From idli, dosa to calorie-laden porotta, pizza, fries
My recent travel across Kerala re-educated me on the dietary habits of once predominantly vegetarian folks. The menu boards in front of certain restaurants show plenty of ‘innovative dishes’ made with all sorts of animal meats. It looks like we eat anything and everything from kanava to camel and everything in between.
This is a remarkable change from the carb-based traditional idli, dosa, and rice dishes to more fat-sugar-salt and calorie-laden porotta, pizza, fries, kuzhimanthy to burgers and fried chicken varieties. These days Keralites eat out more often; rely on takeout foods, and packaged and processed foods frequently. The dietary change from simple homemade to nutrition deficient and calorie high items is promoting undesirable health issues. The switch to factory-farmed-processed foods with increased caloric intake along with a sedentary lifestyle is building a nation of unhealthy people.
As society evolves so does the lifestyle aspects including diet habits. Many reasons contribute to our diet habits. Busy lifestyles of the two-income families opt for easy to cook, prepared, and processed foods more often. In a social media connected world we long to experiment with foods and fads, gastronomic treasures from other cultures. As income and affluence go up, we tend to enjoy fancy foods, eat out frequently, and indulge a bit more often. Diet changes occur as a result of acculturation, a process by which societies interact and merge, thus interchanging and acquiring cultural nuances from other cultures. Thus, we substitute wholesome, and home-cooked items with pre-processed for convenience. We tend to consume more processed and hidden calorie, nutrient deficient, and preservative laced food products churned out by factories.
According to statistics compiled by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT), the daily caloric intake of an average person in India has gone up from 2010 to 2458 (1961 to 2011 period). During the last 50 years, the consumption of meat and animal-based foods, sugar, fat, and salt has also gone up substantially. As a result, lifestyle illnesses are becoming prevalent among the Indian population. A World Health Organization (WHO) study shows that 8.7% of the world's diabetes sufferers are in India. However, life expectancy has gone up from 42 (1960) to 68 (2015).
Comparing to the American diet scene
Years ago, it was difficult to find vegetarian dishes on the menu here in North America. My friend, Perry, who was from Madras had a tough time in restaurants whenever we went out to eat. As a strict vegetarian his choices were limited to rice, bread, and jam, French fries, etc. Even ‘vegetarian soups' contained tallow as a flavor enhancer. Many outfits used animal fats to cook everything including French fries. Spices and herbs, other than salt and pepper, were rarely used thus creating a bland food culture. For years America stuck to its iconic ‘meat and potato', high-fat diet: fresh green salads and low-calorie dishes were noticeably absent.
Now, consumers are realizing the risks associated with eating more animal protein and fat. According to a U. S. study, people consuming more plant-based protein may have an edge on longevity. Slowly and steadily, as more immigrants from diverse countries started to arrive, the American food scene changed. Now, there are vegetarian and pure vegan restaurants everywhere. Traditional restaurants also carry an array of dishes to satisfy vegetarian palates.
Red meat and high saturated fat content are linked to heart diseases and diabetes. As the red meat is getting a bad rap from the health professionals, the consumption of beef has fallen. Chicken is the new beef as Americans are switching to chicken. They consume less sugar, whole milk, and less saturated fats. There is a big push towards plant-based milk, such as soy, almond, oats, coconut, etc. There is a greater demand for corn and plant-derived sweeteners, mono and polyunsaturated fats and hefty amounts of yogurt. These days, Americans consume more whole grains, a variety of them, and try to stay away from highly processed flours. They are eating more avocados, bananas, and other fruits from around the world.
Likewise, there are changes in the fast-food industry (once the bastion unhealthy foods) as they experiment with low calorie and veggie options. It is no longer just burgers, fried chicken, and fries there is a whole lot of international food offerings.
Good news for vegetarians and vegans
A new generation of vegetarians and vegans are growing at a faster pace in America. More and more people are realizing the value of a vegetarian, plant-based, diet as they switch to a healthy lifestyle with added physical activity. They along with big corporations like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and Nestle, etc. are contributing to an accelerated move towards vegetarianism. Their new-gen faux meat products like beyond burger, meatless sausages, hot dogs, meatballs, ground meat, and chicken are in the marketplace receiving rave reviews. According to Beyond meat company, its product is "the world's first plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef without GMOs, soy, or gluten".
To attest to the sign of the times, the entertainment giant Disney is jumping into the vegan bandwagon. Disney is moving forward with plans to introduce plant-based food options at all their dining locations and restaurants by early 2020. Dishes like Crispy Fried Tofu, Cauliflower Tacos, Carrot Gnocchi, Eggless Florentine, etc. will highlight the menu.
The adage, we are what we eat, is true in many ways. Healthy eating and active lifestyle starting from childhood onwards shape a better population. Clean eating is sensible eating of fresh, natural and wholesome foods. It is a better choice than processed, and factory-farmed foods.