I think we have reached the stage where we have to seriously think about declaring cooking as a major epidemic.
I mean even the kind of guys who till the other day were wont to look for a chutney-sambhar packet in the pizza delivery carton, are these days talking with authoritative gusto about risotto recipes. The other evening I overheard a neighbour talking to someone on the phone asking whether there was a morkozhambu variation in Mexican cuisine.
As you can see, things are getting crazy and if this trend is not stopped immediately, the day is not far off when breaking-news may be all about food items and recipes. (Sample: ‘Tonight we ask the question that the nation wants to know the answer for: ‘What is the secret ingredient of Talapakattu Briyani?’)
The two main reasons for more and more people taking to cooking are: 1) Kitchen implements have gotten better 2) Cameras have gotten way, way better.
This brings us to the nub of the matter: In the previous era, people cooked to eat. Now, in an important distinction, people cook to make photos out of what they have cooked and fill their social media platforms with.
If food pics that are being uploaded to Twitter and Facebook are pulled out forthwith, I think there won’t be any need for creating any more digital storage space for the next 300 years. (And if you remove porn from the equation, internet will be freer than Leh-Ladakh highway).
The problem with new-age cooking, however, is it soon moves into territory which involves words that you wouldn’t find in normal dictionaries. I am particularly referring to gluten. No one had heard about gluten when I was growing. (The previous line is a typical exaggeration for joke purposes. And I don’t want tetchy readers sending in bunches of letters with proof that gluten was actually around even before the first dictionary was written. I say this because last week I made fun of insurance policies and insurance agents, and all through the week I have been receiving angry mails from dozens and dozens of people, almost all of them conveying the same message that I was an irresponsible moron. I must clarify here that I made fun of insurance agents for an excellent journalistic reason: They seemed to be the only set of guys in India right now who could be made fun of without any fear of repercussion. So to set the record straight, let me say this: insurance agents are sterling chaps who the government should honour with Padma Shri or some such thing).
Coming back to gluten, I reproduce here a verbatim exchange between a waiter and my friend with whom I had gone to a fancy restaurant recently:
Friend: I will have something gluten-free. What would you suggest?
Waiter: (Poring over the large menu card for a couple of minutes and perking up) OK sir, what is gluten?
Friend: Gluten is…well, (turning to me), I will go with anything that you order.
So to define, gluten is something people avoid scrupulously because they don’t know what exactly it is.
Before gluten became the villain, carbs were the Shayaji Shinde and Ashish Vidyarthi of the food world, which means even if you gave a small space for them, they overacted.
And then we have to take into account the enigmatic calorie. I belong to that era when calorie was seen to be just a unit of heat. But it turns out to be that it has been all along what Kamal Haasan plays in Vishwaroopam, a double agent, and is actually deadlier than any al-Qaeda terrorist can possibly be. It has now come to a stage where people have begun to look at the calorie count even if they are just buying, say, lottery tickets.
Of course, there is cholesterol to contend with. It comes in two flavours 1) LDL 2) HDL
You have to avoid the former and retain the latter. Or probably, it is the other way around. It doesn’t matter actually. Whatever cholesterol you have is basically bad.
The natural flip side of all this is anything and everything is peddled off as being fat-free or cholesterol-clear. The other day, I came across an advertisement for ‘diet idli’. I felt like shouting idli itself diet only, da’. In a fit of anger over the dubious claim, I threw the paper that carried that ad into the dustbin. Soon enough, a passing cow picked it and started chewing on it.
I hoped, for the sake of that stray cow, the newspaper was gluten-free.