The Melting Pot: Changing food habits and impact on nutrition

Kondh people’s food, just like their livelihood, was a healthy mix of forest and farm foods. And within this, Kondh women are known to have experimented with recipes that made Kondh food diverse and nutritious. So let us see if this diversity has persisted or changing times have made Kondh food a melting pot of advasi, non-adivasi, fast foods and the ubiquitous junk foods.

“Why do we need food ? We are all eating to survive. Earlier we used to eat mainly boiled kanda or tubers which we foraged only from the forests. We used to eat vey less rice. We preferred to eat mandia (finger millet), kangu (foxtail millet), kosla (little millet), jana (maize), khed jana (sorghum), ganthia (pearl millet), koiyan manji (tamarind seeds), amba (mango), etc. We made rice out of kangu and kosla millets and powder out of mandia, jana, khed jana, ganthia and koiyan manji. From the powder we made different kinds of jau or peja (fermented porridge) for drinking after meals. We used to eat three times a day but cooked only twice, once in the morning and once at night. We used to process our millets at home using wooden or stone hand pounders and grinders. In fact we ate only that which we grew on our farm lands or which we foraged from the forests.

We used to cultivate many kinds of pulses like kandul, jhudunga, dangar rani, jhata semi, biri, kolatha, baila and muga. We processed these pulses for food at home and cooked these with the tubers, roots, leafy greens and bamboo shoots we foraged from the forests and ate this with kosla or kangu rice. And then drank the jau or porridge of mandia, jana, ganthia or koiyan manji. We did not cultivate paddy about 60-70 years back as most of our lands were mortgaged with the local kampus Telegu moneylenders and traders). We had no low landz to cultivate paddy. Our forefathers had mortgaged these lands to the forefathers of these kampus. And even now only a few of us has been able to release these lands from the kampus.

As we did not grow paddy we hardly ever ate rice. We kept only a few bags of rice which we cooked at offered to our deities during festivals and ate it after the rituals. We also sold minor forest produces we collected from the forests like siadi leaves, fulewood, bamboo shoots, tubers, etc in the local market and in exchange got low grade rice called khudo rice which we added to the jau or porridge and ate as staple food especially during the summers. After selling the minor forest produces and getting khudo rice, we also used to buy potato, chillies, dry fish, salt and cooking oil from the local haat or weekly market in exchange of our forest produces.

We had some foods which we have almost stopped eating now like tanku peja or mango kernel porridge and a paste of koiyan maji or tamarind seeds. We also made pitha (pancakes) and other sweet dishes out of the mango kernel powder and tamarind paste. We used to also make a curry out of the jackfruit seeds. Some of our elderly women still eat the jackfruit seed curry. We did not buy much food from the market because we earned very less in wages on the agriculture fields of the kampus. The farm wages were not even enough to feed our families. And there was also no PDS system during our time. There were no tube wells too so we drank water from the local hill streams and cooked with the same stream water as well.

When Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister, we all got some ceiling surplus lands which were with the kampus. Then we were provided with a pair of bullock on loan and after that we began cultivating paddy on the lowlands along with continuing our poddu chaas or shifting cultivation. But somehow when we had not got these lowlands we had sufficient food to eat from the forests and poddu lands and the diversity of our food was also more as we grew more variety of food crops and collected many kinds of forest foods. Now there is not enough food to eat except for rice. Earlier we had scarcity of paddy and cash and that is why we used to work on the fields of the kampus for rice and cash income. Now we have enough rice which we cultivate on the low lands and can store it for the whole year.

One of the main reasons for loss in diversity of our food is the forceful eviction of our poddu farmers from Guja Horu and Tuja Horu or hills where we used to do poddu chaas. These hills were taken away by the forest department along with some of our gudia or uplands as well and have raised cashew, teak and other cash crop plantations on our poddu and gudia lands. Earlier these poddu and gudia lands were used by our villagers to practice mixed farming but this was stopped 40 years back when the forest officials evicted us. And so now we have rice but we are not getting sufficient kandul, jhudunga, dangar rani, biri, etc and we cannot afford to buy these pulses and eat so we have almost stopped consuming pulses. And due to teak plantation, there are no trees or creepers from where we can get leafy greens during monsoons for food. So now even the greens are out of our diet. Overall we were depending on poddu and gudia lands for diverse food crops but the plantations have left us with no other option than buy most of our food sources and therefore diversity in food habits has reduced drastically. The only difference now is that we are getting paddy from our agriculture lands and hence rice stocks are there with us for the entire year. We are not facing any problems also because we also get PDS rice.

We further lost millets in our foods because the gudia lands where we were cultivating millets and pulses are mortgaged with the kampus and we are not able to release those lands from them as they are asking for a lot of money. Some of us who were able to release the gudia lands from the kampus are cultivating millets for their own consumption and selling if there is any surplus. Mandia is the only millets which we continue to eat and buy if we do not have mandia at home. We used to make mandia tampa with jhudung, mandia ambli, mandia pitha, mandia jau and mandia anda. We eat mandia in various forms by adding other food items to it. But now we only eat mandia jau. Some elders in the village however still eat kosla with mandia jau and ganthia jau with kangu rice and jackfruit seeds curry.

One of our lost recipes is that of tanku peja. After we eat the ripe mangoes we dry the tanku or kernel. Then it is broken and ground with the hand pounder and grinder. Then the tanku chuna or kernel powder is kept in a leaf and stored in a dark corner overnight. Then after a few days it is taken to the stream and washed in running water till the bitterness of the kernel powder goes away and it starts tasting sweet. After that the washed powder is again kept in the sun to dry and only after that it is cooked as either tanku peja or made into pitha and other sweet dishes by mixing jaggery to it. But no one makes this anymore as it takes many days to prepare and also because some government people told us that this is poison and we must not eat it or else they will forcefully stop us from making anything with tanku chuna !

Another lost recipe is koiyan manji peja. We take off the tamarind seeds from the ripe tamarind pieces and roast them with paddy husk. Then we break open the seed and tale out the inner seed which is white with a hand pounder. Then we grind the inner seeds into powder and soak it overnight in water. This soaked powder is cooked as jau or made into sweet dishes.        

Why did you stop eating these unique foods ? One of the main reasons is that all these recipes take a long time to make and we do not have that much time now to spare for cooking these. And the processing of these seeds and millets also is time taking and has to be done by hand which needs a lot of time again. Now most of the millets we eat are processed in the mills and we hardly use the hand pounders or grinders. Our children do not like to eat any of these so we also don’t feel motivated to make them. This is another reason. Most of our children like to eat mandia tampa but not mandia jau or any other kind of jau. Other than mandia tampa they do not eat any of our traditional foods. They like to eat biri chakuli (a form of dosa) and things that you get in the shops like mixture, biscuits, khaja, nail, etc. What most women want to revive eating is the tanku chuna pitha which was the most tastiest food they used to eat and they miss it !”

What we realise is that food habits change not so much because people change their food tastes but because the farmers stop growing those diverse food crops they used to grow. Thus it is clear that changes in land ownership or rather dispossession from farm lands adversely affected Kondh people’s mixed farming practices which in turn impacted their access to diverse food sources and ultimately changed their food habits. Also we realise that changes in cultivation also impacts the skill sets available with a farming family. Women lose some skill sets as well as men and this loss is further seen among the next generation who are simply unaware of existence as well as need of these skill sets. So land lost is crops lost and leads to foods lost and skills lost. And in some cases these losses are permanent or irretrievable. Fortunately recipes are not in the domain of irretrievable losses but many seeds that were grown in the mixed farming plots have been lost forever and with the seeds even the skill of processing and cooking them is lost !

Profile of the Village : 32 Households, All Kondhs
Village : Souraguda, Chanchraguda Panchayat, Bissamkatak Block, Rayagada District

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