral part of my life in Italy.
The pig plays a fundamental role in Italian gastronomic culture. The country, perhaps, makes the widest range of products from a single culling. Every part is revered, evident in the sheer variety of cured meats turned out by artisanal and large scale producers; culatello from the hind leg, capocallo from the shoulder, pancetta from the belly and guanciale from the cheeks. Pork fat, called lardo, derived from the back, effuses a meaty richness to any frugal dish transforming it instantly into a symphony on the palate. Then there are the ubiquitous ribs and loin or peculiar feet (zampone) cooked on the grill or in stews and braises. Every portion tastes better than the other.
These cuts support my belief in using the whole pig. With an increase in household incomes, consumers are buying costlier cuts of meat, typically found in top restaurants. The rate at which my friendsconsume tenderloin is both alarming and disturbing. But I question, isn’t it disrespectful to slay an animal just for a single need? It’s a similar perspective with ivory to elephants and fins to sharks. A few of my favourite chefs share a similar affinity for pigs. Chef Fergus Henderson of St. John’s restaurant in London and Chef Andreas Dahlberg of the Bastard restaurant in Malmo are tireless crusaders of the nose to tail culinary philosophy, currently inspiring a new generation of carnivores to indulge in offal and entrails.
The location of my tattoo, on the lower rib cage, raised a few eyebrows and even more questions. Did it hurt? Are you crazy? Didn’t the needles sting you every time they reverberated over your ribs? The answer to all of the above is yes. But pain can be viewed as a positive feeling. Pain, in this context reminded me of how fragile life is, a part of being mortal just like the animals we enjoy eating. Call it sadistic or a triumph of empathy, but I wanted to feel a smidgen of the suffering felt by a pig as its death knell resounds midst its squeals. And the location close to my food friendly stomach was quite serendipitous.
The parts of the pig were written in Italian on the tattoo. This would ensure a lasting memory of the wonderful country – its language, the culture, the people, an incredible family of friends and life I have enjoyed. The words remind me of every slice of focaccia I have savoured with a cup of steaming espresso, each glass of prosecco had post work at aperitivo and platefuls of risotto with rivulets of unfiltered olive oil and an abundance of parmiggiano reggiano.
The tattoo was also an endeavour to help support local farmers, artisans and entrepreneurs. This piece of art was created by a local artist Elia (post consultation with a local butcher called Marco) who in the process of creating a customised work of food art has now reached out to over 500 students of my former university and even more gastronomes.
Lastly, every time I see myself in the mirror, the tattoo is a reminder of the moment I made a decision and stood by it. It resurrects the strength I have, the pain I can endure, the endless possibilities and beauty that lies beyond.
The humble pig may not be able to speak like Babe but it shows me the path to stay inspired each day and speak on its behalf to the food generation of today… or maybe until my next food tattoo.
Kunal Chandra is a recovering spice addict who has recently received a Masters in Food Culture and Communications in Italy and traversed the gastronomic pathways of Europe. He is back in India now on his latest culinary adventure. View his work at www.kunalchandra.com.
From food culture in 800BCE to the present day, this week’s episode of A Taste of the Past will take you there. With the help of New School professor of food studies, Fabio Parasecoli, host Linda Pelaccio takes you on a world tour of food globalization throughout major world time periods. Parasecoli, who has also edited an encyclopedic 6-volume tome on the subject– A Cultural History of Food— discusses the rise of food scholarship in major learning institutes around the world as well how food, not just eating, is taking an ever-expanding presence in every aspect of daily life. This episode is sponsored by Fairway Market
“Food has become very important in social and political debates. So my question is were those debates already there at the Roman times, what happened in the middle ages? For example, is the family meal really an institution or did we create it 100 years ago and we just pretend its been there forever?”
“What do you get when seven Indian guys who work in the music industry pile in a van? It sounds like the build up to a joke, but when the seven guys in question are Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend), Vijay Iyer (Vijay Iyer Trio), Ashok Kondabolu (Das Racist), Alan Palomo (Neon Indian), Amrit Singh (Stereogum), Himanshu Suri (Das Racist), Anand Wilder (Yeasayer) and they are on the road looking for the best dosa in New York City, you know this is serious business.”