A book series by the Centre for Science and Environment explores links between food and biodiversity

In Future of Taste, learn about climate change’s impact on food production, alongside traditional recipes from across India

Updated - April 29, 2024 03:24 pm IST

Published - April 29, 2024 02:25 pm IST

Kachnar ki bhaji

Kachnar ki bhaji | Photo Credit:  Vikas Choudhary

In a world where we are increasingly facing weather extremities, the risk of losing our traditional food practices looms large. As does the risk of lifestyle diseases that are on the rise due to the consumption of processed food, high stress levels, and a largely sedentary lifestyle.

The New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)’s First Food series aims to highlight these important issues, and the series’ recently-released book, its fourth, explores the links between our food with biodiversity, nutrition and livelihood. Titled Future of Taste, it highlights the impact of climate change on food production, and includes unique recipes and ingredients belonging to traditional communities across the country such as the Soliga tribe in Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar district, Manipur’s Tangkhul Naga tribe, and the Paniya tribe of Kerala.

Vibha Varshney, consulting editor, Down To Earth (Centre for Science and Environment’s fortnightly magazine) and editor of the series, explains how the series began with reportage on the link between food and environment. “These stories were a part of Down To Earth, and many of them were on foods foraged locally and seasonally from the wild, and how communities used them to survive periods of distress, such as drought, excessive rain or flood. We have tried to explore the Nature-nutrition-livelihood linkages between the foods that nurture our bodies. The effort is to share knowledge about local biodiversity and how it can be used as food,” she says.

The book highlights the impact of climate change on food production, and includes unique recipes and ingredients

The book highlights the impact of climate change on food production, and includes unique recipes and ingredients | Photo Credit: Centre for Science and Environment

The first book, Taste of India’s Biodiversity, which was published in 2013, focussed on the link between food and environment, while the second book Culture of Taste (2017) celebrated the knowledge about the use of biodiversity as food — what and how it could be used. The third book Business of Taste (2019) has stories of the link between food, biodiversity and livelihood. The latest, Future of Taste, is on survival foods, says Vibha. “Our local biodiversity can help us survive a climate-risked world. Our ancestors had this knowledge, and they knew how to use resilient foods to prepare healthy and tasty meals,” she says.

The introductory section on millets comprises recipes for ragi shrikhand cannoli by Chef Manish Mehrotra of New Delhi’s Indian Accent; proso millet tikki by Pallavi Upadhyaya, co-founder of agri start-up Sakala Nutrition; a summer vegetable loaf with foxtail millets by Jatin Mallick of Tres restaurant in the country’s capital; and masala roti with browntop millet by G Krishna Prasad of sustainable agriculture movement Sahaja Samrudha; among others.

The sections for breakfast, larger meals, pickles, beverages, and sweets have recipes for dishes such as bathua raita, shukto, chow chow curry, chane ka saag, lasoda pickle, sabja kulfi, guava ladoo, jamun shot and sabja lemonade, among others.  

Dal vadas

Dal vadas | Photo Credit:  Vikas Choudhary

“Every recipe is prepared, tested and tasted,” says Vibha, adding that the team has showcased nearly 400 recipes through the series so far. “We recently served amrakh ki launj (a chutney prepared from star fruit) at an event and it provided a tarter version of the mango launj we are used to. I also enjoy the aloo gutke tempered with jakhiya, a wild spice from Uttarakhand. This recipe is now a favourite at home too,” she says. “A kheer prepared from black rice from Manipur is yet another favourite specifically because of its simplicity. It is prepared with just black rice, milk, and sugar with a dash of cardamom.”

Addressing where India stands, in terms of its agricultural practices, Vibha talks about how farmers generally focus only on a select few crops such as rice and wheat which are consumed more and have assured returns. However, these agricultural practices are input-intensive and not resilient to changes in the environment. “We now frequently hear stories of crop failures due to increased temperature, rainfall deficit and pest attack. This intensive format of agriculture has also decimated the local agro-biodiversity in the country. Many nutritious foods such as bathua (pigweed) are weeded out of the fields.” 

Bathua stuffed paratha

Bathua stuffed paratha | Photo Credit:  Vikas Choudhary

The nutritional value of many other foods has also been forgotten. “For example, instead of consuming mahua flowers for nutrition, like local communities in many dry regions of the country used to in the past, most of the flowers are now used to prepare alcohol,” she says, adding that through their books, the team hopes to bring local biodiversity “back on the plate and we hope that the increased demand gives farmers a reason to shift to more nutritious and locally adapted crops”. Government-led initiatives have also helped. For example, the push to consume millets, Kerala’s promotion of the jackfruit a few years ago, etc. 

While a majority of the stories and recipes come from the team’s reportage, CSE also invites scientists, bloggers, nutritionists, politicians, and Government officials to contribute to the books. “Everyone has personal food stories and the ingredients used vary from house-to-house, community-to-community and region-to-region. We maintain the research rigour and ensure that each article brings out the cultural significance of the food/ingredient along with providing information on its linkage toNature, nutrition, livelihood and climate change,” explains Vibha, who is in the process of identifying the sub-theme for the next volume. 

Priced at ₹950, Future of Taste is available on csestore.cse.org.in

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