Food traditions honored by time, pleasant for the palate and the planet – Eurasia Review
By Zofeen Ebrahim
Balance is the absolute key, says Alia Chughtai, a journalist who started a catering service with filmmaker Akhlaque Mahesar, named Aur Chaawal (And the Rice), two years ago.
She knows what she’s talking about. Suffering from gastrointestinal issues, Chughtai’s journey to healthy eating began a decade ago. Once she understood the science behind nutrition and what balanced eating meant, she understood what her body had been going through. And so began his quest to clean it up.
“I couldn’t have garlic or onions for eight straight weeks,” the two most essential ingredients without which one cannot imagine cooking desi (Pakistani slang) food, she said. at IPS.
Two years ago, Chughtai decided to turn his culinary journey into a small side business.
“I got into this because there was a personal need for clean desi food without the bad oil, chemical spices and food coloring,” she said. Today, her fight is against processed foods which she says are the root cause of the multitude of ailments in people, and she swears by “heartily grown vegetables and fruits.”
“But this is not a solo race,” she said. In order for a well-oiled business to function successfully and grow, the duo divided their tasks. While Chughtai oversees day-to-day operations and “menu design,” Mahesar takes care of the background logistics.
As they walk the ‘farm to fork’ journey, trying to find the balance between sustainability, nutrition and access, Mahesar said they are doing their best to ‘use produce that is grown. locally and locally made ”.
In turn, the duo have become acutely aware of fairer returns for small businesses and farmers.
“Ours is a small business, and we are all for supporting other small businesses,” Chughtai’s partner said.
The pandemic has also acted as a catalyst for many Pakistanis to think and produce locally.
“We are trying to source as much as possible from all over Pakistan, including the different types of cheese and even pasta,” he said.
But looking for quality products takes a lot of research, which they both love to do.
“We receive a month’s supply of spices from the small towns of Sindh; a certain species of peppers from Muzaffarabad, in the province of Punjab; saffron and buckwheat from Hunza, in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan; and saag (mustard plant) from Lahore, also in Punjab. They replace ghee (a type of light butter) with cooking oil, which they get from Matiari, also in Sindh, every week.
Fayza Khan, President of the Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetics Society (PNDS), believes that food industry actors should preach and practice healthy and sustainable diets, advocate for science-based diets, recommend reduced consumption of meat and highly processed foods and the government’s demand for improved labeling of packaged foods.
To “reduce the burden of malnutrition and non-communicable diseases”, food sector actors should “play their part” by promoting healthier cooking methods and minimizing food waste.
Disapproving of the overconsumption of high fat foods, including baked goods, fast food and sugary drinks, she said: at a young age spreads rapidly.
Khan therefore recommends “traditional foods” which are healthier if they are “home cooked with better cooking techniques”.
And this is what the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) advocates: that a healthy diet, especially traditional foods, plays an important role in food sustainability because it has a low environmental impact.
For example, the Mediterranean diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish rather than red meat and grain-based products, like pasta, and cooked in olive oil, helps prevent heart disease. No wonder Italians are ranked among the healthiest in the world. Italy has the largest number of centenarians in Europe.
As Chughtai and Mahesar refined their business model, they increasingly understood the integrity of sustainable food strategies and began to exercise caution to minimize any environmental or climate impact this might cause.
“As an entrepreneur in the food business, it is our responsibility to reduce greenhouse emissions, protect animal welfare and protect small farmers and workers in the food business,” said Chughtai .
“Initially, we used bagasse bowls and containers,” she explained, but had to switch to cheaper recycled packaging boxes because the bagasse was too expensive.
“We use regular reusable plastic boxes that we fill with food with a 10% discount on food,” she said, adding, “People don’t want to pay more for desi cooking! “
They also compost their wet kitchen scraps and use it as manure for their rooftop vegetable garden, where they grow their red peppers, chili peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, eggplants, squash and some herbs.
But Chughtai, says Aur Chaawal, is not just a business; it is a quest for “clean food”.
It took her several years to discover the root cause of her stomach issues, Chughtai said and said everything points to prepackaged spices with their overdose of aromas and colors. Unlike them, in Aur Chaawal, they use the old-fashioned pestle and mortar to pound fresh garlic, crush ginger or chili peppers, or grind whole spices into powder.
“Our kitchen can be laborious, okay,” she admitted, but insisted it was “clean and healthy”.
Chughtai may not know it, but Aur Chaawal used the Barilla Foundation’s double pyramid model to place the health and climate pyramids side by side, encouraging healthy diets for humans and respecting the planet.
In a city like Karachi, which abounds in caterers, food shops and restaurants and a huge population of discerning foodies, securing 10,000 Instagram followers and a stable daily clientele aged 35 to 45, in just two years, this n is no small feat. feat.
“We have to be innovative,” Mahesar said, but attributes their success to the awareness among their regular customers (which include many working women who want her to cook for their families) that the Aur Chaawal menu will only be healthy.
The company also caters to those who count their calories. But Chughtai insisted that a one-size-fits-all formula doesn’t work here.
On average, she said, every body’s plate should be 1/4 full of protein, 1/2 of greens, and 1/4 of complex carbohydrates.
But she stressed: “Everyone is different; you should eat according to your health needs.
For example, on his plate, the portion of protein would be 1/3 of protein since it lacked iron. And that is, she said, the mistake many nutritionists in Pakistan make.
“You can’t apply the 1400/1500 calorie rule to everyone! Said Chughtai, who was fortunate enough to train with Adrian Leung, a certified nutrition coach and personal trainer, and who has helped “reconfigure my brain about good and bad food.”
One day, when her inner writer is agitated, she considers documenting her “journey”. She intends to travel from coastal villages to mountain peaks and include recipes that she chooses “unconventional dishes and the ones we have adapted because Karachi is such an assortment of ethnicities” in a compilation ” beautifully designed ”.
Until then, after learning to eat home-cooked meals prepared by her mother, she said, Aur Chaawal will continue to serve “clean” meals using the healthiest and most locally sourced produce and spices. organic farming for their customers.