COVID-19’s important lesson: Living with little

Learning to live with little is not living in poverty, but to cook and eat what is required, reducing gluttony and wasting little

By Anu Karippal
Last Updated: Monday 11 May 2020
A kitchen garden. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

These are difficult times. A virus, invisible to the human eye, has taken over the world, disturbing the rhythm of our daily life. While the rhythm of fast-paced life is disturbed, sluggishness is creeping into lives everywhere, like another invisible virus.

The sluggishness had got people thinking. People have begun to treasure their friendships. They want to save their marriage. WhatsApp forwards are celebrating how we should be when all of this is over; savour a warm hug, a kiss, a handshake.

A significant aspect of this slowness we are embracing is the change in the way we cook, eat, preserve and waste. Indians have a way of finding use in things even after they have met their expiry date.

We don’t let them go obsolete. We find pots in Old Monk bottles, pen holders in broken mugs. However, this sustainable way of living hasn’t extended to our eating and cooking habits. We cook a lot and waste a lot.

Our houses are notorious for cooking a lot, stacking it up in the fridge and throwing it away a few days later. It’s not a fault of our mothers. Indian mothers’ legitimised way of expressing affection is food.

The more and diverse the food, the similar the love. Also, when one doesn’t have to work and earn food, one doesn’t learn to value it.

I learnt this after I began working and supporting myself. This could be the state of many households in India, especially middle-class and those above it. But the pandemic is changing this lifestyle.

A family that cooks rice, roti and tapioca for dinner, cuts down to one. Instead of three-four side dishes, many households are doing with two dishes. When you store them in the fridge, interestingly, people now remember to use it the next day.

Households are taking a quick look at the vegetables and planning the meals for a week. Food wastage in many households has reduced. If you take a look at your wet dustbin, you would realise it. As people cannot go out often and the supply of vegetables are limited, people are putting thought on planning meals and how much waste they produce.

Another effect of the lockdown is that households are depending more on homegrown vegetables. I spoke with a few of my friends from Kerala and was told that they are using the kitchen garden vegetables more after the lockdown — such as spinach, tapioca, vazha koombu (banana flower), etc.

Households are going back to eating with what is around their house. Local vegetables are increasingly finding their way to our plates.

Even as it maybe for a very short time (hopefully), the planning of water and food use, reduction of food waste, dependence on home-grown vegetables etc teaches us an important lesson. A practice of sustainability that’s everyone can follow.

Unlike the elite environmentalism that only the rich can afford, where expensive organic fruits and vegetables are covered in double plastic covers, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is making another way of sustainable living imaginable and possible.

A living where one plans, learns to eat nutritional food with local, home-grown vegetables and minimises the waste. This attention that one pays to the way we look at our diet can have a tremendous impact on reducing the waste and in learning to live with little.

Learning to live with little is not living in poverty, but to cook and eat what is required, reducing gluttony and wasting little. the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19 has made the idea of sustainable living possible.

What we need is not just a bunch of people eating flax seeds and organic broccoli covered in multiple plastic bags and feeling good about themselves while making the poor feel bad but an environmentalism that is possible and affordable for all.

We need an environmentalism that is truly sensitive to our everyday relationship with food, and a sustainable living that doesn’t make others feel bad.

We need a model that is possible and affordable for all. The pandemic and sustainable living with food tells us that.

Besides, when you begin to plan and ration one aspect of your life, it automatically will have an effect on the other facets of your life, making us sustainable beings in multiple ways. For that is what habits do to humans.

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