Diversity Rediscovered

indian corn


We have all heard the term diversity a lot this week, but diversity is a word that most of us take for granted.  It’s a word that we have heard a lot about over the past few days, but most of us tend to forget what it truly means.  Sometimes it takes the small things in life to remind us just how important a word like this is.   It takes the small things like an assembly at your children’s school to really embrace and appreciate what the word means.  This is a word that we all learned as children and one that continues to be drilled into our children, but as adults we tend to forget.  We tend to go along with life and not think about how much diversity elevates our standard of life on this planet, but the huge role it plays for our survival as well.

As I gazed around the auditorium at my children’s assembly yesterday I realized just how important this word is.  It is not only the fabric from which we have built these United States of America, but it is also the guiding principle by which all of us live.  Most of us just don’t realize how dependent on diversity we are to survive on this planet.

First off, there is a diversity of the people on this earth.  Without these different kinds of people our world would be pretty damn boring.  Our family trees would be nothing more than a family branch.  We would all raise the same family, a family without an identity or personality.  We would all be stuck worshipping the same god, following the same path and making the same mistakes.  We would all be influenced by the same things and our lives would pretty much move along with little emotion or true sense of belonging.  There would be no jazz, there would be no rock ‘n roll, and there would be no hip-hop, just noise.  We need this diversity in order to evolve, to change and to adapt.  The one thing that is constant on this globe is “change” and unless we are able to embrace it we will all end up like the dinosaurs, buried for millions of years for someone else to come along and discover.

Next, think about the diversity of plants and animals on this planet.  Each plant and animal serves its own purpose.  Each uniquely designed to sustain the life chain it was created for and to ultimately support the higher level above it.  We take this diversity for granted in today’s genetically modified world and create strands of corn and wheat that can withstand drought, have higher yields and ultimately fight off insects.  We do all of this without a regard for what this single source solution will mean for the long run.

Genetically modified grains have been sited by some as the culprit to the large number of increased allergies to these products.  A study published by the National Center for Health Statistics division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one out of every 25 children has a food allergy, representing about a 20% increase between 1997 to 2007.  There is no direct evidence that genetically modifed grains are the issue for this increased level of allergies,  but it does make one wonder.   It is funny, by manipulating this natural diversity and focusing on less variety we may have ultimately created more problems. 

Corn is a great example of what diversity truly means, the US Department of Agriculture’s Plant Introduction Station in Ames, Iowa holds 19,780 different samples or “accessions” of corn from around the world, but in the US we plant less than 100 varieties.  One of the most diverse and abundant commodities in the USA and we plant only plant less than 1/2% of these varieties on a large scale basis.    I think the Department of Agriculture needs to take a refresher course in diversity and survival.  Without diversity and change eventually bacteria, insects and other organisms will find a way to infect this also heavily genetically modified plant, plus just think about all the beautiful colors and flavorful varieties of corn that we are not being bale to enjoy.  We need to break the corn bank in Ames, IA and set corn free.

Now think about food.  Can you imagine if we all had to eat the same boring vanilla flavored mock every day?  Thank god there is chocolate, thank god there is strawberry, blueberry, peach caramel.  Thank god there is anise, cilantro, fennel, dill, oregano, basil.  Thank god there is Lager, Ale, Stout, Porter and finally thank god there is Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel.  I wake up everyday and I am thankful for bacon and all of the other amazing and unique flavors that make this world a beautiful place to live and eat.  We were all born with the sense to detect sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami for a reason.  There is a reason why some of the most poisonous things on the planet taste bitter and some of the most nutritious are sweet or sour.  We are attracted to these different tastes and this unique culinary world we live allows us to taste a diverse array of dishes that once again makes this a diversely fabulous place to live.

Even in our diet we need to eat a diverse food selection in order to stay healthy and survive.  We need a balance of protein, carbohydrates, salt, vitamins and minerals to survive.  We need to eat a rainbow of diversely colored fruits and vegetables to get this ideal mix of minerals and vitamins to sustain a healthy existence.  Each color provides its own unique place into the human nutrition plan.  Without this color, without this diversity we would all not be able to survive and prosper.

So, as you sit back on this Wednesday morning pondering what you have to do for the rest of the week; take a minute and remember just how important diversity is to our existence.  It not only  makes us who we are, but it makes us be better than we ever could’ve imagined.  It makes us try new things; it makes us think in different ways; it makes us human.    As Americans we need to remember that diversity is the foundation of our country, but humans we need to remember that diversity is the key to life.  We need to embrace it.  We need to appreciate diversity and not try to modify or oppress it.  

Living and eating diversely will not only make life feel better, but taste better.

Three Things Indian Food Teaches Us About Life

File:Spices in an Indian market.jpg

Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Spices_in_an_Indian_market.jpg

Indian food is an amazing culinary experience.  The blending of spices, aroma and colors are enough to send your palette screaming for more while your stomach is telling you to stop immediately or there will be consequences.  After consuming my favorite dishes this afternoon I felt the need to share these tidbits of insight about how Indian food can teach us to realize the most basic and tackle the most complex things in life with the lift of a fork.

Life is intimidating, so dig in and enjoy it – Most people are intimidated by many things in life – your boss, the future, your friends, death, bullies, the government.  Whatever it is that makes us feel scared to try something new or fearful of the outcome, intimidation is a part of our daily lives.  This is same reason why I feel so many people in the US are scared to try Indian cuisine.  For some it is the color.  Too much is scary to some who are on the meat and potato diet.  For others it is the smell.  The vast array of spice and curry blends definitely have a funkiness about them that many run from, but that is what makes the flavor so damn good.  For a large amount of Americans I think it is the appearance.  The look of dishes like Saag Paneer with its toxic green spinach and cheese blocks is enough to make even the creamed spinach loyalists run for the exit.  However, when you get beyond the look of may Indian dishes, the ingredients flow perfectly together in culinary harmony.

In short, life isn’t roses and rainbows everyday and not all things you face are going to look or feel familiar.  You need to observe these differences, dig in and hope for the best.   You can only then reach true enlightenment and enjoy all of the beauty the world has to give.  You never know, you might just like it.

Variety is the spice to life so eat it up – Without variety the world would be a really boring place.  If people were exactly the same and food was simply fuel for the body we would not have a very exciting existence on this planet.   In my opinion, Indian food is probably the most exciting use of spice and color that you will ever find on your culinary journey around the world.  Even by utilizing the same core ingredients this cuisine is able to transform cauliflower or a cube of chicken into seventeen different varieties each unique in taste, appearance and aroma.  This is only possible by their mastery of understanding the marriage of different spices – anise, cumin, chilies, coriander, fenugreek, fennel, turmeric, curry, clove, ginger, tamarind, basil.  These are just a few in the arsenal of the Indian chef to build their masterpiece and despite having many different aroma’s and flavors they seem to blend them together perfectly in many dishes.  Curry is a great example of how a little variety can make even the same thing different and exciting.  There are hundreds of different recipes for curry, each with their own unique twist, but most recipes commonly starting with the foundation – coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and red pepper.  From red, yellow and green varieties to garam masala and Madras curry blends the names and combinations are endless in a rainbow of color, flavor and aroma; all because of one simple word-variety.

This word keeps us young.  Variety keeps life exciting and makes us question the things that are normal to us.  Variety is the catalyst for change and without change you have complacency and eventual demise.  It is this use of spice and color that keeps me going back for more at the Indian buffet and waking up each and every day.  Embrace change and embrace variety because it creates the environment for people to be creative and think differently.  It showcases to even the most complacent individuals that there is more to life than hamburgers and French fries.

Eat fast, because it always tastes better when it’s hot – Hot Indian food that is supposed to be consumed hot is always 1000% better than if you let it sit and get cold.  For some reason the spices are not as sharp, the aroma is not as inviting and the texture is just plain nasty.  Just like life, you need to eat fast and take in as much as possible while you can.  You never know what challenge tomorrow will bring and what it will taste like.  Chances are it will taste a whole lot better today while it’s hot, than it will tomorrow when it has had time to cool down.  We often forget just how quickly life can fly by.  You have your plan; you get up and go to work, go through the motions and sometimes forget that life is going on around you.  

The only advice I have for this is scarf it down and enjoy every minute.  Don’t put off today what needs to be done, because it will only be that much worse tomorrow.  Enjoy every minute and every bite of food like it is your last.  There is no way that the world was created with so many different types of fruits, vegetables, spices, plants, nuts and fungus that we should not be enjoying each and every one. 

I know these are things that we all know, but we often fail to remember.  Because of our busy lifestyles we tend to forget just how important these three things are to keep us happy, motivated and excited.  Just like the trip to my favorite Indian restaurant in Dayton, Ajanta, I need to be reminded at each visit of this glorious experience and how life is always better after the colorful and flavorful journey I embarked on. 

Move on; eat well and live flavorful…

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