Proposal for Mahua Yatra to be undertaken from April to June 2016
By Aparna Pallavi
(former environment journalist, forest foods researcher and trainer)
I propose to undertake a ‘Mahua Yatra’ all over the mahua producing parts of the country starting April 2016, to be continued through the summer. I am undertaking this yatra with two purposes in mind. First, to study the surviving food practices around Mahua, document recipes and consumption practices, and to understand its economy and ecology from the point of view of forest dwelling people. The second is to initiate practical baby steps to revive the food and cooking culture around Mahua, not just among the forest dwelling populaces themselves, but also among conscious urban consumers. As a first step in this direction, I also hope to host trainings and workshops on cooking mahua among the mahua producing rural populace and urban conscious groups. (for details see Proposal for training in preparation of Mahua dishes below)
Why Mahua :
Mahua has long been a food staple among forest dwelling populations in a large part of India. Its nutritious and healing properties have long been known to the tribal populace, and is brought out in the fact that tribals regard the tree as sacred and don’t ever use an axe on it. Science has validated this old knowledge in recent years by confirming that Mahua contains high levels of iron, calcium and phosphorus – actually much higher than raisins, which are seen as a healthy food and sell at a high cost.
In modern times, however, the importance of mahua in regular tribal diet has been decimated due to a grain-based nutrition policy at the government level coupled with large-scale glorification of a grain-based diet at the cultural level. With the loss of forests – both in terms of acreage and richness, the rejuvenation of mahua trees – which are slow growing, has not taken place with the result that the availability of mahua is also going down. Worse, due to its demonization as an ingredient for liquor, most of the mahua that is still being gathered is now being sold to traders at a pittance instead of being stored in homes as food or sold as food at a better price. And ironically, the mahua sold to traders is being used for making liquor whose consumption has risen in the tribal community phenomenally.
In rural areas, the monotony of taste has also brought down the consumption of mahua. In most areas, there are just one or two traditional dishes in which mahua is used, and with changing tastes, the taste of these dishes is no longer appreciated.
The Yatra :
I will be starting this yatra from village Kotha in Melghat, Maharashtra at Holi. From there I propose to visit villages in Gadchiroli and Gondia districts. From the first week of April 2016 I am hoping to travel through MP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bengal, Bihar, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. I shall be staying in villages for research purposes, and offering workshops in rural and urban settings wherever I can. I hope to complete the yatra by the end of June 2016.
Resources for the Yatra :
The yatra does not have any funding or financial support at this point. I wish to carry out the yatra in the spirit of gift culture. I shall travel cheap at my own cost, and shall request non-profits, conscious consumer groups and villages I work with to host me in terms of stay, food and local travel. I shall hold my workshops in gift culture (see below for details) and hope to cover the cost of the yatra partially from the donations. I am also open to donations, sponsorship or support from individuals and organizations for the continuation of my work.
My vision on Mahua :
With growing awareness on the health benefits of Mahua, its processing has caught on in small ways. However, processing is no match for freshly cooked home food in terms of nutritional benefits. Also of concern is the loss of the tradition of cooking around this zero-carbon foot-print wonder-food. Experience shows that processing can neither capture the entire potential of the mahua being produced in the region, and the benefits from the trade are mostly absorbed by other agencies rather than reaching the forest dwellers who conserve and produce the mahua and the knowledge surrounding it.
My vision behind conducting cooking workshops is to revive the lost cultural traditions around Mahua and its cooking, and to promote mahua as a food ingredient with versatile possibilities rather than as a packaged product. Along with this, through my workshops I also wish to work towards creating direct supply chains between mahua producing communities and conscious consumer groups. This has several benefits:
- Communities, both forest-dwelling and urban, get access to a healthier way of consuming mahua.
- With a wide variety of dishes available, people might be inclined to raise the intake of mahua in their diets, which will directly benefit them in terms of nutrition.
- With a direct market, mahua producing communities can harvest better benefits in terms of monetary returns.
- Extra labour and costs involved in processing and packaging, which can raise product costs phenomenally, can also be removed from the process.
Long term :
- With greater appreciation of the nutritional benefits of mahua and its rising consumption by both forest dwelling and urban communities, there may be greater motivation for conserving and rejuvenating mahua trees in forests at all levels.
- The process might lead to a more mutually supportive role between forest dwelling and conscious urban communities, which might in turn lead to better understanding of forest ecology and economy in society at large.
Mahua training workshops
Versatile mahua :
Mahua is a highly versatile food ingredient which can be made into a variety of recipes to suit different palates. Unlike many other wild foods, it can also be dried and stored for a long time. Together, the two qualities make it a wild food uniquely suited for different needs of a variety of communities ranging from high-end urban all the way to forest dwellers. In a world where food choices are changing rapidly, it can also adapt to ‘modern’ food tastes.
Till date I have collected and innovated the following Mahua dishes:
Mahua roti/bhakhar (traditional)
Sweet Mahua sherbet (traditional)
Tangy hot mahua rasam (my innovation)
Tangy mahua and karaunda/amla/green mango launji (my innovation)
Roasted mahua laddoo (traditional)
Steamed mahua laddoo (traditional)
Mahua sewai (traditional)
Jowar-mahua dosa / idli – sweet and spicy versions (my innovation)
Mahua and ambadi seed bhoonja/ koya (traditional)
Spent mahua bhaji / pasta (my innovation)
Mahua dal mash (traditional)
Mahua-tamarind chutney (innovation)
Mahua-kaddoo sweet-sour bhaji (my innovation)
Mahua shankarpale (my innovation)
Mahua latta (health supplement, traditional)
Mahua – lotus stem sweet (traditional)
Workshop structure :
During the workshop I will teach as many of these dishes as possible depending on the available time, resources and audience willingness. Ideally, two full days are needed for teaching all the dishes in a participatory and detailed manner. In shorter workshops, I will bring down the number of dishes to ensure thoroughness of learning, but will provide outlines of similar dishes to ensure that the audience leaves the workshop with a large repertoire of foods to be prepared with mahua.
As I travel and add to my repertoire of mahua dishes, I will also keep adding dishes to the workshop regime.
A part of the workshop time will be dedicated to discussion on the importance of mahua in particular and forest foods in general to the community involved, and future plans will be drawn up in accordance with the community’s needs.
Audience will be involved in preparation of the dishes and will be encouraged to display their own dishes if any, or to even innovate.
Workshop target audience:
I will be holding workshops for both rural and urban audiences. In rural areas, I prefer to hold workshops in partnership with an NGO which has connection with the community. In urban areas, I am open to holding workshops with conscious citizens groups, NGOs or other groups who see value in these workshops.
For holding my workshop, I need a space where the workshop can be held. Preferably the venue should have a working kitchen. If that is not possible, then I request that suitable utensils and implements be made available at the venue. I would also request sponsors to source mahua required for the workshop. If that is not possible, I should be informed in advance so I can bring some mahua of my own. Since my workshops are held in gift culture and are not commercial, I am not able to pay for the venue, and hence request that the venue and implements be provided as a gift. In the spirit of giftism, I also request the audience – in case of urban workshops – to bring their favourite foods as lunch and share with each other in the spirit of gift. The foods prepared at the workshop are also consumed by the participants as part of lunch and at the end of the workshop.
My trainings are provided in gift culture, and hence I don’t charge a fixed fee or put a financial value to my services. Rather, I see my offerings as gifts, and am open to receiving a gift of money for my own survival and continuation of my work. For personal financial ease and self-care, I suggest a sliding scale of Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000 per day of training in case the workshop is being organized by an NGO or group. In workshops which I organize with a gift venue in urban areas, I request participants to make a voluntary contribution towards my livelihood and continuation of my work. Again, I suggest a sliding scale from Rs 500 to Rs 1,500 per participant, but that is also not hard and fast. I request hosts and participants to keep in mind their own paying capacity, the value of the work and my need for a livelihood while deciding on the fee. However, irrespective of the fee, it is my commitment to give my hundred percent to each workshop.
Food Festivals :
I am also looking forward to holding Mahua food festivals – festivals of dishes prepared from Mahua, at restaurants and hotels interested in holding such events. For such events, I would need the group in question to organize the festival in ways they usually organize food festivals, and I will act as a guest chef, helping the staff to prepare the dishes. The hotel can pay me a reasonable fee commensurate with what they usually pay guest chefs. I would like to be informed in advance regarding the amount of payment.
(Researcher and trainer,
Traditional and forest foods)