After many grueling days of head spinning search, I finally found a house to live in Chennai. The house was perfect for the most part. The location was pretty awesome really. It was super close to the beach and within a 0.5 km (0.3 mile) radius, there were 10+ restaurants (including a bunch of places that sell unbelievably awesome desserts), 2 grocery stores, 1 specialty grocery store, 2 health store, an awesome bookstore, 3 banks with 24 hour ATMs, innumerable tender coconut and sugarcane juice stands and much more! The house, though, was, in my opinion, pretty great. It had 2 bedrooms, 1 living, 1 dining room, 1 study room, 3 full bathrooms, a spacious kitchen which will definitely be overused and a prayer room which will remain unused. Other than that, the bathrooms were fine, the flooring was granite and tile, enough lights and fans and other usual stuff.
So after I finalize the rental and pay the advance to the landlord, I take my then to-be wife to the apartment to check it out. She walks in with me, checks out the space and her face shrinks. You know, the typical ‘Well, I hate it like you hate Justin Bieber. But I’m going to try real hard to make it seem like I just hate it to a normal extent‘ look. It took me a while but I finally understood why she hated it.
All plug no play
She and I lived in the US for a good chunk of time and while she is Indian at heart, she is still (for good reason) used to the US standard of living. The thing in India is that you don’t have many things that you can just plug and play. Everything is available, but nothing is readily available. See the difference? Let me give you an example.
In a place like Chennai, an air-conditioner is pretty much a necessity. So, if you walk in to a store to buy one, the sales dude will tell you the price and features and sell you the unit saying their company will take care of everything. He will promise you that as soon as the payment is made, an engineer will call and schedule an appointment and will very promptly fit the unit for you. All charges included. No hassles.Plug and play right? Wait.
In reality though, the engineer will call and set up an appointment for say Monday 10am and the guy might turn up as early as just 5 hours late or as late as ‘I’m on my way right now, I’ll be there in 3 days’! And only after this are you told that there needs to made a melon sized hole on your wall and that the power source is too far away from where you want the a/c and yada yada. So you battle it out for a few days and finally when you have the a/c installed and working, you feel like you’ve been blessed with the gift of temperature control. And this is just one example.
So in the case of moving into a new house, the house is EMPTY. There is literally not a thing in the house that you can use. You will need to buy and install your own a/c, fridge, washing machine, water filter, microwave and even change switch boards etc in many cases. All these things are available… but not readily available. This is the reason my US-trained wife hated the apartment at first glance and this is also the exact reason why people freak out when they consider moving to India.
The point here is to look a little deeper. What seems like an ugly empty house, could actually end up being your dream home if you spend some time and effort to set it up. The case with nutrition is the same… exactly the same! Pretty much everything you need is available… just not readily available. Let me break it down for you.
Moving on to nutrition
I think we will all agree that good health is a direct result of good nutrition and good nutrition is a direct result of eating real food rich in nutrients and avoiding foods containing anti-nutrients. That being the case, as I mentioned in the previous post, irrespective of whether it is paleo or primal or GAPS or WAPF or the sustainability focused Eat Real Food, the recipe for good nutrition calls for plenty of vegetables & fruit, seafood, meat, eggs, poultry, dairy and safe starches and limited amounts of soaked/sprouted nuts, lentils, beans and legumes.
So, the question then is, if you did move to India or live in India (or any other developing country) can you sustainably eat a diet that is focuses on food quality?
During the last couple of months, I have been on a search for real food. Unlike in the US, where you buy real food in a box or with a label, here I had an opportunity to look for ‘actual’ real food and not just food that is labeled as real food. Thanks to the folks from the BootCamp and from my FaceBook group, my search moved on from branded grocery chains to local shops to street vendors to seemingly dirty but factually clean farms/home-stores where real food is really available. In other words, I had the chance to actually interact with the people who produce and/or source these foods and discuss specifics about the food.
Vegetables & fruits
Yes the commercially available vegetables in India are loaded with pesticides. But there are places that sell real organic vegetables and fruits (no pesticides) at extremely reasonable prices. One such store is ReStore in Adyar, Chennai. These guys are a not-for-profit organization who sell purely organic produce and groceries. Since it wouldn’t be fair to them if I even tried explaining their passion and service, I recommend you check out their website.
Chennai is one of the few big cities in India that has a shoreline… and a big one at that. So finding fresh seafood caught from the ocean (i.e super fresh wild caught seafood) isn’t an issue at all! There seems to be plenty of stores that sell fish that was caught the very same day and if you’re not ready to trust the guys at the store (and you shouldn’t), you always have the option of buying fish from the beach itself!
I have had very little experience eating red meat in India (cos of the taboo associated with eating the cow) and so I’ll share what one of my well-read readers, Vizeet Srivastava, who is very passionate about good nutrition and consumes mostly high quality real food, had to say.
I think lamb meat you get here is not labeled as grass fed but it is grass fed. Cows may be getting hormones and antibiotics injections to some extent but not large doses as being done in US (as many things are not very commercialized here).
Goat meat is generally safer for two reasons:
1. Goat is mostly domesticated by poor people.
2. Goat milk is not popular and not easily available so most of it will be consumed by the baby goat and will have better immune system and health.
I buy from local shop who keeps smaller breed which means there is lesser chance that it is farmed. Moreover I do not think goat factory farming is profitable given number of people who keep them at home.
Free range chicken is definitely not easily available in India, but again there isn’t much nutrition in chicken anyways and hence I don’t see a need to invest any amount of time in finding a source of good quality poultry. That said, free range ducks seems to be available fairly easily.
Country eggs (naatu kozhi muttai), quail eggs and duck eggs are available in most places. Since these are not farmed as commercially as regular chicken eggs, chances of finding free range eggs are fairly high. They surely wont be labeled ‘free range’ or ‘cage free’ or ‘blah blah certified’, but if you spend a couple of minutes and talk to the grocer/vendor and ask him where he gets his eggs from, you’ll be able to find good quality eggs.
It is true that grass-fed dairy is unheard of in India. But why would I go ask for grass-fed dairy if I can walk into a dairy farm and ask the farmer what he feeds his cows? And will I have anymore questions if he points to green grass and hay and says I need to pick up the milk every day within 2 hours of milking? Granted, the cows feed on a mixture of grains in addition to grass and hay, but the fact that these cows have never been exposed to hormones of any sort and that the milk is ‘as milked’ and unadulterated makes it legit! How awesome is that? And how many skim milk/low fat milk/soy milk chugging ‘health advocates’ actually know how wonderful real milk tastes?
What is my diet like right now?
Still a work in progress but here is what I normally eat these days…
- Scoop of whey in water while coaching.
- Shake with 1/2 liter whole milk, 2 big bananas and 1 scoop whey right after working out.
- 3-4 cups of avial (traditional south Indian dish made with mixed vegetables, coconut, yogurt and spices) or kootu (lentils + vegetables + coconut oil), 3-4 whole eggs, 1 cup cooked white rice and a cup of whole milk or yogurt for lunch.
- 1 cup of whole milk, a bunch of almonds and a fruit or two in the evening.
- Some fish, 3-4 cups of vegetables cooked in coconut oil or ghee for dinner.
- 1 cup of whole milk and a fruit bout an hour before hitting the bed.
So what am I trying to say here?
Simple – If you are ready to go that extra mile and ‘hunt for real food’, you can rest assured that you will get food that is high in quality, exceptional in taste and easy on your wallet! But if you choose to be lazy and just accept what is readily available, I swear to God you will be stuck in a hot and humid room with an uninstalled air conditioner eating pesticide/anti-nutrient filled food!
Go the extra mile just once, do the foundational work well and eat real food for the most part ‘cos life is just better when you’re fit and healthy!