“Our food was our health, our medicine. In a world where we eat food full of chemicals, how do you think we will be healthy?” an elder’s voice from Aracode highlights our health intervention priority.

As part of the health and wellness program, we at the Community Wellbeing program we have been focusing on better nutrition outcomes for better health if different narratives for over 20 years; be it in our livelihood measures by growing traditional crops to arming the community health workers with the knowledge to understand what they eat and how to effectively tap into clean locally available fare.

By establishing a dialogue with the community members after the health program in 2015 to bring sovereignty to their health decisions, and the first step to this with the food they consume. With the introduction of the Public distribution system that effectively laid a meal in an adivasi’s home, the cost of that over the years was to push their traditional food (millets, tubers, pulses, greens, vegetables, and jaggery) away and their eating habits. Their diet now is high carb, low protein diet with very little micronutrient content. A survey informed us that a two/three meal a day would be of a large portion of rice with sambar(dal) and a vegetable for a day. A meal like ragi and avarai is a rarity. The biggest question of them was how honey was never reported across all the areas, in a honey hunter community. They said that they have stopped using traditional medicines because the food that they eat with chemicals makes their medicinal plants ineffective for any ailment. They would tell us ‘Eating millets made our elders strong, they would walk all these lands without tiring out and farm all day, now we are so tired always, our strength has been stolen by this new food’. What was an everyday meal is now an affair of celebration, availability, and access to buy it from the markets.

This shift has made them feel alien in their own bodies with the malnutrition, declining health and health systems.  When the food that you are eating is not making you feel healthy, When it is not only about satisfying hunger but also about addressing the wellness of eating food that is a way of life how do we make food nutritious, local and healthy? How does one make it an individual’s prerogative to choose what they want to eat in the world of freebies?

In slow steps we are trying to reconfigure this equation of having something to eat to the satisfaction of having clean nutritious food from their tradition.

Now a meal of rice and sambar, with better nutrition information and interventions by mapping locally available spinach, tubers and kitchen garden with medicinal plants is a start to this change. The health workers are now intervening with 165 households across 2 areas to make this change a reality. Right from working on their expenses to spend on food diversity to slowly venturing into the forests to revive the tastes of their tradition this progress is changing plates of food every meal. A meal now along with the rice has local spinach, a tuber, or wild food a day. Individual kitchen gardens and community kitchen gardens through projects have been bringing non-pesticide vegetables back to their homes.

This is just a start. We hope to bring the right of choice to health and nutrition by making them believe that change is also accessible.

By Pavitra Vasudevan – Community Wellbeing