The SHG Kitchen: Delicacies traditional
Nisarg Utsav was a success because of all the interesting stalls and exhibitions. But the most crowded stalls in the festival were… yes, you guessed it- the Food Stalls. Self Help Groups (SHGs) women from all over Akole- Shiswad, Khadki, Purushwadi, Pimpri… participated big time in the Nisarg Utsav. Something was cooking- Delicious traditional food and also the spirit of enterprise.
The coming together of women to form Self Help Groups has brought out some of their strong and hitherto hidden traits. Now they have the means to contribute financially to give their families a better quality of life, but also the means to grow as entrepreneurs and earn a personal standing in the community. Women have always been the creators and perpetuators of food diversity and culture. Among the various businesses that they have started, food and allied businesses take off the best.
Sita Raut is one of Shiswad’s superwomen. She and her co-SHG members have taken up the responsibility of managing the Food component of Ecotourism at Shiswad. All the guests who come and stay in the picturesque village of Shiswad, also get treated to local delicacies – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Managing the entire enterprise – inventory, purchasing, manufacture and quality control… Not an easy job. In the midst of feeding hungry tourists, Sita somehow also finds time to run a tailoring shop in her home, where she stiches sari blouses and children’s clothes.
The women are busy from dawn to dusk. Of course, there is no respite from individual household responsibilities, but they jumped at the idea of earning extra money from this opportunity. And also it gives them a chance to congregate, do more with their lives. Their windowless kitchens of are now lit up with their conversations and laughter and their courtyards are strewn with grain drying, vegetables being cut and news and opinions being exchanged.
Even in other villages, where Ecotourism has not yet started, women have come together to make different fresh and packaged food products and are trying to find a market for them. The Shiswad Nisarg Utsav was a golden opportunity. Women were serving full a lunch menu and snacks absolutely non-stop! Bhaakri, pithla, daal, mutton and crab dishes, paapads, sweet potatoes, nutritious tubers like Univ, pickles…. There was a fantastic variety of local cuisines, mostly made from locally available ingredients, often from their own farms. In terms of sale, the food stalls were a lip smacking success.
There was also something rare on sale: Traditional rice i.e. rice threshed by hand, not in a machine. Hand threshing is a back-breaking process. Women since olden days have composed many a song to divert themselves while doing this work. Gangubai Kondagle, from Khadki says, “Now the threshing mills are here. The drudgery is no longer needed but the taste of that rice can never match up to that of hand-threshed rice. So, we still sow some traditional rice to be threshed and eaten at home. The ‘package’ rice is sometimes too sticky…kind of bland.”
Hybrid rice (or ‘bag’ rice as the village people call it) does indeed come with baggage. It grows well provided it is given enough water and fertiliser. But Gangubai says that unlike these hybrids, old varieties of rice like Kolpi, Jini etc. give some yield even in low rain. Overuse of chemical fertilisers has had an adverse effect on soil fertility and crop diversity too.
In the face of uncertainty brought about by Climate variability, planting traditional varieties of seeds and using organic manure might be a good adaptive, sustainable solution. There is not much of a market for hand-threshed rice. But some women still exhibited it in the festival. “All this is so that something from our old knowledge and way of life is preserved and taken forward,” says Manu Kondaar from Purushwadi.
Innovatively and deliciously combining traditional ingredients and new market demands, the SHG women have opened up and diversified their kitchen. And who wouldn’t like a taste of it?