Don’t tell me what to eat!

This rather angst-ridden post comes at a time when the country I reside in (India) is going through something along the lines of what can only be described as a shit-storm. There is a reason to why I choose to call it the country I reside in and not my country, and that reason has a lot to do with my disregard for the glorified nationalism that is patriotism; but that is something I will (hopefully, if I remember and have the energy) address in a later post. Today, however, I wish to talk about the most recent malady gripping this nation: a food ban.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this particular atrocity, here is a brief, heavily biased summary: The ruling political party in the country, the BJP, has launched a thinly veiled communal movement against religious minorities in the country in an attempt to make the country a “Hindu” nation. The controversial prime minister recently made the appointment of an even more controversial individual, and a Hindu religious leader no less, as the chief minister of the most populous state in the country (UP); a state with a larger Muslim population than Saudi Arabia. Understandably, a host of events has taken place since then, furthering the already mammoth divide between the left and right-wing individuals. I will not go into the host of issues I have with the government, but just highlight the one that is currently on my mind: the new UP government has started a crackdown against “illegal” slaughterhouses, under the guise of which hundreds of thousands of

Understandably, a host of events has taken place since then, furthering the already mammoth divide between the left and right-wing individuals. I will not go into the host of issues I have with the government, but just highlight the one that is currently on my mind: the new UP government has started a crackdown against “illegal” slaughterhouses, under the guise of which hundreds of thousands of meat vendors, the majority of them being Muslims, have been put out of business. Repercussions of this have been seen in states across the country, where vigilantes have taken to violence against even the legally operating meat vendors.

It does not take a great leap of understanding to see that this crusade against meat and meat vendors fits snugly into the communal image of the BJP. Hinduism has been mistakenly associated with vegetarianism for hundreds of years now (I say mistakenly because the archaeological and historical experts have agreed, time and again, that the oldest practitioners of Hinduism weren’t bothered about who ate what, and, what’s more, even sacrificed animals as part of prayers), and the BJP covertly seeks to make India a Hindu land, and thus a vegetarian one. The recent introduction of Hindi, a language which people, again, mistakenly, associate with India and Hinduism, into non-Hindi speaking states is a further example of how the Centre wishes to rebrand “India as is Bharath” as Hindustan.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll drop my “leftist” agenda which condemns the central government. I’ll even let slide the obvious linguistic chauvinism which is currently threatening the diversity of one of the most beautifully diverse nations of the world. What I cannot let up, however, is people telling me what to and what not to eat. We are a secular nation, which entails the freedom to be who we are, do what we want (as long as it is within the legal limits) and eat what we bloody want. Not going into the whole shenanigans about how necessary animal protein is for people, it’s a simple thing to understand: people have a right to food.

People who choose to follow religious limitations (yet again, a topic which I feel strongly towards and hope to speak about soon) to the extent of depriving themselves of certain things are more than free to do so, but who gives anyone the authority to restrict people not only from eating whatever it is that they wish, but also take away a major source of livelihood? What right does a democratically elected leader have to say that the practice of a religion should be done stringently, and to subsequently encroach upon the basic human rights of his people?

Tomorrow, if a leader is elected who bans the “illegal” sale of leafy greens, are we supposed to silently sit back and withstand the deprivation of an essential component of our diet? Fuck that, if the government decides to ban the “illegal” sale of chocolates, would we stand for it?

If yes, then, honestly, very little can be said here. People who are willing to submit so utterly to authority (authority which is barely educated, has a skewed world view, and takes religious communalism to a whole new level), then what are free-thinkers to do? How can anyone win in a fight where the other side has already decided that there is no competition.

If no, then why stop me from eating my tenderloin steak if I don’t stop you from eating whatever dismal cabbage creation you’ve concocted? Is it because my food offends you more than yours offends me? How can food be offensive to a person, unless you’re taking that offense as part of something larger, say a religion. If my food offends your religion, don’t eat my food. Why should I stop eating my food because it offends your religion? You religion is the primary religion of the country, you say?

Check again.

We live in a “secular” country where trying to get things like beef, which is now a traditional part of many Muslim households, is like trying to score drugs. I have a simple question, aimed at the prime minister and the chief minister of UP (whom I affectionately call Dhonginath; we have an understanding): if I don’t force you to eat meat as part of my religion (that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster), why do you stop me from eating it?

The Science of Cooking

For many years now, I have been dabbling in the fine arts of the culinary and, indeed, have come to associate cooking with my hobbies and, I may be deluded here, my talents. Hard as I may try to think back to my first excursion into the kitchen or my first “dish”, I find that I cannot in honest faith recollect those initial incidences. I had what would seem an Athenian birth; wielding spatulas and cooking pans as I emerged fully robed in Chef whites.

Though I cannot precisely point to the event where my journey into the world of gastronomy began, I can certainly illustrate the time period where I finally realised that there was much more to food and cooking than the utilitarian nature which I had thus far believed. Soon after indulging in the sacred practice of cooking, I began to appreciate the skill of cooking for its aesthetic appeal and its sheer artistic value. My cooking procedure, which had earlier consisted only of following the recipe to the teaspoon, now comprised the usage of the appropriate amount of ingredients and making the food look good. Of course, being all of nine years old at the time, the extent of my presentation was chopping up some coriander and sprinkling it on top of whatever it is that I had cooked.

From there on, my journey through the world of cuisine was unending and unblemished, even by the sheer number of erroneous experiences I’d had. I then started to pay more attention to the ingredients, and the way those ingredients interacted with other ingredients, and every other concept of food imaginable right down to wine pairings, but vehemently ignoring calorific content, for obvious reasons. I soon reached that point where cooking became as intrinsic a way for the expression of myself and as great a necessity to my existence as writing itself, which is saying something.

Maybe a year or so ago, some of the steps during cooking which were a given (using a cold egg for baking; marinading meats in oil; allowing butter to melt before adding in the garlic; etc.) seemed to me to stem out of nowhere, and yet they were very necessary pieces of advice. If you have tried to use a warm egg for baking, you’ll know that the result is never quite as satisfying. Being the curious little child that I am, I found myself thinking on end about the reasons behind these idiosyncrasies and realised that since all food substances were, in fact, chemicals, there must be some reactions taking place here. And thus began my journey into the scientific approach to food.

I have been berated many times for “ruining” the artistic nature of cooking by making it technical and scientific, but I see it as further beautification of an already mesmerising phenomenon. To find out why ingredients behave the way they do, and what you can do to accentuate them even further, is to me a very stimulating idea. Of course, being an aspiring genetic engineer means that the idea of manipulation of natural entities for greater output is much more romantic to me than to others, who see the calculated precision of modifying ingredients as nothing short of blasphemy.

Of course, over time I have become rather skilled at ignoring the pointless droning on and opinions of those I obnoxiously call less aware. And so bearing my scientific approach proudly upon my sleeve, I set forth on my journey to explain the unfathomable divinity that is cooking with the help of science and thereby using this newfound knowledge to excel in the field of amateur chef-ness.

And so, earlier today, The Science of Cooking was born. It is yet another blog which I have started on the very nurturing platform that is WordPress (the other one is “Archives” if ever you have the desire to delve into amateur poetry). As the name suggests, The Science of Cooking is all about the chemistry and biology and physics and math of cooking and takes an empirical spin on the classic cooking techniques and recipes, as well as bringing up new, and experimentally tried, ways of making the kitchen life easier.

Please do check out The Science of Cooking; it promises to be great.