Fascination with food

Being a frugal eater by habit probably has advantages. One doesn't put on weight and remains fit without too much effort. But with me it has proved a hurdle more often than not.

As a bride, I realised that my new family was one where food was a major point of discussion and obsession. Daily menus were deliberated upon and meals were charted out a day in advance. Cook books and the internet were scoured on a regular basis to search for information on a particular, elusive ingredient. Flower beds in the garden were routinely sacrificed to make way for planting broccoli and lettuce. Trips to the national capital were incomplete without large-scale shopping of uncommon vegetables and strange-sounding herbs. Everyone had their favourite dishes and with inputs from all members, putting a meal together was a formidable task, almost equal to a battle plan.

Salads, sprouts, wheatgerm, fish, different cuts of meat were intensely debated and their health benefits discussed threadbare. Not for us the mundane wheat chappatis. There was a repertoire of grains such as bajra, ragi and jowar to relish and thrash out their nutritive values on the dining table. I would listen with one ear, wondering what the fuss was all about, but slowly got used to it and gradually settled in.

I soon realised that this fascination with food and the latest diets was not just restricted to my family. Every gathering with girlfriends over lunch or a birthday party would inevitably end in a voluble, animated exchange of recipes and weight-loss regimens. I would participate half-heartedly, pretending to be interested. Phone numbers of new dieticians would be exchanged secretly and there would be long-winded debates on the advantages and disadvantages of dieting. Any friend with a major difference in weight would be subjected to intense scrutiny and then casually dismissed as "looking anorexic and wasted". Reed thin girls would sigh and complain of putting on 'non-existent' grams. An impending holiday was enough reason to lose weight and then some more on returning.

My faux pas came a few years down the line when my husband's paternal aunt came visiting. She was an imperious lady used to having her way. My mother-in-law was timid and scuttled around to please her. At the breakfast table, when the maid came around with a laden plate for the second time, I told her "Who has more than one parantha for breakfast? Take them back". This was just as buaji was eagerly proffering her plate for another butter-soaked, crisp parantha. There was a mortifying silence while I, red-faced with embarrassment, wanted to flee from the table. Poor buaji, she refused to eat more in spite of my profuse apologies and cajoling. Needless to say it took me a long time to get back into her good books and learn to keep my mouth shut on this touchy topic called food.


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