Simple Foods, Simple Life in a Simpler Time

The other day, I had one of those conversations that have you still dwelling on the topic, long after the conversation is over. A good friend of mine, and I, met up for lunch in a small bustling cafe, in the downtown core of Mississauga. Yes, Mississauga does have a downtown and there is a visible skyline. We cozied up next to a fire, sank into our cushiony arm chairs and munched on our sandwiches, with long intervals of straight conversation and no grazing.

He was about to tell me about his new venture. Let’s call him Will, to avoid the overuse of the word he. Will, an uncomplicated, insightful, 27 year old man, is struggling to find a job that flatters his personality rather than insults it. Sound familiar twenty-something populace of the world?

Since his current situation has left him dehydrated of money [lunch was on me], Will needed to divert his attention elsewhere. He started to announce that he wanted to make changes for himself internally. Will said to me “do you ever think about where the food we eat comes from?” I would like to think I don’t have time to. Will admitted he did indeed have the time to carry on his new venture to intensely research and eat organically, and question supermarkets, while others just trust them.

We talked about chickens that are dilated from hormones, looking plump and juicy, barbequed with succulent grill marks, found in the meals to go section of a grocery store, sitting on the side of a mixed leafy salad, sprayed with weed killers and pesticides, during the growth process.

We talked about how uncultivated people, with too much money pay fifteen to twenty dollars for a salad made up of wild berries that quite possibly, grow naturally in their backyards.

We talked about knowing how to pick and eat the right kind of dandelions that are a good source of calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and C.

He talked. And I listened, as a floodgate of memories, family customs and travelling tales had conveniently formed an assembly line of stories in my head, pining to be told.

I, myself have a travelled tons, and one of my earliest memories of involuntarily choosing to go organic, was in India, at the age of 9. My dad and I were wandering the soiled streets of the Faridkot, Punjab, when dad asked “what do you want to eat for dinner.” It was one for those questions where he knew the answer, since nine out of ten times I would respond with “chicken and rice.”(If it wasn’t that, it was pizza).

Hand in hand, we turned a corner to a nearby shanty butchery. Behind the front counter I saw chickens running around freely and happily. This grounded my attention. Dad then asked “which one do you like.” I gleefully pointed, and the man covered in meat juice grabbed my chosen chicken, laid it on a wooden board, and chopped its neck off. The chicken’s head soared through the air and blood spewed everywhere like vomit. My innocent eyes didn’t blink. My body went numb. Dad glanced over at me and gave me a look that silently spoke “that’s the way it’s done her, no biggie.” That night I didn’t eat dinner. I gave up meat for the rest of my trip.

Example 2; Being born and raised in an East Indian household, I never really valued the fact that my families cooking traditions, are family heirlooms that I should embrace, master and pass on to my spawn, till I wrote this. My traditional mother has never bought plain yogurt in her life. Our fridge is always stocked with a homemade version, sans a yogurt maker. The old skool method involves heating and cooling, incubating and refrigerating milk at various temperatures. And the end result, is a refreshing batch of home grown yogurt with no lactose content and absolutely no sugar. Homemade roti is another must-have in any Indian kitchen. The dough requires no more than two ingredients: whole wheat flour and water. Eliminating all chemical additives and unhealthy preservatives found in the frozen version, of your local grocery store.

Example 3; Backtracking to India, age 9. My family and I were waiting at the New Delhi railway station where the “chai wala” (tea guy) operates his business. He charges pennies for a cup for hot tea, served out of a vessel made of raw clay. The impressive part was that right after you downed your tea, the cup was smashed right there, in front of you, and the clay was recycled and reused for the next chai craving individual. And if you look in the crevices of this station, you saw a handful of locals shaping the cups, drying them out in the sun, to soak up all the moisture, then burning them as a way to solidify them, while killing off any traces of bacteria. 

Example 4; Trekking through Don Det, the most southern tip of Laos, in my early twenties, was an experience that by painting a picture in words, pales in comparison to the real thing. The mountains, the villages, the natural waterfalls, the simplicity of the locals was vivacious. At the time when I was there, modernity was not at all, in the Laotian’s vocabulary, respecting nature and all its goodies were. This includes the way Laotians eat. Because of the limited choice in food, locals ate locally grown fruits and veggies sprawled out in gardens. Banana trees lined dirt paths, mulberries fells off trees. Chicken sauntered freely and fish were dragged out of the Mekong River. Food was cooked over a primitive wooden fire, and all the restaurants were organic. The combination of the setting, the food, and the scent of the air gave me this effervescent feeling that left my mind clear. Something that doesn’t happen as often as I wish it would nowadays. During my time in Laos, I learned that Laotians are genuinely, humbly, happy to be alive. They live in the moment rather than rushing the moment, and just permeate a good energy that put all their guests in a peaceful mood.   

What I gathered from most of my travels is that the Western world has it all wrong. 

Food is a way to reconnect with culture. It’s a way to connect with the earth. It only makes sense to know where the food you put into your body comes from. 

It’s quite simple: eating organic equals longevity, eating commercial equals looking and feeling like shit.


~ by deliciousnoize on January 31, 2010.

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