Food festival with a difference

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The flamboyant colours of the shamiana seemed to reflect the colour and gaiety of the Sunday crowd on August 4th, 2013. They came in streaming through the ‘Thulir’ campus gate in groups , while the new SOFA pickup brought the women group members , all carrying large pots of cooked food for the ‘Millet Food Festival’.

THI for a long time has recognized the need for increasing awareness regarding millets and their advantages in view of the rapidly deteriorating food habits among the residents of the Sittilingi Valley. Due to the prominence given to polished pesticide ridden and aged rice promoted by the government we have seen a rapid increase in the lifestyle associated diseases such as hypertension and diabetes in a previously healthy population. THI and SOFA (Sittilingi Organic Farmers Association) has since the past few years, aimed to promote traditional organic farming practices and the sustainable cultivation of millets. This festival was to reinforce the fact that there is so much hidden talent and recipes in the valley that could make millets a preferred food for all and to celebrate its diversity.

The atmosphere was festive with the happy voices of the 400 strong audience and the shouts of children resounding across the playground. The meeting was flagged off with a traditional song by Vellachi, one of our health Auxiliaries and was followed by lighting of the lamps by senior citizens from many of the villages in our valley and guests who had taken the effort to come.

Lalitha delivered the welcome address and made everyone feel at home with emphasizing the need for the festival and its significance. There were traditional songs and dances by the village women and an energetic performance by our first year nursing students, much to the delight of all. Interspersed with this were some ‘words of wisdom’ by guests. It was agreed that millets should no longer be called ‘siru dhanyangal’ [small cereals] but ‘arogya dhanyangal’ [nutri cereals]. Making the millets ‘siru’ [small], smacks of the colonial mentality, even now largely persisting in the neo-rich city dwellers.

Luckily, organizations like ‘Restore’ in Chennai were trying to break this pattern. The event was wittily compered by Manju. Now to the most important part , the eating!! Though the judges had the first go, there was a rush to the buffet tables. Innovative tastes emerged, thenai athirasams, samai biriyani, ragi appalams jostled for space with traditional fare like ragi kali, kambu dosa and thenai payasams. There were more than 30 items to choose from and most of us were confused with the sheer variety of it. After the feast, the stupor of the filled belly was broken by a lively session of prize distribution [everything was so nice that all groups got first prize!!] and a few concluding comments. At the end of the day, the unanimous clamor was – ‘lets repeat this every year’, such was its effect and popularity.

We hope that our message has percolated to the rest of the community via all the persons who attended. It would make a big difference if even more persons adopted cultivation and consumption of millets as it would serve as a benchmark for the rest of the community. The SOBTI Trust based in Maharashtra was gracious enough to help us by sponsoring a ‘Millet awareness festival’ for the benefit of the residents of the Sittilingi Valley.

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