Nabbu Supari Tekam, a tribal from Kolam village in the Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, loves narrating how he and others in his villagers finally got their Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards needed to access government subsidies for the poor.
Years after the villagers had applied for the cards, the District Collector visited the village to survey their living conditions.
The “strict vegetarian” Collector was horrified to see the villagers chewing on crabs, which she described as “surviving on distress food” in her report. Concluding that the tribals must be starving to eat ugly crustaceans, she got the BPL cards issued in three days!
Apart from the Collector’s appalling ignorance, the anecdote highlights how little we know about what our neighbours eat. In less time than it takes you to make humble curry, they whip up jute-leaf fritters, rhododendron squash and fried papaya flowers. Now, so can you.
“We are often ignorant about or do not value biodiversity that grows in the wild, in the farms, in the forests, lakes and oceans. If this biodiversity disappears, so will the richness of variety on our plates,” says Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
CSE has put together recipes to bring back the taste and aromas of India’s culinary complexity to modern kitchens.
Short notes on the myths and the environmental significance of each plant, shoot, leaf, flower, fruit and root used in the recipes adds to this cookbook’s unique flavour. I just wish they had included Tekam’s crab recipe, but alas, the cookbook, like Yavatmal districts famed collector, is strictly vegetarian.