We are becoming mindless about what we eat: Sunita Narain
The director of the Centre for Science and Environment in India tells us why we need food that is good for our bodies and the environment.
Only months after being featured in Leonardo Di Caprio's documentary Before the Flood, Sunita Narain is back making headlines. The director of the Centre for Science and Environment launched her book First Food: Culture of Taste at the Tasting India Symposium in Delhi on Tuesday, where she gave an impassioned speech about the importance of sustainable food. Khaleej Times managed to catch up with her after. Excerpts from the interview:
You were in Leonardo Di Caprio's documentary Before the Flood. How was the experience?
It was wonderful. He contacted me, and I didn't even know it was him at first. I thought it was another filmmaker. He's a big star and what I really appreciated was his desire to go beyond the ordinary and push boundaries because I know it is easy to sort of deteriorate into sweet nothings. And I really appreciated what he did - not just coming to India but being prepared to see a village and talk about some very inconvenient things.
What do you hope to achieve through this new book?
What I'm really hoping to achieve is a changed food culture. Getting people to understand that food is really about nutrition. Food is not just something you put in your mouth - it is about nature. We have to be mindful about nature and understand the resources of the world that make our food so important. But we don't - we never think about it. We never think about the diversity of potatoes or rice, or other things we normally eat
We are becoming very mindless about what we eat and in this age of processed food we are stuffing anything into our mouth that smells good and tastes good. Whereas today we need to be much more mindful about our food - it is all about our bodies and our health. It's about thinking of a long-term plan.
What made you want to launch the book with the Tasting India Symposium?
We know the environmental community. But what we need to do with this book is to reach out to the food community. All communities talk to each other. The Tasting India symposium reaches out to people in food community and for us, it is about getting the same people to understand the opportunity they have in terms of using diversity and local cuisines.
You seem extremely optimistic about the future when it comes to India's environment. How do you know the country hasn't already crossed a line from which it cannot return?
We haven't crossed that line - it's bad out there but it's not that bad. And we can fix it. Delhi's air has become better this winter. We went through a very bad period recently. We fought and it got better. We will keep fighting and it will get better. You have to believe that. Otherwise what's the point?
What can individuals do in that fight?
It's all about being mindful about what you do - watching what you eat, what you wear, where you source food from, etc. Ask for affordable organic food and I think we will change cultures at the end of the day. Cultures don't get made - we create them. And I think that's what ordinary people can do.
What advice would you have for people living in a city like Dubai?
All cities are more or less the same and I think cities are losing their connection to nature. But I think nature can come to cities. If you start valuing the right food, a market will get created and come to your city. We need to bring nature to our cities again. That will change the way urban cities are. And it will change the livelihoods of poor people who will get a new market.
Besides that, home gardening is something everyone in big cities can do - vegetable gardening in particular. And if you segregate your waste, compost it and use this for your gardening, you're closing the natural cycle.
Final advice for our readers?
There is still hope. Let's try to become much more responsible citizens for the planet.
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