It was not very long ago when the sabzis that came to our house were picked up only from the vegetable vendors. Every morning, in their sing-song style they would yell out the names of the fresh produce they carried in their cart. It was a usual sight to see the ladies rush out to buy the vegetables and fruits as soon as they heard the familiar voice of the sabzi wallahs. As a kid, I would hold my grandmother’s hand and walk with her to the vegetable market in Shivalaya, Kanpur. I loved the pandemonium in the sabzi mandi. Piles of newly harvested vegetables lay on jute sheets and the vendors beckoned the buyers in maddening, loud noises. I still remember the splash of water on the fresh greens, the picking and poking of vegetables to see their freshness, the haggling of prices and the handfuls of fresh dhaniya and hari mirch that were thrown in with every purchase. Once home, the fresh vegetables were chopped and cooked in pure ghee. The garam masala powder was never bought readymade. In our house, small batches were freshly made. Both Mom and Nani never believed in making huge batches because spices lose their flavours when kept for long.
In those days, everyone was aware of the food senses and the importance of smelling, touching and listening to food. A lot has changed in the last couple of decades. The emergence of supermarkets has led to customers buying fruits, meats and vegetables already picked, packaged and sealed. Convenience has taken precedence in our lives and in this jet-paced age “online” has become an answer to all our needs. Many websites offer a free delivery service and in a click of a button, the virtual cart is filled with readymade sauces, masalas, curd, jams, meats, vegetables and fruits while you sit in the comfort of your plush chair. In a few hours, the shopping is delivered home in clean, plastic film packaging.
When is the last time you sniffed a melon to gauge its sweetness? Do you hold the brinjal in your hand while buying to check if it’s heavy or light? Incidentally, light-weighted round brinjals are excellent for making baigan ka bharta because they hold fewer seeds. Green leafy vegetables, herbs and fruits are fragrant but sealed, their fragrance hardly reaches us. Without realising it, we are gradually shifting towards a sensory disconnect. Hidden inside the packaging, we are neither smelling nor touching food.
“The more you are conscious of each of your senses…the more intensely you will enjoy eating,” says British food writer Sybil Kapoor in his latest cookbook called ” Sight Smell Touch Taste Sound: A New Way to Cook.” Any chef in the world will tell you about the importance of smell, sound and touch in cooking. The woody scent of cinnamon brings back memories of warm cinnamon rolls, hot chocolate and a pantry loaded with baked goodies. Rice would never be a biryani without the aromatic bouquet garni nor would a cheese platter be complete without the stinky, smelly blue cheese.
When you touch your food with your hands, a physical and spiritual connection occurs with it. Your attention is rooted in the present and an awareness is created. When food is touched with the hands, there’s automatically more attention given to it. According to Ayurveda, our bodies are in consonance with the elements of nature and each finger is an extension of the five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth. When we use our hands it enhances our consciousness of the food we eat.
How does food sound? The snap of a carrot, the crunch of an apple, the crispness of bacon in BLT and the fizz from the chilled soda influence our perception of how delicious food tastes. The crackle of desi ghee tadka atop hot dal or the sizzling sound of steak as it reaches the table only whets the appetite. Let’s face it, a steak without a sizzle would just kill the dish. Sound, like the other four senses, plays a vital role in our experiences with food. Drowning these sounds while watching television or listening to music with the earphones reduces the pleasure of eating.
Lack of mindful eating is perhaps also the reason why people overeat. We are not looking, listening or smelling the food we eat. We have come a long way from families sitting and eating together to a solo robotic pattern of eating in front of the idiot box where there is a disconnect from our food. We are losing our ability to use our senses and relying more on the expiration labels to tell us when food has gone stale. It’s time to switch on all the senses and amplify the pleasure of eating meals to the fullest. Avoid distractions while eating. Savour every bite you take. Soak in the flavours, the aromas, the colours and the taste. Touch food. Don’t just eat food. Focus and feed all your senses when you interact with it.
Do you feel the paradigm shift from personal grocery shopping to online vegetable shopping is affecting our eating patterns and unknowingly reducing our pleasure from food?