Why Adopting Tribal Food Habits Makes Sense

By Pritee Chaudhary, Director – Western Region, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)

Tribes are the first sons and daughters of Mother Nature. Their instinct to survive and wisdom to live life had built over the eras and continued. Unlike the practices of the modern world, they are more persistent in what they follow. Many of the good practices that we have forgotten with the ever-evolving modern world, are preserved by them. So, it’s a living reference book that can be read and seen in action, enabling us to form views through more empirical understandings. 

In contrast, the urban population always considers our practices more scientific and intelligent. However, growing lifestyle disease and ever-increasing expenses to control them have put a question mark on our intelligence. 

Thus, in actual terms this is a time for synthesis after thesis and antithesis of our old and new world order. However, after losing the old-world order in our surroundings we have only a window to peek at that system in tribal culture. And there are so many things that modern man can learn.

The first and foremost thing that we can pick from tribal life is the use of millets. The same is being referred to now as Superfood and Nutri-cereal. Even the year 2023 has been declared as the International Year of Millets by the UN General Assembly. The buzz word of 2023 is the regular act of the tribal world. These are the grains which are rich in dietary fibres. They are not just easy to digest but they help in digestion. The pattern of slow release of energy in the body keeps you going for a longer time with a stuffed belly and less crave for frequent eating. At the same time keeping a Glycaemic Index on the lower side. 

These are the crops which are suitable for all landforms, resistant to insects’ attacks, resilient to climatic conditions and rich in nutrition. As a common feature these crops are less dependent on regular irrigation unlike wheat and rice, thus more sustainable to the environment. In addition to use as a single ingredient to prepare rotis (Indian Breads) any of this common millet can be easily ground to mix with the regular wheat flour. There are as many as 10 plus varieties of millets and pseudo millets, identified by various forums, however some of the commonly known and available millets can immediately be introduced in our food such as Pearl Millets, Sorghum, Finger Millets, Little Millets, Foxtail Millets.

The second good practice that we see in tribes is that they eat their food for a much smaller number of times as compared to urban populations. We call it intermittent fasting now, which is painful with the kind of diet we prefer. However, if the diet is full of fibres it’s easy to sustain with intermittent fasting also. Fibres with the addition of water gives fullness and also creates gel kind consistency for easy absorption and excretion from the body. And millets support this pattern.

We also see consumption of many forest products, mushrooms etc. which are rich in minerals and proteins.  Vegetable plate is very diverse with the tribes as compared to what we eat. Almost every plant, with the range of fibres eatworthy for humans, is a vegetable for tribes. Powdered Moringa leaf, Guar Gum through Chorafalli and Powdered Mahua Flowers, delicacies for us are part traditional tribal recipe in some form or other. Variety of vegetables are brought into the market by the vegetable vendors, but only some popular ones reach our plate, thus wiping out the other forests produced from the market. As an intelligent human being we must keep on shuffling our platter of vegetables. Mother nature has something good to offer in every single produce. So, diversifying our food plate is one important learning.

In this larger synthesis of a new set of mutual learning we too need to transfer technology to make the millets and the forest produce more marketable with their sustainable availability.  It will also ensure employment for the tribes. Innovation and popularising these traditional foods in today’s convenience-based formats can also offer exciting opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs. At the same time, the Government of India is also providing the necessary linkages through the TRIFOOD Scheme which is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Food Processing Industry, Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited (TRIFED). The Implementation of TRIFOOD, in the backdrop of VanDhan Yojana will promote value addition to Minor Forest Produce (MFP) too. Thus, bridging the gap is one fundamental requirement in order to make best use of this knowledge set. 

Finally, we need to scale up and integrate the efforts being taken by various stakeholders to reap the desired benefit of learnings from the Tribal Culture and Food. Our notion of favourite food and less favourite food also needs to go, be it a grain or vegetable. Diversification of food articles is the key to a healthy lifestyle. And traditional wisdom and modern science must have meeting points where they regularly interact.  

Image credit- shutterstock

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