My overwhelming love for food relates to its infinite capacity to nurture us, both physically and emotionally. While we must all engage in the act of consuming food in order to live, we do so for so many more reasons. We love food because it is tasty, it makes us feel good, allows us to share special times with the people we care about and connect with others across languages and cultures. Cooking and eating together was one of the first forms of inter-personal communication and to this day there is no better joy than sitting around a kitchen table eating with those we love.
In the year since starting Spice Mama, my interest in how food impacts our physical and emotional wellbeing has intensified. What began as a project to honour and to celebrate my grandmother’s memory through cooking and eating the food she cooked and ate, has become a much larger enquiry into the physical and emotional connections and interconnections we all have to food.
From a physical wellbeing perspective, cooking traditional Indian food from the recipes I have inherited over the years has strengthened my belief that cooking, eating and the cultural practices of the past still have much to offer. For hundreds of years in Indian families, these practices were passed forward from grandmothers to mothers to daughters, ancient knowledge of spices, of the optimum ways to consume food.
Food was sourced locally, bought fresh, eaten according to the seasons and filled with as many ingredients of good health as possible. For these generations, food was the most accessible and affordable form of medicine there was. The spices in the family masala dabba had many uses beyond flavouring food… turmeric to cure a sore throat and heal wounds, cumin to help with digestion, cinnamon to help regulate blood sugar, mustards seeds to reduce inflammation.
Today, returning to a diet rich in a variety of seasonal, unprocessed, real ingredients, micronutrients and phytonutrients has so many benefits, and science is unlocking new information about the health-giving properties of a number of traditional Indian ingredients all the time.
In an age where food, especially modern, processed food, is making us sick, we are finally returning to the realisation that food can make us well instead. The spices my family have used for centuries in their cooking can fight inflammation, oxidation and bacteria in the body, all of which are to some degree responsible for a multitude of chronic diseases of the modern age: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer.
As Michael Pollen writes in his excellent book, ‘In Defense of Food’ , “the specific combinations of foods in a cuisine and the ways they are prepared constitute a deep reservoir of accumulated wisdom about diet and healthy and place.”
While modern medicine has developed to deal effectively with many of humanity's chronic diseases, it is in this 'deep reservoir of accumulated wisdom' that many answers can still be found. In the midst of an obesity epidemic, a crisis of fast food availability, an over-medicated population, it just makes sense to me to look to a simpler time, when people just cooked and ate good food.
I am passionate about maintaining the traditional cooking skills, recipes and practices of my family and sharing them with others, in the knowledge this isn’t an exercise of past nostalgia, but future thinking.