food – farmer – seeds – protest against Monsanto: Why should Chennai care?

August 12, 2011

The SAGE and Tamilnadu Women’s Collective are organizing  a protest in front of the Memorial Hall (opp. the Government General Hospital) 9th Aug 2011 between 4 and  5 p.m. as part of the national campaign against Monsato – Quit India Monsanto campaign.

— By Ram
I have lived in Chennai most of my life. I am 40+ today. I have seen the changes in the habits of eating, food, availability of food, eateries and choices of food in this city in the last three decades of active memory about food.

When we were kids, milk was available from the man who used to bring cows, tie them in front of our house and then milk them in front of us. That gave way to bottles with aluminium foil on top and later to the plastic sheets in which milk is supplied till date. Most of the next generations born and brought up in the city haven’t seen the way a cow is prepared before the milking or the milking process itself. Now cows in Chennai are relegated to some distant corner of the city. They were considered a nuisance, repeated pictures of western travelers (and back from west Indians) finding cows in the middle of the roads (Octopussy, Hyderabad blues opening shot) as a driving nuisance made us believe that speed in the roads is more important than fresh milk for people. We could have decided many options including each area and neighbhourhood having its own cattle  shed or demarcated area for them. But, we made a choice – we (as in our governments) chose easy to drive roads rather than space for cows and fresh milk in our lives.

I used to see water pandals every summer spring up on the road side, even on the smallest of roads and streets.  Drinking water was so free, you went up to one of the pandals and drank from the mud pot full of water. Our own drinking water was the water we pumped from the hand pump in the house and filtered through a white cotton cloth into the large pot at home. The public water was potable direct from the hand pump. Many times after a cricket match on the road side, we have done the ritual of pumping water from the hand pump and drinking direct from it. Water was free everywhere and safe too. Then slowly things changed, the first water bottles that appeared were only with westerners, whose travel guides told them that they will get sick if they drank public water in India. So, they bought water in bottles (it was hard to find them, it was never sold in every shop) and carried it with them. Indian returning from the west (and wanting to go west soon) started to mimic this tamasha too. It was not until we saw the Pepsi’s and Coke’s coming into the Indian market in a big way that we also noticed alongside, water bottles have become a major sales thing too. Soon, offering bottled water to you became a sing of ‘respect’ and drinking from it, ’eminence’. We always mistake whatever is western as respectable and eminent, even their illnesses and weaknesses.  As a people we made a choice – we decided not to patronize free water any longer, so, the water pandals no longer exist (except in a few pockets) and the most educated and eminent parts of chennai, instead of protesting against the non-potability of their tap water, buy water from ignorant farmers’ lands for a pittance, sucking much needed agricultural water in the process.

As kids, we walked around the ‘gangana-mandapam’ market in triplicane, saw vegetable vendors give fresh vegetables every morning to the customers. There was the usual greetings, haggle, enquiry about health, forecast weather, share stories, jokes…we walked around the entire market, picking something from different vendors, each vegetable had a different vendor from whom we picked things up. some sold an assortment of vegetables that are in tune with the way they are cooked locally, so you always had the man selling manga-inji also selling pacha-kuru-melagu along side, you had the lady selling keerai not selling anything else most times. value added sales at the market was vaazha-thandu being cut in front of you and bound in a vazha-ilai, during festivals you had vazha-ilai along with maavilai available in these markets, the vendor knew what a community bought on a new moon day as much as what others bought during the fasting season…selling the air and the spirit of the market was a familiarity and freshness. With times, such markets and market spaces that enshrined the deeper human fabric of mutual trust and co-existence have shrunk literally. Today, the Reliance Freshs’ and More and its local look alikes offer veggies under bright light, big banner and air-condition. No one is familiar and there is no warmth in the air. The poor son of a farmer who is often in a stop over job before moving to better things in life, hates the customer, he hates the lifestyle of the customer and is neither friendly nor cares for what you and I eat. So, we have apples from washington, oranges from malta, peach from china (wrapped in junk styrene, chinese have ingenious ways of exporting their junk along with food),  rubbing shoulders with probably genetically modified corn from USA and other vegetables that have spent anything between 2 days to 2 months in a vegetable mortuary (cold storage). We made a choice – a choice to patronize such shops because, air conditioned comfort to our bodies and not having to walk around too much so that we can become obese and swap our diabetes counts as we wait for the clerk to struggle to make bills in the counter. We chose easy way of shopping rather than freshness and familiarity.

Being predominant rice eaters, we had the ‘andhra’ trader bring rice samples home, and twice or more times a year, large sacks of rice was delivered in the house after the sample has been approved by the collective of women in the house (and many times in the neighbourhood), similarly, several produce that were used in the house extensively, such as tamarind, chilli, etc. and were seasonal, were purchased in bulk. other ‘andhra’ trader brought home ghee that was made in their homes here in Chennai (their son studied with me in school and i have many times visited their house that smelt of ghee everywhere!) and there were ‘enna mandi’s where you went to buy oil of different needs, again in bulk with your own vessels. (there was also the Chettiar who bought amazing cotton clothes from karur or somewhere once in every two months, he was the only one who used sniff powder and I still remember one conversation in which he taught me the aathi-choodi of avvayaar) I don’t exactly remember when this particular culture changed and how…over a period of time, we have stopped identifying different communities and their specialization of different commodities that we consume. There are no ‘specialists’ and specialist knowledge of food or other goods. Everything is supplied by the same super market and it is managed by people who don’t know what is in the shelf and where it comes from, nor do we care any longer. We made a choice again – we chose to do away with the culture of specialized produce directly from the producer, because, they came at their own odd times, at their own seasons, but, we wanted to have them through the year…we can’t stock up anylonger, we have smaller houses for food stocks that become larger with television and other electronic gadgets. We made a choice to not care for the source of food and lesser purchase and maintenance.

We as consumers, city planners, citizens, heads of families, career oriented young professionals…and in some may other identities seem to have made certain choices with regards to our food and its place in our lives. These choices have rendered us to become a society full of illnesses, diabetes medicine as part of the breakfast is a culture today as much as cancer and heart diseases becoming dominant part of a social catching up. Many of these modern day diseases are termed as ‘degenerative diseases’, that we allow our bodies to degenerate while we are busy doing other things. Other things we are doing in a gusto and how – religious activities in plenty we have time to participate even eating ready-to-consume packaged putrified food in the process, listening to spiritual gurus in air-conditioned halls talk of Bhagavat Gita while we sip water out of packaged drinking water, participating in as many rituals as possible and even donating food as a great act of philanthropy, annadana, and shamelessly and thoughtlessly giving water in plastic sachets along with the food in unhealthy styrene plates (to cut costs you see!), visiting the remotest Gods in small towns in our Innovas and Sumos (guzzling fossil fuel aplenty to keep us air-conditioned inside) to gain some unknown commodity called moksha while we are sure that the stock of ready to eat snack is adequately stocked in the vehicle, we are busy planning large family outings and of course, visit the nearest super-market to buy the much abhorred junk-food, saying, ‘this one time’, truthfully knowing that this is not the first, nor the last time, we gift the men and women of Gods with ready to dispense sweets (and chocolates) that they in turn dispense to those who visit them as ‘neivedhyam’, neither them nor us thinking and protesting….choice we make that has all lead to ‘degeneration’ of the physical. But, degeneration of the mind is not far behind, so, we have new forms of diseases that has made counsellors a necessity in every office, that has made psychiatric service important for schools…of course, Gods and God-men in plenty are required to attend to the degenerated spirit!

A choice to degenerate can be made in ignorance, but, a choice to correct it has to be made consciously. We can either bemoan about the wrong choices of yester-years or choose to make a difference to our lifestyles today. The choice today is the state of bodies and minds tomorrow. We choose either to degenerate further or become part of a healing force to the much injured planet. We have a choice.

“Quit India Monsanto” is a campaign that has been launched not against a corporate called Monsanto, but, what it has come to represent to us in our lives. Monsanto has grown and become strong because of our wrong choices, we were ignorant, but, not now. We today know what others who have chosen to make such decisions have become, America is a standing example (if it can stand beyond another S&P downgrade) of what degeneration can do to a strong nation, the Jimmy Conners and Marie Louir Retten of my younger days and Madonna of youth that has given way to obese, low credibility, global bully, arrogant, insensitive image of a nation of today unfortunately lead by a smart looking black President for the first time in their history. We know that is not the way to go.

Yet, the government in Delhi seems to be thinking that is the way to go – from Nuclear energy, Genetically Modified Food, Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, UID, direct cash transfer instead of PDS, ‘development’ at the cost of ‘environment’…the long list of policies in the pipeline seems to come from the mindset that made the wrong choices in the past. The kind of choices that has lead us astray.  It is as though, Delhi went to sleep twenty years back and continues to sleep and make decisions out of habit in its sleep.

Quit India Monsanto is a call to awaken our food habits, just like Indian Against Corruption is a call to awaken  the ethics in our social engagement, it is a call to dis-engage with the Western thought pattern and life style (or way of life as they call it), to re-engage with our people, our health and nutrition, our knowledge systems and priorities, our communities and their welfare…it is a call from a farmer – activist network, but, it is a call not just for farmer or activist alone. It is for everyone of us who consume and who care. Let’s not perpetuate our wrong decisions and choices beyond our generation, let the children of today not go through the same ‘degenerative’ environment and life style that we went through, let’s start making some changes in our lifestyles, to show we care…maybe Quit India Monsanto is a beginning, to start to make those life style changes….join the movement, join the rally today if you can, make time to say you care.

(reproduced with permission from

Encounters with Endosulfan

June 10, 2011

– Preethi Sukumaran

The endosulfan pesticide debate is trending in India and globally. All eyes are on India, which is one of the few big countries, that still allows use of endosulfan.

Nationally, V.S Achyuthanandan, Kerala Chief Minister and the Left MPs have been protesting India’s stand in the Conference of Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) which began in Geneva on Tuesday.

V.S Achyutanandan and the Left M.Ps want India to support the increasingly popular global ban that is being proposed on Endosulfan by nearly 80 countries.

The mood at the Stockholm Convention has been described as tense, as a lot of battles are expected over the Endosulfan issue. Many countries in Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa are supporting the ban, and the U.S, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and others have already expressed support for the ban in the plenary session.

India is a prime dissenter in the ban, and accounts for 70% of the world production of Endosulfan (Rs4500 crores annually). India cites lack of scientific evidence as one of the key reasons to opposing the ban along with the fact that the proposed alternatives to Endosulfan are not currently affordable.

Where would I encounter endosulfan?

In many un-expected encounters.

  • Endosulfan is commonly sprayed on over 70 crops like vegetables, fruits, paddy, cotton, coffee, tea, cashew & timber. Studies have shown that in India, 20% of all fresh produce have pesticide residues above the maximum residue limit (MRL).
  • Many water bodies have endosulfan run-off & some studies have shown high endosulfan levels in fish
  • Potentially absorbed through the skin , as cotton crops are the significant users of endosulfan
  • Smokers through tobacco

A brief history of Endosulfan

Endosulfan was first registered for use as a pesticide in the U.S by Hoechst (now Bayer CropScience) to control agricultural insects and mites on a wide variety of field, fruit and vegetable crops.

By 2000, after consistent reports of water contamination due to the run off from agricultural use, the EPA cancelled Bayer’s License to sell Endosulfan for use in Homes and Gardens. In 2002, after further studies by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the EPA determined that Endosulfan residues in food and water posed high health hazards, and imposed further restrictions on agricultural use of Endosulfan.

In 2007, Endosulfan was recommended for inclusion in the Rotterdam Convention on Informed consent. This is a multilateral treaty to promote shared responsibility on the import and use of hazardous chemicals. Specifically, this convention requires informing purchasers of these hazardous chemicals on all known restrictions and bans, so that purchasers can make an informed decision on whether or not to buy these chemicals

How toxic is Endosulfan?

The EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) classifies Endosulfan as “Ib” – Highly hazardous, as does the E.U. The Industrial Toxicological Research Centre (ITRC) in India also classifies Endosulfan as extremely hazardous.

Endosulfan is also widely considered to be a Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP). POPs are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation and have been observed to persist in the environment, to be easily transported across long distances, to accumulate in human and animal tissue, increase in virulence in food chains, and have significant impact on human health and the environment.

Due to their chemical properties, POPs are semi volatile and insoluble. They attach themselves to particulate matter like soil, water and food, and travel long distances around the world, including places that do not even use them, like Antarctica.

Because of their eerie ability to travel, even countries that have banned POPs like Endosulfan, continue to find their residues in their food and environment as they travel from places where they are used.

How does Endosulfan affect human beings?

Acute effects:

Endosulfan is highly toxic and can be fatal if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin. Consuming it orally is found to be more toxic than absorbing it through the skin, and this toxicity increases in the presence of solvents like alcohol.

Endosulfan directly affects the Central Nervous System, and high levels of Endosulfan in the body lead to convulsions, epileptic seizure or death. It also comprehensively damages the internal organs like the liver, lungs and the brain.

Chronic Effects:

Endosulfan is a proven endocrine disrupter, and exhibits estrogen like properties similar to DDT. Experimental evidence shows that this property leads to delay in sexual maturation in males or damage of the reproductive system. It also increases the risk of breast cancer among women, and has the ability to alter the chromosomes in mammals, leading to a risk of birth defects.

Tests on laboratory animals show high carcinogenic properties and internal organ damage.

What happens to Endosulfan in the environment?

Endosulfan is fairly immobile in soil, and highly persistent. It breaks down into further toxic compounds, some of which increase in production in tropical areas.  It does not easily dissolve in water, and can bio accumulate in the bodies of fishes and other aquatic organisms.

How widespread is the Endosulfan contamination in the environment?

Endosulfan residues have been detected in air, water and soil samples in India, river water in China, lagoons in Spain, vegetation in Madagascar, Zambia and Ghana, water from the Alps, and river sediments in Malaysia.

How widespread is Endosulfan contamination in the food that we eat?

Endosulfan has been detected in food samples from across the world: Australia (beef), U.S.A and Canada (food samples), Brazil (tomatoes), Cyprus & Croatia (vegetables), India (vegetables, vegetable oil, and seeds).

A high level of Endosulfan has been detected in human breast milk in India, cord blood in Spain, and blood and urine in Croatia.

Has Endosulfan actually killed or harmed people?

In India

Kerala was the first state in India to ban Endosulfan after a court order in 2003. This happened after the Endosulfan tragedy in Kasargode, which is widely considered one of the worst pesticide disasters to happen to a region.

Aerial spraying of cashew plantations began in 1978, and was done 3 times a year covering 15 gram panchayats in Kasargode. There were many warning signals which the decision makers ignored like the mass death of bees, fishes, foxes, birds, and congenital deformities in cows.

Endosulfan is a stomachic and quick contact poison, which destroys quickly but is non-specific, so kills everything it comes into contact with (not just the insect pests it is meant to destroy).

In 1994, independent health observations by a local health doctor, revealed a rising incidence of mental illness and congenital anomalies in Kasargode. Initially radioactive toxicity or heavy metal poisoning of the water bodies was thought to be the reason behind this. After several more complaints in areas where Endosulfan was being sprayed and the work of many national and international groups, Endosulfan spraying was linked back to the abnormal health problems at Kasargode.

The commonly noted diseases were neurobehavioral disorders, congenital malformations in girls, and reproductive tract abnormalities in males. Another report showed increased rate of cancer and gynaecological abnormalities.

A further study by the Kerala Health department reaffirmed the link between Endosulfan and this region’s health issues.

Following these reports, the Kerala State High Court banned the use and sale of Endosulfan in 2002; the State government followed suit in 2003.

Karnataka followed Kerala’s lead in February this year, with a blanket ban on Endosulfan. This followed after reports of physical deformities in areas using aerial spraying of Endosulfan, again for cashew crop in Belthangady, Puttur and Bantwal.

In Cuba

Endosulfan was responsible for the death of 15 people in the Western province of Matanzas, Cuba in February 1999. 63 people became ill after consuming food contaminated with Endosulfan.

In Benin

In Borgou province in Benin, official records state atleast 37 deaths occurred in the 1999 – 2000 cotton season, and 36 people were seriously taken ill.

Next Steps:

Endosulfan is just one of the many toxic compounds that are routinely sprayed on food. Several organisations and concerned political parties are battling with the Indian government to reverse its stand on Endosulfan. The good news is that under all this pressure, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided to have a scientific enquiry on the effects of Endosulfan and has promised to take a more considered view on the subject.

There are no debates on this – It is time to embrace organic food. Most major cities have 3 – 4 organic outlets, so supply is no longer an issue. Even if it is not possible to consume only organic produce ALL the time, every little bit helps.

The Good News

Studies show that just as POPs bio-accumulate into the body, they can also get reversed when more and more organically grown food is consumed. Also, personally speaking, organic vegetables taste delicious and burst with flavour so it is no hardship to switch.

In Chennai alone, Srini and I have visited 3 great stores: Restore , NStores and Dhanyam , and several more exist. More than 90% of everything we consume at home is organically grown, and we have seen a significant increase in our health and well being as a result of switching to organic food.

NGOs like Thanal have been at the forefront of the Endosulfan debate in India and have worked very hard to lobby the government and build awareness on these issues with folks like us. Even if it is not possible to work actively with them, they always welcome appreciation, so drop them a mail if you can.


I have been thinking of writing this post for some time now, and many kind people have helped me on my personal quest to understand more about my food, and appreciate the value of organic food.

My thanks go to these people in no particular order:

  1. Ananthoo , Radhika & Restore team at
  2. Kavita Mukhi of Conscious foods & Mumbai farmers market
  3. Vandana Shiva of Navdanya –
  4. Ramesh of NStores –
  5. Madhu of Dhanyam –

A special shout goes out to Thanal, who has fantastic resources on Endosulfan, which I’ve liberally used in this post. Thank you Thanal! (

(reproduced with permission from

reStore Food Blog – Rice Soup

June 6, 2011

Hi All! What’s cooking?

he he… well, in my house it  has been soup and lots of it.. I had this hankering for some soup but no mixie/grinder/food processor.. so what to do? Creativity is the daughter of necessity.. no?  so I racked my memory banks for some inspiration.. and voila.. Rice Soup..

bleh!! you say? another name for ‘kanji’ you think?.. well to be honest yes and no!!

What the memory banks yielded was the lunch dabba of a colleague from waayy back 90s.. She was of Cambodian origin.. used to bring something called Rice Soup for lunch.. a bit thicker than our kanji.. and it had some interesting bits added to it.  I looked in my fridge for interesting bits and found some possibilities..

So here is my adaptation.

Rice Soup 101

A handful of handpounded raw rice

1/3 of a handful of moon dal yellow

2 litres of water

salt to to taste

some chopped fresh coriander or basil

1 lime/lemon.. juicy

wash and clean the rice and moong dal and set to cook together on the stove top in a largish vessel of about 3 litres capacity or thereabouts.  Add a bit more water than ordinarily used to cook this quantity of rice and dal. Add the salt. Let cook, stirring often.  Stirring is important here as it releases the starch from the rice and makes it  ‘soupy’.  If you feel like it give it an odd mash here and there.  Once the rice -dal mixture is almost cooked add about a litre of water and cook in the lowest flame you have available. Stir occasionally. This should take about 3o mins or so.. Check if you like the consistency and that the liquid is almost opaque.  Add more water if it is too thick.. or let sit on the stove if too thin. (this depends on the starchiness of the rice.. go with your experience)

When you are ready to serve, chop up the herb of choice .. very fine.. and put some  in the bottom of each serving bowl

top up with the hot soup and squeeze some lime/lemon juice into each bowl and serve.

For those who like it spicy.. Try this

– in a mortar and pestle add one pod of garlic/shallot, a piece of ginger, some chopped green or ripe chillie  and  a pinch of salt and mash it together roughly.  Serve this along with the soup.

I found this soup very restorative and fresh..

Lemme know how you liked it..


reStore Food Blog : Bang for the Buck fillings

May 21, 2011

I am baaaaccckkkkk !! After a multi-phased move, this blog post comes to you from my new home office. Taking centre stage here is my old desk, that sadly, didn’t travel well. Has lost some skin and a few bits and pieces..But you know what? It is comfy. I believe it wears its scars well.  And first day on the job in the new office, it has inspired me to get back on the saddle! What more could you ask of a desk.. eh?

One thing I learnt from this move is I hold on to a lot more stuff than I think I do. Until now I took pride in my ability to give things away ruthlessly…. Sadly,  not ruthless or thorough enough!! 30 odd boxes of books..!! that is after giving away 5 boxes.. Sniff, Sniff!!

While I was working on my ruthless purging of stuff, had to eat no?  No time to make ‘propah’ meals. I depended a whole lot on curd rice and sandwiches and wraps.  So, here are a few that I thought were worth sharing. They largely came from what was available and what went well with many different covers – bread, chapati, dosa.. ( Reminder to self.. research or invent word for the thing that holds the fillings.. )

Cucumber Filling

Fresh cucumber sliced round, slightly chunky .. about four slices per sandwich

Olive oil, lime juice, salt, pepper, crushed toasted cumin- blend this together using a fork or beater.

Dip the cucumber slices in just before you put them on the bread.

Tomato and Potato Filling

Tomatoes – sliced 3-4 per sandwich

Potatoes boiled, mashed and salted to taste.. about a table spoon per sandwich

Onions chopped fine.. about a teaspoon per sandwich

A bit of  masala from citrus pickles- lime tastes great.( If you like strong flavours, you may add chopped bits of lime as well)

Spread a not very thick layer of the potato on the bread/roti/dosa. Sprinkle chopped onion on top.

Gently spread or mix in the pickle masala  all round on the tomato slices and place them over the potato onion mixture above. Wrap/cover/fold!

Grated Veg Filling

Grated Vegetables: Carrots, Bottle Gourd, Radish, Coconut, Mango…. any thing that can be grated and it is a vegetable that you would like. Adjust ratio to taste. You would need about one third of a cup of the final output  for a standard sandwich on bread.. for other (hosts? covers? wraps?) .. such as dosa or roti.. adjust according to size and taste..

finely chopped onions, green chillies, ginger, coriander..even a bit of garlic is ok.. Some peanut powder will fit in here as well

some mustard, cumin/ jeera and oil for seasoning.. Salt to taste.. Asafoetida, chilly powder, turmeric.. if you prefer..

Heat up a heavy bottomed pan.. pop the seasoning in oil

add the finely chopped onions..etc let sizzle for a very short bit .. the pan should remain hot..

Add in the grated vegetables let sizzle for a very short bit.. add the salt and the rest of the  spices you are using..

Well folks thats the post for today..

I promise to catch up with more frequent postings beginning June..

My sincere thanks to you guys..  for putting up with my absence on the blog with nary a reproachful sigh.

As always, I look forward to your responses.. do write in with your experiences.. problems.. questions.. ideas .. thoughts.. critiques.. cheers.. appreciation.. tearful gratitude..

Do stay in touch.. 🙂


Misty Mountain Hop from Peak Oil to Urban Gardens

April 18, 2011

– Preethi & Srinivas

Last night, our friends screened for us the 2006 documentary, The Power of Community. This film tracks Cuba’s path to self reliance from the brink of complete macroeconomic disaster. This disaster was precipitated by the fall of USSR in 1991 and in the span of a week Cuba was cut off from soviet oil supplies and food imports. Virtually overnight, the soviet collapse created food shortages, electricity blackouts, loss of jobs and a general shutdown of the economy. The Cubans refer to this period in their history as “the special period”.

This 53 minute documentary is time well spent at two levels. Firstly, the remarkable recovery of the Cuban people is a story that needs to be told and heard, perhaps in many more ways. When the crisis hit Cuba, the problem was unlike any ever faced, ready-made solutions were not available from history, and the US, the one nearby country that could have helped, further tightened sanctions on Cuba.

Then there is the cinematic merit. Director Faith Morgan’s single pointed attention to the task set out for herself, to wit the precise solutions evolved by the Cubans in the areas of food & agriculture, transport, housing ,medicine etc is admirable. There are other angles to explore like the political will, Cuban cultural quirks and Individual heroes of the special period but have been excluded, which makes the film compelling viewing.

Peak Oil

This is a U.S. film with its genesis in the debate on Peak Oil. The peak oil theory suggests that global oil production follows a logistic distribution curve which reaches peak production at a point in time. After this peak, the production of oil declines rapidly till all the oil reserves are exhausted. Simply put, there is a very finite limit to the oil supply of the world.

peak oil hubbert curve

The first peak oil curve plotted by King Hubbert in 1956 accurately predicted the 1973 oil crisis. As per the current Hubbert curve, the world has already hit the peak in 2010 and oil production is now in the rapid decline phase

Inspiration from Cuba

This debate around peak oil intensified in the early part of this century and primary concern of the experts was that the world was walking blind into an energy crisis, with no plan B. Then of course it was pointed out that Cuba had an artificial peak oil crisis in 1991 and was a great simulation for the rest of the world to learn from.

Is a crisis always necessary to do the right thing?

The Cubans had no idea what hit them and were pushed to the limits of their creativity in the special period. The first dramatic measure was the import of a million cycles to replace public transport. The extra physical activity combined with food shortage, resulted in a national average weight loss of 20 pounds in the first three years.

The next response was urban organic farming. With no oil to manufacture fertilizers and pesticides, organic farming was the only way out, and a wonderful unexpected side effect of the crisis. With the economy in a tailspin and no jobs or food, highly educated professionals of all stripes became urban farmers. Today in Cuba, the farmers are among the top earners, very unlike farmers in the rest of the world.

All these outcomes came from an organic response to a crisis and not from a careful long term government plan.

It is tempting to conclude that we need a full blown crisis to get the country together to do the right things, a dim fatalistic view that I do not care for.

For now I think a great way for all of us to start is to get exposed to different ideas on sustainability. I have a quick list of some of the well known films and books to get inspired.

The environmentalist must watch/read list

  1. One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka (book)
  2. An Inconvenient Truth,Davis Guggenheim (documentary)
  3. The power of community, Faith Morgan (documentary)
  4. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan (book)
  5. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (book)
  6. Food Inc, Robert Kenner (documentary, excellent companion to the books by Pollan & Schlosser)
  7. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson (book)

End notes

As luck would have it the screening happened in a house with a spectacular rooftop urban garden. All around, nearby rooftops had rubble, cables and clothes but I was in a lush green farm producing at least 50% of a family’s vegetable consumption. And it helps cool the house below. For a fresh produce newbie, seeing actual okra, colacasia, tomato plants was a delight. And I could picture a misty mountain hop from Hubbert’s peak to rooftop urban gardens.

(reproduced with permission from

reStore Food Blog: Quick n easy tips

April 18, 2011

It is hot, hot, hot!!  Not many folks out there wanting to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.. So here are a few tips to help reduce time spent at the stove.

1. Pre-soak lentils, beans, dals.. moong, chana, etc.

2. Use the pressure cooker, extensively.

3. Double or triple quantities of the above and freeze.

4. Grate vegetables in any combination you like. simply saute quickly and add to the cooked dals/beans above.. a twist of lime, some aromatic herbs like coriander or pudina.. and a hearty and healthy side dish is ready.

5. Even simpler, just add the cooked chana or moong to raw grated veggies and spice with chat masala or some chopped ginger and green chillies, twist of lime, or some left-over chutney or pickles.. and a yummy salad is ready.

6. Use flattened rice -(aval) or puffed rice – (pori) . Quickly rinse, drain and use for a quick upma.

7.  If fruits you bought, like a mango is too sour, use it in a soup. Adjust the sweetness with ginger, or coriander, or a pinch of cloves.  Add other vegetables as you would and serve chilled.  Simple, healthy and filling.

8. Summer is the best time to try fermented things like millet idlis.  Substitute one-third 1/3 of the rice with the millet. Soak and grind as usual.  More filling than those made with plain rice, you need to make less!

9. Add jaggery and cardamom to your diet.  For a change, add a bit of both to your spicy rasam.

10. Of course the old maxims such as ‘Plan ahead’ ‘Get and early start’  are all the more valid for less sweaty and more fun hours  in the kitchen.

Keep those responses coming.. and do share tips and recipes too!


reStore Food Blog: Chill!! Soup and Tangy Mango Rice

April 2, 2011

Its hot. You know that. Feel it. So whats

Well, after the  success of the SFA Organic Food Mela, I took a short break from food blogging. It gave me some time to get creative.  So here I am audaciously pairing a Chilled Soup with a traditional Mango Rice. So thats whats new!

Without preamble, patience being in short supply in this hot weather.. … here goes:



Blanched peeled almonds about 10 nos;

Ashgourd (aka white pumpkin) cubed 3 – 4 cups

Raw unripe tomato OR peeled ridge gourd – seed removed and cubed about 1 cup

juice of ginger – 1/2 teaspoon

garlic peeled and minced – teaspoon or less

shallots ( sambar vengayam) peeled and minced about a tablespoon

Black pepper whole – about a teaspoon

Cloves 2 nos

Salt to taste

Cooking Method

Steam the ashgourd, lightly salted.  Separate and save the water. Set both to cool

In a heavy pan on high heat, quickly roast the the other vegetables including onions and garlic.  Remember it should not cook through or brown  even a bit, just shocked by the heat. Remove immediately and set to cool.

In a blender or mixer, run the almonds through with the water from the ashgourd steaming.  Use additional water, if needed, to get a milk like consistency. Remove almond milk from mixer and set aside.  Now run  the vegetables – except for about half a cup of the steamed ashgourd, through the mixer.  Strain this mix add some salt and let sit.

In a separate pan boil about half a cup of water and add the pepper and the cloves to it and bring to boil. When the water is well flavoured with the spices, strain the water and set aside.

In a soup or sauce pan, add the vegetable mix, the almond milk, the spice tea and set on very low simmer. Remove from fire and set to cool. Add the ginger juice and chill the soup in the refrigerator .

Freeze the half cup of cooked ash gourd and add as garnish just before serving.



1 cup grated raw unripe mango

4 cups cooked rice

red chilly 2-3 nos

fenugreek/methi seeds – 1/2 teaspoon

Chana dal – 1 teaspoon

Urad Dal – 1 teaspoon

Mustard seeds – 1/2 teaspoon

Jeera/cumin – 1/2 teaspoon

Turmeric powder – 1/4 teaspoon

Curry leaves – 4-6

Asafoetida – a pinch

Sesame Oil – 2 teaspoons or less.

Salt to taste

Cooking Method:

In a heavy bottomed pan or kadai,  add oil and  the dals.  Once the dals are almost lightly browned, add the spice seeds and let sputter. Add the chilly and curry leaves next. When  the chilly is nicely roasted, add the grated mango and saute for about 5 mins. Add the turmeric and asafoetida. Add salt to taste.  Now, add the rice slowly, making sure there are no lumps.  Let sit about 3o to 45 mins before serving.

reStore Food Blog: 3 chutneys – mint, ginger, tomato

February 28, 2011

Dear All,

This week I am camping out in an empty flat, seeing it through some renovations. Lacking access to tools and cookware, cooking has been down to  bare minimum, just above survival. Lots of rice, pickles and some raw veggies.

I have started to use an induction stove and going through the throes of relating to a new cooking medium. Of course, as always with such new tools, added a smoky flavour to some odd meals. I concede, it is an acquired taste. 🙂

While the learning curve is steep, for a meal or two, I was making do with y’know… branded quickie noodles.. (I trust Miss Margaret is not unhappy with this lady-like reference to her masterpiece)..  All the while thinking.. dead food.. dead food.. ..Hmmm appetising

Well, to rouse myself out of those self defeating thoughts.. I started thinking of some ‘come alive’ foods..foods that are refreshing, wholesome and make you smack your lips and reach for more..and aha!!!  Chutneys.. thats the answer..

Here you are folks – 3 remarkable chutneys.. definitely ‘come alive’… and of course packed with all kinds of goodness

The first,  has 99% raw ingredients

Mint and Ginger Chutney with Coconut – Pudina, Inji  Thengai Chutney


2 Cups loosely packed with mint leaves and soft stems.

3/4 cup or little less grated fresh coconut

2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger

If in season, 1/3 cup of grated, raw, unripe, sour mango – substitute about 2 teaspoons of  lime juice instead.

2 teaspoons roaster gram – Pottukadalai

1 or 2 green chillies – less if you prefer less spicy.. (can be dropped totally)

salt to taste.


Put all of this in a mixie jar and grind with no water.  – tips – Put the pudina/mint in first with the lime juice, run until the leaves are chopped and then the rest of the ingredients, add salt in the end. Aim for a grainy consistency, not too smooth.

Take out and store in a glass or ceramic ware container.. ( the flavour is supposed to last longer this way)

For tempering: Heat a little oil and add some mustard seeds to it. Once they pop, pour it over the chutney.

Tomato Chutney – Quick and Easy


4 medium sized tomatoes ripe, even overripe and a bit squishy..

Salt, chilli powder, turmeric, asafoetida to taste

1 tables spoon oil – preferably gingelly (til) oil

Dried red chilly 2 nos

mustard seeds 1/2 teaspoon

A few curry leaves


Halve the tomatoes and puree them in a mixer/food processor, with seeds and skin.. remove any stems or leaves before you put it in.

In a heavy bottom pan or kadai, big enough to comfortably hold the tomato puree, heat the oil well and add the chillies and then mustard seeds. Once the chilly is fried and the seeds are popping merrily, add the curry leaves,  powders except salt and quickly add the tomato puree. Add the salt and let the mixture cook for a few minutes. You will notice the puree thicken and darken in colour.

Your quick and easy tomato chutney is done!

Andhra Style Ginger Chutney


1 cup chopped ginger – tender is better.. less fibre

3-4 red chillis

1 tsp cumin/ jeera seeds

1/2 tsp methi/ fenugreek seeds

small lemon size tamarind

2  tables spoons jaggery grated, or more if you like your chutney a bit sweet.

For tempering

2 tbs oil

1 tsp cumin and mustard seeds

some curry leaves


In a heavy bottomed pan, heat a bit of oil, fry the cumin seeds and methi seeds  and take out in a plate. Let cool

In the same pan add another tsp of oil set it on the stove, and add  the chopped ginger , red chillies and tamarind . Saute on medium flame, for few minutes, until the tamarind is soft and the aroma of the ginger is released.

Let it cool.

Then put all of them in a mixer/grinder/food processor and grind to a paste. Add water only if you must.. as little as you need.. bare minimum.. to get the paste going. Don’t forget the salt.. add to taste..

Pour the rest of the oil in a clean and dry heavy bottomed pan and add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves kept for tempering. Add the paste to the pan, and let cook for a few minutes. Cool and store in a clean dry container. This will last for a few days un- refrigerated..

Happy tuckin in.. y’all!


reStore Food Blog : Masala Bhath inspired

February 14, 2011

Dear All,

A Very Happy 3rd Anniversary to reStore and especial good wishes to all those who had the vision to start this and keep it up for 3 glorious years by pitching in and of course making reStore our primary food source… Wish you all good health, interesting and satisfying livelihoods and more time spent in beautiful thriving nature!

One of the pillars of organic and sustainable food movements is reducing or better still, avoiding wastage. For most of us it seems an elusive goal, especially when you manage to look at the bottom of the refrigerator on a Saturday morning and find wilted greens, a sad looking beetroot lurking in the corner eyeing half a bottlegourd at the other end. Instinct is to gather all of them and drop them in the trash. Two problems solved in one sweep! 🙂  But oh! the guilt!!

Here is a recipe that I use towards the weekend, which is a good alternative to the grand sweep into the trash.

It is a ‘one pot dish’, very inclusive and forgiving. With some simple condiments such as a favourite pickle or chutney, toasted papad for crunch and maybe a raita or kachumber, it makes a satisfying meal.

Use a stainless steel pressure cooker for quick and easy results.


1 cup Rice: Parboiled Ponni works very well.

1 tablespoon of oil (ghee if you prefer)

jeera 1/2 tea spoon

mustard seeds 1/2 tea spoon

Turmeric 1 teaspoon

Coriander powder 1 to 2 teaspoons ( as strong as you like)

Chilli powder to taste

Asafoetida to taste

Optional: Garlic to taste, garam masala to taste

Salt to taste

Water as needed

Vegetables about 2-3 cups: What you have in the fridge  – chop quick cooking or tender ones like beans, carrots and potatoes in larger chunks.  Chop cabbage, cauliflower or broccoli stalks finely.  Medium chop any, onions, capsicum, tomatoes, if using.  Wash and chop and drain greens separately.


Clean and wash rice and set aside

Heat pressure cooker until almost hot.

Add oil and the mustard and jeera seeds and let sputter

Lower heat and add the turmeric and coriander powder quickly and let fry for 10 seconds

Add the onions, garlic, capsicum and any aromatic greens such as methi (fenugreek)  now, if using.

quickly add the chilly powder and asafoetida . Garam Masala also may be added here

Let saute for about a minute until the aroma is released.

Add the rest of the vegetables and rice

Add enough water to just cover the rice and veggies.

Add the salt and stir.

Cover and cook as you would normally for the kind of rice your using.  For Ponni parboiled, I cook for about 5-6 mins on sim ( simmer setting)  after the first pressure release.

Variations: Cooked left over channa, uncooked leftover sprouts, or panneer too may be added to the rice. Remember to adjust salt and water accordingly. In the summer serve with some yummy lime pickle or mint chutney with some chopped cucumber. Don’t worry if the texture varies from sticky to dry. It will, depending on the kind of vegetables you add in.

Here you have it a complete meal within 30 minutes, even less, if your chopping skills are good! And as a added bonus guilt free fridge cleaning.

Tip for vegan and non-vegan blended families. If you are vegan and your family is not this is a great dish for all to share. Raita for the lacto half and chopped salad or kachumber for the vegan half.

We look forward to your experience with variations from your fridge!

Love those comments, keep them coming!


Season’s Greetings and a special invitation

January 15, 2011

A Very Happy Pongal, everyone!

reStore invites you to take a minute to think of the chain of people and other animals and organisms that bring us our more than adequate 3 square meals a day.

Buying organic is surely a big step and we sincerely appreciate it. As you all know there is more to be done, not just at reStore, but even more in the world at large.  One of the easiest things that anyone can do, is to speak up. Let your voice be heard for organic and more sustainable agriculture. Keep abreast of what is happening in the world of agriculture. Subscribe to forums and participate in signature campaigns. Involve your friends and family members.

If you would like to do more, get in touch with us.  There is tons to do.. ! Working together could be the biggest legacy that we leave for the coming generations.

We thank you for your support and look forward to more involvement from all of you.

Today’s recipe:  Yes, it is vegan!


This is a drink served as a post feast digestive and is most often served on Ram Navami day in temples, which occurs in the second week of April. It is refreshing, sweet and a good thirst quencher. It is good on any day with a heavy meal.

It is a free form recipe, using all natural ingredients and can be made to taste.

I litre of cool water

about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of powdered jaggery

a pinch of salt

Half a teaspoon of dried ginger powder, chukku.

2 or 3 whole cardamoms, crushed

Juice of a small lemon or lime

Mix all of the above together, except the lime juice. Taste, add more water if too sweet. Add a bit more jaggery, if too spicy. The idea is to get a ‘wake up call’ from the spices and soothing tone from the jaggery.

Add half the the lime juice, taste.. Stop if tangy enough..add more if not. You could do this just before serving.

Filter if you see a lot of fibre.. and you know that it would bother you.. else go all natural.. fibre and all!

Have a great week!