Our lifestyle choices are the exact opposite of what’s required for a healthy body and the change needs to start with the use of local, seasonal produce and restricting the intake of processed foods. These were the words of Chef Tarun Sibal as he sat down for a chat with Ayushi Sharma.
Given livestock, certain foods won’t last beyond 2030-50 as predicted by Lancet, how do we change food culture to make sustainable choices?
This situation has become alarming. We need to go back to the consumption of local produce. The focus on westernised diets which are based on three crop varieties and an overconsumption of meat needs to be tackled. Refined sugars, saturated fats, dairy are areas where the restrictive approach can work in our favour. We will also need to inhibit wastefulness as a habit.
What are the challenges to a sustainable food culture in India?
The sheer size and diversity of the country presents a huge challenge in terms of food. Indian food culture is an amalgamation of varied food interpretations. Sustainable culture will need education for the farmer and evolution of the consumer at various levels of the economy.
In what way do we need to change the way we eat, given our lifestyle choices?
It can only start with the understanding that we need to make a change, so awareness is the key. Our lifestyle choices are the exact opposite of what’s required for a healthy body and mind. Hence the intake becomes the most important aspect we can work on. As I said, it will start with the use of local and seasonal produce. And by restricting the intake of processed food options.
As the population grows and yields get squeezed, a growing number of farmers are switching to practices that conserve resources and at the same time are more productive. What do you have to say about the native crops that India has stopped growing?
It’s a shame that we end up lapping what the West brings us with respect to super foods. We have always had abundance in terms of produce that is good for you. From ghee to barley, millet to coconut, moringa to rosella. We have it all. We need to make all of this mainstream and enhance its usage. We also have to create suitable demand and maintain a healthy rate of supply.
What do you have to say about the current food culture in India?
We have a head start when it comes to sustainable food culture as a major chunk of the Indian population is vegetarian. By focusing on grains, legume, pulses, vegetables and fruits, the balance of the food ecosystem is maintained. But with an increase in the urban population that centres around a western diet, this balance is shifting.
Has Indian cuisine made a mark on the global palate? Is it being appreciated by connoisseurs and the masses adequately?
You will be surprised if I tell you that Indian cuisine is classified as a heritage one by the UN, with Mexico and China being the other two countries with the same status. We have been eating the same for ages. Indian cuisine is a feast as it’s rich, varied, seasonal and has all the elements that ensure that it is appreciated across the globe. International chefs have opened up to Indian cuisine and Indian chefs have started using global techniques while working with ingredients and flavours from the country. Indian chefs have made huge efforts in making the food look delectable.
Food preferences are subjective. Some may like a dish and some won’t. How do you deal with negative criticism to your cooking?
I rather call it feedback. And no one can please everyone. But each guest is important and we try to match his/her expectations.
What is the biggest thing you stand for and support as a chef?
Kitchens are high stress ecosystems and chefs are burning out. I stand for creating an environment that’s less taxing and is built on camaraderie and balance. My food logic is simple. I make the familiar exciting and the unfamiliar approachable. Having said that, seasonality, tastefullness and balance of flavours play a vital role.
Writer: Ayushi Sharma
Courtesy: The Pioneer