Manas Tungare

No one can deny that good food makes you happy. For some of us, especially so. But when one refers to "food that's good for you", it turns out invariably to be based upon purely nutritional criteria. Why is the "goodness" of food not evaluated on how much psychological pleasure it brings to the eater?

Of course, taste forms no small part of evaluating food — ask any restaurant critic. But taste varies from palate to palate, and I'm rather referring to the hedonistic properties of food than its culinary properties. Certain foods make me happy, some make me ecstatic, and others make my day. But not all of those foods fall under the category of "food that's good for me". Why not? If a particular food lifts my mood up, gives me pleasure, and enhances my psychological well-being, it should be "good for me", right?

Healthy eating is a relatively recent phenomenon. Not because our forefathers didn't eat healthy. It's because they didn't have to coin a phrase to explicitly tag their diet 'nutritious' — it was always like that: healthy. At the same time, it was also tasty hedonistically-inclined food.

Let's face it, food is much more than just vital life-sustaining organic material being ingested regularly. Food is a central aspect of every culture; in fact, an inseparable part of it. So much so that some cultures are best-known for their food preparation practices, often masking their other, more significant achievements and traditions. Answer this one: how much do you know about Thai culture, other than Pad Thai and Masaman curries? The Szechuan? Malvani? Cajun? Mongolian? Penang?

After such rich culinary traditions, the current century has managed to create a divide between tasty and nutritious — in response to another 21st century phenomenon, the widespread global obesity epidemic. Junk food is nutritionally, well, junk, but it has made a permanent home in some people's lives (and in most cases, in their tummies too.) Obviously, there is something about it that makes people want to eat it. It's no different from an addiction, really. Put in another way, the hedonistic power of food trumps its perceived nutritional value to a significant number of people.

What if they didn't have to choose? What if they could get nutritious with tasty? Obsessed with making every food item extremely nutritious and "good for you", we have, in the process, killed its taste. What if we could backtrack just a little bit, to the point where food used to be tasty as well as nutritious (maybe not as much as current 'health foods', though)? To find this middle ground, perhaps we can look at our past and derive inspiration from some of the older recipes.

After all, we are living, thinking, pleasure-loving human beings who sincerely enjoy our regular excursions to the dining table, not just disinterested ingesters of nutrients.