I have lived in and traveled to various places across India and abroad and have been fortunate to get a glimpse of different cultures. But this journey has been unique. Looking back, I’ve been a fussy eater, not a huge fan of cooked vegetables except some, and avoid certain items no matter what. To add, I had become even more cautious with my diet when I started working out and strictly followed certain dietary regulations. Well, I’m certainly not an exception as a lot of us have the privilege to access and afford the diverse range of food products. However, if you’re working with the community which has a grim history of famines and starvation, and still suffers from these problems, you realize that living in such a place is not for everyone. So, how do they survive?
Work hard for survival, not for livelihood
If food is scarce, working hard for it becomes the priority, livelihood comes secondary. For instance, in a typical tribal household, everyone gets up at 4 am, eats rice with an accompanying curry (if available) and goes for ‘donger’ (farming). It’s important to note that the entire family goes on the farm. As the day ends, they come back and have dinner latest by 8 pm. They usually eat rice or ragi, dal and go off to sleep. With a daily routine like this, it’s hard to imagine any other way of earning an income, and therefore, poverty becomes apparent. On an average, a typical tribal earns anywhere between 200 to 300 rupees per month.
Eating huge portions
A serving of rice or ‘bhath’ here, consumed by an average tribal person is equivalent to what 3 people would eat otherwise. It’s completely justified considering they work extremely hard and get to eat twice a day. During the ANC (Ante-natal Care) check-ups and in under 5 children health camps, we at Swasthya Swaraj make it a point to provide lunch for mothers and kids. They eat large portions of rice and dal as they have to walk back several kilometers to their villages.
Importance of a meal
The moment we encounter someone familiar here, the first question is, “Did you eat?”. It’s a cultural thing to talk about food, which has also been incorporated and embraced by my host organization. I still remember the time I was leaving my health center to go home when the head nurse, who is also in-charge of the health center, was reluctant to let me go without eating anything. On her insistence, I had to have a hearty lunch before heading back.
Wasting food is unacceptable
Initially, when I was still getting adjusted to the environment, on one of the days, it was lunchtime in the health center and on menu was Cauliflower and Pumpkin curry, both of which I absolutely despise. As I finished my meal, I collected all the leftover bits at the corner of the plate. The head nurse saw me doing it and told, ”Do you realize you’re throwing away the hard work and effort of these people?” I apologized and since then, have been eating everything on my plate.
The villages in this region, though severely impoverished, are clean. There is no trace of food waste although the same thing can’t be said about Bhawanipatna, the district headquarters where we have our main office. One can see pockets of food waste spread across the city.
I think it’s natural to have food preferences if they’re available to you and you have the means to afford them. However, after living and working with the tribal community, which has a long history of starvation, famines, and poverty, my perception about food has certainly changed. I can’t say that living here has transformed me completely but I now understand the luxury of having access to a soulful meal. I’ve certainly become less fussy about food and make sure that I eat three times a day.