How we eat: honoring food traditions
Knowing how to nourish ourselves is a damn confusing thing in this modern life.
We’ve traded millennia of village living for the bedazzled urban experience where time slips through our fingers like sand. With it we have lost touch with our traditional food ways; the daily practice of communing with the earth and the elements by preparing food. As we fill our bellies with polyunsaturated seed oil, emulsifiers, lectins and ‘nature identical flavors’, we keep our bodies in a state of chronic inflammation. Inflammation = root of all dis-ease.
It’s not our fault that we are confused - our modern food system is a Frankenstein of corrupt government policies & ever-fattening Industry pockets. Government policies are made for business, not for our genuine well-being.
Based on my life’s work in the field of food, I want to tell you how we eat here at The Odd Gumnut. I believe firmly that the most powerful preventative medicine we have is the food we eat.
We eat real food, mostly plants and we process ingredients in traditional ways. Packaged, processed foods come into our lives once in a while and we enjoy them, but they are considered as ‘frivolous accessories’ and not actually food.
We eat lots of whole grains, legumes, veggies, dairy, eggs and fermented foods. We bake brownies and drink coffee and enjoy seasonal fruits. We are mostly vegetarian but know that animal products, when sourced correctly, play an essential role in full body nutrition and don’t shy away from lots of raw milk, yogurt, ghee and eggs from our chickens. The key understanding here is not the what, it’s the how.
All grains are bought whole and in bulk, usually straight from the farmer. We’re lucky to have a neighbor with a chakki (a home flour mill) and mill our grains about 6-7 kgs at a time. The local crops are millets (jowar, nachni/ragi & bajra) and rice, which we eat abundantly! Instead of wheat, I buy khapli - India’s heirloom ancient version of wheat (much like farro, emmer or einkhorn) with a low gluten content and higher vitamin and mineral content.
We soak our grains as often as possible to neutralize the phytic acid, which acts as an anti-nutrient in our bodies and blocks the absorption of calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium. Khapli becomes long-fermented traditional sourdough bread, which we eat nearly everyday. Nachni, a fabulously iron-rich millet, is sprouted before grinding to neutralize its high phytic acid content and allow our bodies to actually uptake all these nutrients! Savory crepes are a frequent part of life and always soaked beforehand in equal parts flour (from any mix of grains) and homemade yogurt for 12-24 hours. When baking quick breads, like banana bread or pumpkin bread, I similarly soak flours in an acidic medium (yogurt or whey; vegans can use water with vinegar or lemon juice) to neutralize phytic acid ensure easy digestion. For baking, I use a ratio of 3 parts flour to 2 parts yogurt and allow to sit for 12-24 hours at ambient temperature. Doing this also eliminated the need for baking powder, just a pinch of baking soda is all you need.
Whole grains are powerhouses of nutrition, but only if we can access them! Phytic acid is a blocker and renders the grains’ nutrients useless if we do not first address it. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting requires a little extra planning but otherwise no extra effort. Grains in their freshly milled form, with all the phytic acid and gluten in tact, are difficult to digest and one of the main causes of inflammation in our gut. That inflammation manifests in a range of symptoms that we might not associate directly with our diet - things like anxiety, mood swings, joint pain, swelling and depression.
Dal/Legumes & Nuts:
Indian meals are not complete with dal! We eat them all the time. Like grains and nuts, they contain phytic acid that must be neutralized first. This is done by soaking and sprouting. Most are soaked overnight in water with a spoonful of raw milk whey, some we germinate over a couple days on the countertop and transform inert beans into sweet little vitamin C rich sprouts, which we lightly steam or boil.
Nuts are expensive and not a huge part of our life, but we try to always soak them first overnight and sometimes sprout them and roast them in the oven for a delicious crunchy snack.
When working with grains, seeds, nuts and legumes we must neutralize the phytic acid through sprouting, soaking & fermenting. If not, our own bodies nutrient stores get stripped, our gut is left inflamed and tiny perforations get created in our gut wall lining which can lead to a host of auto-immune issues down the line.
Raw Milk Dairy:
Our lovely neighbor, Poornima, keeps 2 cows. She walks them daily through the hills and allows them to graze on the local grasses and other fauna. 2 liters of milk get delivered fresh daily; it is an essential source of vitamin A, D and calcium. Instead of boiling it, I put it straight in the fridge and only heat up little amounts as needed for tea and coffee. I never boil the milk. Boiling and pasteurizing milk kills off the bacteria, of which there is much more good bacteria than potentially harmful bad bacteria. Beneficial bacteria native in milk release the enzyme lactase, which works as a digestive aid in our human bodies to help us breakdown lactose. Pasteurized milk is an incomplete food - full of lactose but lacking any lactase-producing bacterial friends.
For this reason, pasteurized milk is the most allergenic food in the world! For a cow raised on pasture - her natural diet - there is virtually no risk of getting sick from raw milk. Cow’s milk from the factory farm industrial system is pasteurized by necessity, as it is a compilation of milk from thousands of different cows and likely contains blood & puss from infected udders, manure from udders not properly cleaned and of course, a range of antibiotics and hormones that are pumped into these poor sick animals to keep them in production.
We make yogurt almost daily, about a liter at a time. We do this by simply heating the milk to about 40 degrees (100 Fahrenheit), adding the yogurt culture and letting it set. Again, never boiling. The result is a thin but delicious yogurt, which sometimes we consume just like that for smoothies or raita or to culture my grains, but other times I hang the yogurt in a cloth for a couple hours, letting the whey passively drip and collecting the curd, which is now thick and creamy like Greek Yogurt. Hanging it even longer - 12 hours - continues the culturing of the curd and makes a thick and delicious cream cheese! To that I often add fresh herbs, olive oil and some salt and we eat it on toast. Yum!
The whey - a cloudy, mineral, protein & bacteria rich liquid - is stable in the fridge for months. I add it to vegetable ferments, soaking grains, and most exciting - I craft handmade sodas using whey as the starter.
Picking what oil to cook with could be the most confusing of all food decisions. Oil companies advertise all sorts of bold claims, 99.9% of which are lies.
The best fats to cook with are the most stables ones - meaning saturated fat - these are ghee and coconut oil and other animal fats (tallow, lard, butter). We cook often with fresh pressed peanut oil as well. Olive oil is used cold as a salad dressing or drizzled on tops of grains or added to pestos and chutneys.
We avoid all other seed/vegetable oils, all polyunsaturated, like sunflower, canola, cottonseed, rice bran, etc. These are highly inflammatory in our bodies and should be avoided completely.
Lots of them! As often as possible. Raw, cooked and fermented. Eat the rainbow my friends - every vegetable has something different to offer up and we should enjoy greens and veggies both cultivated and wild foraged.
Delicious, but nutritionally less necessary than people seem to think. At the end of the day, fruits still contain a lot of natural sugar. They are best eaten first thing in the morning on an empty stomach so they can pass efficiently through our system. Fruits eaten throughout the day get stacked up in our digestion along with the other food we eat and start to ferment, causing intestinal gas. The only exception here is lemon! I use fresh lemon juice in cooking and love to drink it in water in the afternoons after hot mornings spent working in the farm.
A fabulous part of life! We use jaggery (gud) and honey as complete replacements for refined white sugar, in everything from baking to coffee and tea to pancake syrup. White sugar is so devoid of any nutrients that it actually leaches essential nutrients from our own bodies just to pass through the digestive system. White sugar not only leaches nutrients but it also aggravates inflammation and feeds cancer cells growth. It should be kicked out of our kitchens!
Pasture raised healthy chickens produce gorgeous eggs with dark yellow/orange plump egg yolks. They are a wonderful source of vitamin A, protein and healthy cholesterol. Consider getting a couple hens for your home! They will scratch around your compound, eat up all your kitchen scraps and food waste and deliver up delicious fresh eggs on the daily.
Understanding how to eat for whole body health is not a matter of ‘what’, it is indeed a matter of ‘how’. Treat your grains, beans and nuts well and they will nourish you in a way that is economical and complete.
Don’t have access to anything but pasteurized milk? Then culture the milk you can get it - culturing it (by making yogurt) restores the beneficial bacteria that produce lactase and ease the digestive process.
Can’t get organic vegetables? Learn how to ferment! The fermentation process for pickles, kimchi & sauerkraut help dissipate and dissolve chemical residues from pesticides and fertilizers.
Eating well has much less to do with shopping at premium grocery stores and much more to do with honoring ancestral ways of preparations, namely fermenting, soaking, & sprouting. If you are thinking that you don’t have time for these things in your busy daily life, you are misled. Soaking and fermenting are passive activities for the human; it is the bacteria who are doing all the work! Soaked grains and beans cook twice as fast, saving you time! Even the habit of making sourdough bread, while a 16 hours process, only requires about 15 minutes of our own effort.
If you loved this reading and want to dive in deep, check out the Weston Price Foundation, they are trusted thought-leaders and keepers of traditional foodways.