Ancient Wisdom. Modern food.
When we zeroed in on this tagline for Svaa Haa, it wasn’t just marketing buzz speak at play. These words captured what we truly believed in.
In the previous post, we looked at how our modern relationship with food is harming our health and that of the planet. But, by no means do we intend to discredit the contribution of the modernization of agriculture to solving the global hunger crisis.
We just wish to take a deep dive into the farming systems of the past to identify the wisdom in its ways and how it could help us redesign our current systems.
While the current modern systems have solved for one part of the problem, i.e. feeding a rapidly growing population, they have created another problem: an extractive, overly strenuous load on our soils resulting in lower yield, and the creation of fragile farming systems that constantly need more resources, water, and fertilizers.
In this post, we share the ancient wisdom that we believe holds lessons for the way ahead so we can take the steps we need to restore diversity, inclusion, and resilience in our food and farming systems.
Lessons from the ancient wisdom in our food and farming practices
There is a lot for us to learn from our ancient practices that seemed to benefit everyone involved: humans and our planet. Though initially scorned for their supposed rudimentariness, the latest insights and research have demonstrated the scientific benefits of these ancient practices. Read on to find out more.
1. Building diversity and resilience in the gut and immune systems
During my trip to India which set me off on my journey to starting Svaa Haa, I was struck by two aspects of the deep ancient wisdom rooted in the farming and eating practices in Indian villages:
- Incorporating diversity into meals
Traditional culinary wisdom encourages consumption of a large variety of diverse crops. This is interwoven and an inseparable part of the cultural celebrations, rituals and heirloom recipes. The grains, beans, spices that are used in these preparations incidentally coincide with the times of the year and the various diverse crop cycles to effortlessly harness the bounty and reap the benefits of fresh harvest.
Moreover these crop cycles also coincided with the best times of the year to consume those crops/ harvest for their inherent nutritional benefits. This diverse nutritional intake allowed communities to gain from several micronutrients thus enabling them to build stronger immunities.
The healthy balance of demand and supply points to the fact that biodiversity was critical to building resilient food and farming systems.
- A harmonious relationship between eating habits, harvest cycles, and seasons.
Take, for instance, the gluten-free or grain-free approach to healthy eating. In Indian villages, gluten-free is not a trend, but simply a way of life interwoven in their eating habits.
It’s a common practice for villagers to eat gluten/grain-free meals at different times of the year. These fasts and diets were perfectly synchronized to the seasons and harvest cycles. This practice naturally limited overexposure of digestive and immune systems to just a handful of grains. This, in turn, meant that there was a lower risk of developing intolerance to specific food types.
2. Fostering diversity and resilience in soil and farming systems
It’s not just human health that the depth of ancient wisdom impacts, the practices nurtured by our farmers for centuries.
Take, for instance, the practice of crop rotations, a practice widely practiced in family-owned or smaller farms. It gave the soil a break from intensive feeding crops like rice and wheat, ensured that communities had access to a wider variety of nutritional sources, and provided farmers low-input yields in addition to a guaranteed demand for seasonal crops. A win for everyone involved.
These diverse grains are incidentally very forgiving to the soil, while also being less demanding of the resources like fertile soils and water – unlike the wheat and rice crops. Perhaps that is why these crops remain the staple diet of the farming communities who now grow it for their consumption alone, as the demand from the urban folks dwindles. These crops seem to be gentle on the soil and help restore it with absolutely no need for intensive tilling, pesticides, or fertilizers.
Take, for instance, the three beans such as green mung, horse gram, and black gram, or other native millets that grow in India. These beans were traditionally also used as crop covers, a wonderful practice to utilize all the available land nearby to avoid the soil washout during heavy rains. Even after harvesting, the farmers would just let them fall back into the soil allowing for all that precious carbon drawdown to support a solid aerating root network that harbors vital soil microbes
This wide consumption of diverse crops was encouraged through celebrations replete with celebratory recipes at different times of the year, thus driving up the demand in the way it suited the older societal systems.
However, today’s heavily industrialized farming systems pose a huge risk to smaller farms and their wise ways of harmonic living. The wisdom in their farming practices, and the wholesome nutritious goodness in their agricultural produce, face a risk of being wiped out from our memory.
The way ahead: Looking back to move forward
Today’s commercially managed farms, in their focus on high-demand crops, are the reason we are fast losing our soil fertility, biodiversity, and resilience. Our constant harvest cycles, non-existent resting periods, and heavy dependence on water resources are straining our food systems.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has succinctly outlined what we can do to help:
- Promote the adoption of a wider range of varieties of crops
- Support the conservation of diverse plant genetic resources, including farmers' traditional varieties
- Build demand for alternative crops that can boost the resilience of farming by identifying and conserving locally grown "neglected and underutilized" crops
At Svaa Haa, we are confident that by honoring our time-tested ancient wisdom, we can revive lost crops, help restore soil fertility, introduce diverse sources of plant-based nutrition to our bodies, and contribute to building a healthy and healing planet.
Svaa Haa: Doing our bit to be part of the solution
Our personal struggles have made us realize how hard it is to truly emulate age-old living practices.
But what if we could borrow certain elements from the past and customize them to today’s reality? What if we were to create modern treats from fast-disappearing but nutrient-dense food crops?
On the one hand, that would create a demand for these crops and help revitalize the shrinking communities that still grow them.
On the other, it will reduce our reliance on just a few cash crops. When we think of our financial security, a piece of common advice we get is to diversify our portfolio for maximum security. This is in stark contrast to our current food system which may be at a great risk if a crop disease were to affect one of the 3 major food crops.
We need to act now to create a balanced and diversified food system that helps sustain biodiversity while ensuring food security.
Our mission with Svaa Haa is to create deliciously healthy products that will eventually create a demand for traditional crops/seeds that are almost forgotten today, and that could go missing tomorrow. By exposing our customers to diverse crops, grains, and proteins, we hope to create a demand for variety and incentive farmers accordingly.
The production of beans/grains such as green mung, horse gram and black gram has dropped by 80% in just the decade gone by. With our first line of products made with these three powerhouse magic beans, we have set off on our journey, one healthy snack at a time. In the next blog, we will enthrall you with the folklore behind these beans and their impressive history and nutritional facts.
When we articulated our business vision in our tagline ‘Ancient Wisdom. Modern Taste’, there was something we left unsaid: a better future.
And that’s a promise we intend to keep, to ourselves, and the planet we call home.