One can’t negate the fact that our health starts from our kitchens
I was raised in a small town in the state of Jharkhand, where my house overlooked the beautiful hills of the Chota Nagpur plateau. Mum and I made frequent trips to a nearby dam which was just three kilometres from our house. It was a walk to remember, even after 35 years I still remember it, it is such lasting memory.
To reach the dam we crossed a village, I could smell the aroma of the cow dung cakes which were lit in the early morning hours – this is how the villagers geared up for the day. Hens and cocks, ran around thatched houses and their clucking still fills my ears as they made their announcement that the day had begun. I saw women rubbing manure on the floors and walls of the huts.
Despite, having lived in Australia for most of my adult life, I still relate to this place where I was born and spent my childhood years. The experience though only during my early childhood years, still has a profound affect on my life.
So how does rubbing the floor with manure and using cow dung cakes and coal for fuel make a difference to our lives? Manure from a healthy cow which is rich in antiseptic properties absorbs negative energies and produces negative ions in the atmosphere. Once daubed in this way, the huts are naturally buffered against radiation and toxicity. They also stay cool through long hot days and warm during long cold nights. Rubbing down the mud and brick fireplace is a daily practice still followed by many villagers.
Did you know that the aroma of spices being ground at home, was our traditional way of practicing aroma therapy? It cleared the impurities in the air!
Of course, this doesn’t sound practical in the middle of busy city lives. Our modern kitchens are fancier, stocked with plenty of foods and gadgets unlike our traditional kitchens. Modern kitchens are busier than before. But we are still complaining of obesity, diabesity, high cholesterol, arthritis and many more. One can’t negate the fact that our health starts from kitchen.
‘From the earth came herbs, from herbs came food, and from food came the seed which gave life to the humans’
Taittirya Upanishad (11.1)
Our food, our body, and nature are one entity. The flesh of our body is the same as the flesh of the coconut, the fluids are the same as coconut water, the network of fibres in our body is the same as the fibres of the coconut. Kidney beans are the same as our kidneys, walnuts are same as our brain and the leaves are the same as our lungs. Our nature is so fine and its patterns are so intricate.
Dear Readers, I would like to take a run through a traditional kitchen with you. Let us take some time to slow down, pause and reflect on how our kitchens have changed through the years.
The Traditional Kitchen
A traditional kitchen had the following utensils – A stone mortar and pestle for grinding spices, seeds and nuts and a large wood mortar and pestle for grains and beans. It had a flat and slightly concave grinding stone with a smaller hand held stone.
There were several baskets, cloth bags and airtight wooden or stone barrels for storing food staples and a sifting basket for separating husks, stems, and stones from grains. It had sieves, tea strainers and food steamers, all made from bamboo.
A wood burning cooking stove built directly on the earth, facing West, iron holders for storage of such things as baskets and utensils, facing South. Racks for food staples and spices, facing North and a nearby stream or well to get water for washing the utensils to the South. It sounds like the knowledge of Vaastu doesn’t it? The energies which flowed within the house were always considered when it was planned.
Tightly woven grass baskets containing hot rocks were used for cooking foods. Later came pots made from earthenware, followed by cast iron, copper and bronze cookware.
The floor was the workstation or work table, which encouraged good postures, squatting and sitting in the thunderbolt pose or lotus pose.
A modern kitchen has gas or electric stoves – gas and electric stoves deprive us of the direct exchange with the fire of transformation that we would experience with a wood burning stove. If we must compare, a gas burning stove is better than an electric stove as the direct flame still provides us with the health benefits. When we use electrical appliances, the electric energy passes through the food and it damages the quantum energy of the food, which aggravates or imbalances our doshas. In modern nutrition, it reduces the absorption of nutrients.
Did you know that microwaves, the most convenient gadget of a modern kitchen are hazardous to one’s health? The microwave distorts the energy structure of a food and depletes foods of their nutrients and memory. Electric blenders, food processors, dough kneading machines have removed the most important aspect of food practices from our lives. These machineries have stopped the exchange of energy between the human body and nature.
The rich used gold and silver to eat and drink from while the others ate on earthenware, leaves and wooden bowls. Did you know that eating from a wooden plate reduces the secretion of phlegm? And gold plates help in nurturing all the doshas of the body and reduce eye disorders? Silver reduces the bodily fire and helps in digestive fire. The best containers to drink water from are copper, earthenware and glass.
The cook holds the key to the kitchen. A cook must always wash their hands, feet and face and comb and tie their hair back before they begin cooking. Their nails must be clipped and unpolished. Their clothes must be clean and uncluttered and jewellery should be removed. But let me add to a bit more to this, the cook should observe a few minutes of silence before entering the kitchen and listen to something relaxing while cooking or else cook in peaceful silence.
Let us simplify and de-clutter our kitchens and get rid of the utensils that are not being used. I am not asking you to start using cow dung cakes for fuel nor am I advising you to sit on the floor and have your meals. But I am sharing some tips from ancient wisdom that can connect us with our traditions and enhance our longevity.
- Discard all old spices and frozen and canned foods
- Keep your cooking space clean and uncluttered
- Gradually eliminate most electrical appliances and move towards hand operated ones instead. Remember, I said “gradually”!
- Familiarise yourself with some new foods and create a weekly family menu
- Remove plastic storage (specially for liquids) and swap them with glass or brass/copper or ceramic bottles.
- Swap all refined oils with ghee, mustard oil, peanut oil and coconut oil and store them in glass bottles.
- Swap your refined processed flours with bran or mixed grain flour. If you can find a mill nearby who can process them through a milling machine, nothing like it!
- Grind your spiced freshly in a mortar and pestle. Did you know that the aroma of spices being ground at home, was our traditional way of practicing aroma therapy? It cleared the impurities in the air!
- Cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder, methi powder, garam masalas, swap them all with freshly pounded ones
- Change your aluminium foil and use more banana or mustard leaves to wrap your food
- Today, utensils are made with stainless steel, aluminium, Teflon and many more. The chemicals like aluminium leach into our food and are toxic to our body. Use an iron wok or stainless steel instead
- Use as many fresh and organically grown vegetables and herbs as you can. Make use of any small space in your garden or balcony to grow herbs like coriander, mint, curry leaves, oregano, wheat grass, barley grass, ajwain leaves, lemon grass etc.
- Swap electric juicers with manual juicers
- I always tell people, every meal plan or menu is an art. It is like a painting and should be designed with different colours with a peaceful and calm mind. Take a pride in pleasing others with the artistic presentation of your food. When food is presented artistically it stimulates the appetite.
- Make an effort to share the health information of the food they eat with your family. Between the words “gag and yuk” and “giggle and wow” you will see your meals transformed!
- Do not cook when you are angry or emotionally drained, believe me, no matter how great a cook you are, your meal will not taste delicious if your emotion while you cook is negative
- Do something as simple as offering food to God before serving your meals as a token of gratitude for our provisions. It just takes a couple of minutes of your day to express gratitude
- Eating in harmony and in silence or having a wholesome conversation is one of the most ancient dining room practices
- Sitting on a chatai or a mat in lotus posture, assists in the feeling of satiety and aids digestion. It prevents excess consumption of food.
- Use anjali, the volume your two hands contain – this indicates the quantity of food required to eat by that individual in a day – one anjali for a child and two for an adult is the quantity of food required in the day.
- Our fingers are charged with the prana of the five elements which gets transferred to our meals when we cook. Kneading dough with your hands instead of dough machines transfers the energy into the food. The closer you are to the nature, the more connected your food will be with the energy of the cosmos.
- The rules of the kitchen don’t stop here. Create an organic way to dispose of your kitchen waste. Participate in small efforts towards creating an organic kitchen garden. I create my own compost from kitchen waste and use it and manure from my kitchen garden to grow herbs and now, every mouthful I eat has an abundance of goodness from Mother Earth. I feel blessed with every mouthful.
Consider what portion of your daily life you are willing to swap for the convenience of modern life. Swapping and adopting some of the above traditional kitchen rules is simple and doable. Our journey through time holds the essence of our collective knowledge. We need to find stillness amidst the tumult of our busy modern lives to use this knowledge wisely.
Dear Readers, I hope you will begin to transform your kitchens this weekend. Happy Health!
Editor’s Note: This weekly column,”Slow Diet with Swati Bathwal” is a part of our Slow Foods initiative. To become part of it, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or @slowfoodsindia on Twitter and instagram