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This book unravels how we can restore the human body to health through food

Updated on: 03 April,2023 08:19 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sammohinee Ghosh | sammohinee.ghosh@mid-day.com

Gastronama — a guide founded at the intersection of food and health — had us at the prelude. Intrigued, we chat with author duo Kalpish Ratna for insight into present-day myths and facts

This book unravels how we can restore the human body to health through food

Image for representational purposes only. Photo Courtesy: iStock


The kitchen is the heart of this conversation. A conversation that author-surgeons Kalpana Swaminathan and Ishrat Syed begin in their recent book to make the Indian population aware of their bodies. Drafted on the premise of COVID-19 that got the better of us essentially for our co-morbidities, Gastronama (Roli Books) answers one of the most prevalent questions of the Internet Age — Are we eating right? Although common, have we been able to find pertinent answers to it? Or, do the answers change, and confound us, with every upward swipe? This ‘nama’ or tale doesn`t provide quick fixes. It only lays out a better understanding of how we can restore the human body to health, through food. And what`s a more fitting site to discuss food than the kitchen?


This writer reaches out to them to fathom the potency of diets, the need for `wellness`, the quality of cookware and the breadth of good habits. But wellness sounds so wholesome. What about the word can irk Kalpish Ratna — a pseudonym for writers Syed and Swaminathan? "Health is our natural state of being. Wellness is an artifice — the promotion of foods and activities presumed necessary for health. Although it is a terrific commercial success, the ground reality is different. The wellness industry coddles and nurtures an increasingly sick population," Ratna shares, further explaining that cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal problems, diabetes and obesity are on the rise in very young people. "Wellness bullies the body, telling you to do this or that, defining things as good and bad for you."


Curiosity saved the cat


Ratna tells us that the idea behind the book was to make readers curious about what`s on their plate, how it was made, and what happens to it inside their body. “It is surprising how much fun such curiosity can be — especially when you find yourself making choices that enhance your enjoyment of everything you eat.”  About the deluge of information available online, Ratna notes, “Our body is not a cyber-entity. It cannot conform to a general idea of `this works.` The Internet is not in a position to tell you if a remedy can work for you without disaster or injury. Most people aren’t doctors, and they lack a practical understanding of the structure and working of the body." So, the duo underlines the importance of seeing a doctor when ill.

No sugaring the pill

No sugaring the pill

In these times, even people without a sweet tooth can`t ascertain their relationship with sugar. Ratna says that to stay healthy, we must de-link food from sentiment. “You cannot express your love by feeding your loved ones killer foods loaded with sugar and fat. Natural sugars are sugar, too. And we need to shift our focus from what to how much.”

Cookware conundrum

Kalpana Swaminathan, Ishrat Syed. Pics Courtesy/kalpishratna.comKalpana Swaminathan, Ishrat Syed. Pics Courtesy/kalpishratna.com

Do you get confused about the kind of utensils to use? The surgeons say, “Cooking, no matter what your technique or equipment, involves high temperatures, strong chemicals, and water. All three liberate ions and gases from the cooking vessel, no matter what its material. Can this harm you? Perhaps. People with certain illnesses may experience enhanced effects, and will be cautioned by their doctors.” However, the duo notes that most ill-effects can be avoided by careful cooking — do not overheat the vessel, don’t indulge in slow cooking at low temperatures, reduce boiling time with acids and alkalis. ‘Quick in and quick out’ is a surgical principle that works well in the kitchen. Follow cooking with quick washing up with an ordinary soap and a clean scrubber.

It will pass

It will pass

The authors advise us to avoid every diet that we have ever heard of. They are passing fads, but some have stayed over centuries. Ratna urges us to avoid: 

. Natural juices that are popular at public parks.
. The body-builder or high-protein diet.
. The keto diet.
. Intermittent, or any kind of fasting.
. And obviously, the tendency to binge.

Our take

We read indiscriminately, but being a compulsive worrier we also steer clear of books that talk of diseases in detail. When we started reading Gastronama, that thought struck us, but a few pages into it and we actually — as directed by the author — take a cushion, place our teacup at half an arm`s distance, and simply enjoy the insights into the working of our body. Although the book speaks about the pandemic and how comorbidities can make us bite the dust in the event of another virus break-out, not even for once do we feel scared. We rather feel emboldened by the vaults of information provided by this publication. We like that the guidebook stresses on the importance of having breakfast. It busts the idea that lunch can be a bowlful of salad. Salad is called a side, and as someone who often feels bloated after consuming raw veggies, we gain clarity that the dish need not always be eaten raw. With fun chapter titles and relatable, accurate advice, this is a must for your bookshelf.

Everyday reminders

Everyday reminders

1 Use a one ml spoon and a pastry brush for oil and ghee.
2 Wash out and dry your scrubber/sponge after every use, and change it often.
3 Scrub your hands for five minutes before you begin to cook a meal.
4 Never miss breakfast.
5 Eat with all your senses — food is a sensual experience. So, make it beautiful.
6 Cut back, cut back, and cut back.

Cookbook comfort

The surgeon duo share that they love writing and reading about food. Some of their favourite cookbooks and cookbook writers are: Larousse Gastronomique, Julia Child, MFK Fisher and Elizabeth David. They prefer these for bedside reading. Indian cookbooks are invaluable treasures and in that genre, they particularly like authors such as Chitrita Banerji, MadhurJaffrey, Tarla Dalal, Meenakshi Ammal and Pushpesh Pant.

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