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‘Indian diets were both scientific and sustainable — these must be saved’

Sunita Narain is an environmentalist and director general of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Sharing her perspective with Times Evoke, the renowned ecologist discusses the role food once played in indigenous Indian culture, the impact of food commodification — and why we must reclaim the food science we always knew:

Speaking of the best diets, we must first distinguish between the earlier food consumption habits of India and the way these have changed now. We should actually celebrate how our food consumption habits used to be — India’s dietary patterns have shown that food was very connected to the

local ecosystem. It was ecologically diverse — every part of India celebrated its biodiversity

through its food culture. The traditional Indian food habit was possibly the most biodiverse diet of the world. Of course, other diets were similar before they were turned into monoculture diets where everyone eats rice, wheat and a hamburger.

But Indian diets were truly remarkable in how they optimised biodiversity and local ecologies. Individual health, local foods and seasonal factors all came together in our diet. This was intuitive in terms of what works for you because of the environment in which you live. And it was intuitive about your local ecology and the plants and foods grown around you.

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