Last sunday, we conducted a Live to Eat workshop at Poonamallee, a small town on the outskirts of Chennai. We went there expecting to teach them all about the benefits of a whole-foods plant-based diet. We had no idea what we going to learn there.
Professor Elango, Poonamallee SKY Meditation Centre, and his family were our hosts. Since thursday, the professor’s team was travelling up and down markets procuring everything we needed – mostly all the different fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices we needed for cooking, along with all the vessels, stoves and cutlery that were needed. They took extra care to make sure everything they bought was organic.
We received a warm welcome when we reached late saturday night, and slept soon so that we are fresh for the workshop the next morning. Radha eswar, my mother and Founder of ArtyPlantz, was up at 3:30 am, getting ready to start the cooking. Many volunteers had come early in the morning, looking fresh and excited!
In Radha Eswar’s words, “In all our city workshops, I had to teach people how to cook. I had to guide them through every step of the process, teach them how to make food tasty without using oil, I even had to introduce them to many spices and cooking methods.”
“But here, these villagers already knew most of what I had to teach.”
I woke up a little later, got ready and went to the meditation hall. Everything was neatly set, with even a projector and screen ready. Professor Elango told me 40 people had signed up and he expected some more to register on the spot. Soon, the hall was filled – with 50 people! Some had come all the way from towns like Sivakasi. It was the largest workshop we have conducted so far.
Once I started, I realised that I could not speak the same way I spoke in the city. In Bangalore, I usually speak at length about the way of life in the villages. Most of the people sitting in the hall were already following all of that! I had to quickly re-structure my presentation and focus on the issues they faced – more and more of them were developing diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and their complications, even ailments like infertility and cancers were becoming more widespread.
As we interacted, the most important thing I observed was that they were already following most of the guidelines we laid out – but the ingredients they were forced to use were of poor quality.
For example, they did make porridge instead of fried rice – but it was from white rice.
They did boil their vegetables – but they were hybrid ones.
They did eat their fruit – but as preserved drinks.
They had started shifting from rice to wheat – on their doctor’s advise.
They used minimal oil – but it was refined oil.
The culture of tea, coffee, bread, buns and cakes were rampant as well. In fact, as we spoke about cake, one person stood up and said, “Sir, just ten minutes back during the break, my wife called me and asked me to order a cake for our nephew’s birthday tomorrow. What do I do?”
In the meantime, Radha was in for some more shocks in the kitchen:
“The cooking was punctuated with statements like:
Oh, do you make sambar so thick? We make it a lot more watery.”
Do you use pre-mixed rasam powder? We always pound our rasam powder right before we make the rasam. Isn’t it better that way?”
This isn’t different from what we do – the only difference is, you aren’t using, and you’re using a little more coconut than we do, that’s all! Is this going to help us reverse diabetes?”
The three-course meal that we served during lunch wasn’t something new to them. It was lip-smackingly delicious, alright, but they had tasted most of the dishes before. In fact, they cooked most of these dishes at home every day.
What we DID do was to show them how every aspect of their life was already in favour of their good health, and instilled confidence in them to continue following it. We also taught them ways to cure themselves at home, and therapies like enema that they can use to augment their healthy lifestyle.
There were a few things they had forgotten over the generations, like the importance of fruits in reversing chronic diseases, relaxation and meditation. We were happy to be able to show them all those things.
If there’s one thing I can say for sure after this workshop, it is this:
The villagers of India know how to keep themselves healthy. Their lifestyle is one of the most sustainable on the planet. Unfortunately, the culture of urban living is creating deep gashes in their lifestyle, giving them the same diseases that city folks suffer from – they do not deserve this, nor are they in a position to take care of themselves once they develop these diseases. Let us empower them to stick with their lifestyle and diet, let us learn to do the same from them. That will make us all healthy.
This workshop was made possible through all the contributions we’ve received from our workshops so far. I hope we continue having more and more opportunities empower people all over the country – and hopefully one day the world – to Be Your Own Doc.