How’s that for a weird statement? I never thought I would say that both of these are disasters. The first one surely was as it enslaved and impoverished a nation. But the other gave us food security, right? Then how come I call them both disasters?
They were both disasters in one particular common aspect. That is the disappearance of variety from our food and, I will argue, of nutritional diversity as well.
Several centuries ago, Indians ate thousands of different types of plant based foods, leaves, fruit, stems, roots, seeds from a vast variety of plant and tree species.. (Strictly speaking I should say South Asians and not Indians. India was not a country until British colonial times).
Unfortunately, most of them have disappeared from our plates. Even in the villages.
British colonisation introduced a whole lot of problems in agriculture. Suffice to say that 13 of all 17 recorded famines of the last 2000 years in the subcontinent’s history have been in the last 300 years. Actually, all 17 have happened in the last 600 years, the first one being during the reign of Mohammed Bin Tughlaq.
The green revolution served to reduce diversity, and focussed agriculture on just a few species of crop varieties. It was also the time when dietary habits changed to a significant emphasis on grain, and spiced grain and potatoes.
Hidden hunger is widespread in India today. Upwards of 90 percent of people have micronutrient deficiencies, irrespective of whether they are stunted or obese.
The loss of nutritional diversity has been expensive in many more ways. But I could write a book on that.
Here is some great stuff that Malaysia is doing to revive and preserve traditional foods –