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Disappearing foods – Can we save them or….?

“Innumerable varieties of native fruits and leafy vegetables found in different parts of India are becoming rare on dinner tables. We should make efforts to revive them for a more varied and nutritious food basket.”

While visiting Kamrup district in Assam where the Centre for Microfinance and Livelihoods was implementing a project to enhance tribal livelihoods, Sanjiv Phansalkar saw a a number of yellow-red fruits lying on the ground, in the backyard of a Rabha tribal family.

In the yard, I suddenly saw a number of yellow-red fruits lying on the ground. When I enquired, they brought a raw, green fruit. It was very tasty, with a mild sweet and sour taste. I had never seen it before. Locally called kordir, I was told that this fruit is formally known as star fruit.

On enquiring, he was further told that the fruit called Kamranga in Kolkata (or starfruit) was greatly prized across the east and commanded handsome prices. However, sadly, there it was rotting in a backyard in Kamrup.

On asking why it isn’t sold he got the typical answer one hears in Assam and North East — the fruit had a short shelf life and transport was so difficult that traders thought it could not be profitably sold and so there was no market for it.

It is these seasonal and local delicacies that Sanjiv laments the loss of, all across the country. From roselle (ambadi, gongura) to lingad (fiddlehead ferns) to kachnar (Bahunia), these once regularly eaten, extremely valued delicacies are becoming unknown.

Says he, “I remembered my colleague piloting a small project a few years earlier for giving saplings of bahunia plant (also called kachnar) to tribal families in Central India. It seems that this plant grows as a large trees and the tree gets new leaves in summer. Young leaves make an excellent vegetable and one day I suddenly saw the bahunia leaves (known also as kachnar) in the local market in Gumla town in Jharkhand.”

I remembered my colleague piloting a small project a few years earlier for giving saplings of bahunia plant (also called kachnar) to tribal families in Central India. It seems that this plant grows as a large trees and the tree gets new leaves in summer. Young leaves make an excellent vegetable and one day I suddenly saw the bahunia leaves (known also as kachnar) in the local market in Gumla town in Jharkhand.

Still several years earlier, roaming in tribal farms in the then Bharuch district in Gujarat, I had seen and enquired about bright red leaves of a shrub growing on its own in the cotton or tuwar plots of farmers. Upon enquiry, it turned out to be ambadi (or roselle) and it occurred to me how my mother used to make and we all relished a preparation of ambadi mixed with chickpea dough and garnished with garlic, to be eaten with jowar bhakri.

If a city dweller, Anglophone person like me can cite five examples of such trees and plants, which had great uses and applications once but have dropped out of attention, clearly there are many more. When one searches information on them, one sees that many of them, for example bahunia, has high nutrient content or have strong medicinal value. And yet they are going out of usage.”

“Why are they vanishing from our lives, our tables and our food basket? Can they not be revived and brought to their pristine positions? I can only speculate about why such plants and their uses are falling into obscurity.”

 

About the Author

Sanjiv Phansalkar is associated closely with Transform Rural India Foundation. He was earlier a faculty member at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). Phansalkar is a fellow of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad. The views expressed are his own. 

Photo by Chris Schärer

 

This feature is based upon an article written by Sanjiv Phansalkar for the magazine VillageSquare.in. You can read the original feature here.

 

 

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