After I quit the corporate life, I went into a certain occupation where my interaction with the, what we would call the financially poor increased. In fact I have very few white collared friends now.
For an average of 8-10 hours every day, I am surrounded by people from the lower-income bracket of our society. Over the initial few months, invariably because of the sheer amount of time I spent with them, I started observing a lot of their habits. And because I am a diabetic and always on the lookout to increase my good-food universe, I was naturally attracted more towards their cuisine and the food they eat.
Yes, they eat a lot of white rice and wheat. They love their lean meat. When it comes to vegetables, their range is limited. Onion, potato, tomato, ladies finger and brinjal are largely what they consume. Fruits are practically non-existent, except for affordable ones like bananas. But when you look at the range of legumes they consume, it’s simply splendid.
Let me give you their reasons for each of the above:
1. Rice and wheat – They do a lot of physical labour unlike the white-collared workforce. They walk a lot, easily 10-12 kms everyday, A lot of us would take an auto or a cab without a thought. (I don’t blame people who prefer a drive. It’s just an observation).
2. Meat – Their consumption is largely restricted to eggs, chicken and fish. They enjoy their non-vegetarian days and in-fact look forward to them after their fasting days of ‘Shravan’ and ‘Navratri’.
3. Given their income levels, they are able to afford only those vegetables which are relatively cheaper.
4. Pulses – And this is how they compensate their inability to buy vegetables and fruits. By consuming a wide variety of pulses throughout the week.
Depending on which parts of India we come from, we use some legumes (pulses) more than others. Punjabis may use a lot of kabuli chana and rajma, whereas Gujaratis may use a lot of mung and black-eyed beans.
For a diabetic, being stuck with just one or two kinds of legumes (pulses) on a regular basis can be boring. Understanding legumes (pulses) a little more will help provide an extended set of dishes one can make & consume. This will help take-away a lot of the mundane and the temptation to eat-out. Also, if you are a vegetarian consider these ‘manna from heaven’.
The community I spend most of my day with are Maharashtrians and they call these – kaddhanya, which simply means legumes. There is a great variety here:
Legumes are among the most versatile and nutritious food available. They are low in fat, contain marginal / no cholesterol, and are high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium.
The body uses the carbohydrate in legumes gradually, providing steady energy to the body. Eating legumes as part of your diet can help regulate blood sugar levels. This is the most important benefit that legumes provide to diabetics.
One can buy these from supermarkets, but the lesson on legumes for me came from this lady sitting on the footpath in the Chembur east bhaji market. She explained each of them in detail to me. Where ever you buy them from, ensure that clean water has been used and that what you buy is hygienic.
Going back to where we started. I learnt all this (not in this technical language) from a group of people who were less educated and financially poorer than me. Adopting the good ways of their life has helped me in multiple ways. Food is just one of them.
This is a process of what i call ‘unLearning’ and the definitions of rich and poor changed for me permanently thereafter.