It was an idyllic start to the new year—in lush green God’s own country. We were at Kumily, near the Periyar wildlife sanctuary, taking a conducted tour through Deepa’s World, a spice garden.
A spoonful of spice...
The hour-long walk through the fragrant garden was peppered with nuggets of wisdom about exotic herbs and condiments, which the guide claimed could cure anything from coughs to psoriasis and kidney stones.
As he wound up our tour and led us to the shop where pepper, cloves and nutmegs fresh from the farm were being sold, he told us that the trick lay in using spices sparingly. “A tiny bit can deliver big flavour and great health benefits,” he said, plucking a sarvasugandhi (allspice) leaf, and tearing out a tiny bit for us to taste.
Grains of salt...
Soon after, I was coasting along to Melakidaram, a tiny village in Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu, to see how a pinch of salt was making a difference in the lives of the local people. Every 5g of salt consumed by schoolgoing children of the village not only gives them their daily dose of iodine, but about one-third of their iron requirement for the day. This double-fortified salt (DFS) is produced by Tamil Nadu Salt Corporation (TNSC) at Valinokkam nearby, using technology developed in Canada. It is distributed free through midday meal schemes across the state. A study conducted in Bangalore showed that haemoglobin levels of children in the sample area have risen as a result of this initiative, with iodine and iron in a single compound.
Looking at the bright-eyed, smiling faces around, I mulled over how micronutrients—vitamins, and minerals such as iron, zinc and iodine—that our body needs only in minuscule amounts can pack such a big punch. These magic wands enable our body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances that keep our systems ticking and do far more to boost our immunity than the large helpings of carbohydrates we stuff ourselves with.
The fact that salt—one of the cheapest commodities going and used universally—is being used as a vehicle to deliver key micronutrients is all the more exciting. As Luc Laviolette, regional director, Asia, Micronutrient Initiative (the Canada-based non-profit organization which is promoting the DFS technology at TNSC), points out, at an additional cost of just 20 cents (Rs10) per person per year, you could potentially eliminate anaemia from India— 79.2% of infants aged 6-35 months are anaemic in India, as are 50% of women, rich and poor alike. The fact that iodine deficiency has been eliminated from large parts of the world, also riding on salt, augurs well for this initiative, being implemented in other parts of India using DFS technology developed by the National Institution of Nutrition, Hyderabad. Soon, you might get it in your branded salt as well.
A page out of a giveaway book
As I waited at Madurai station to board a train back to Kerala, I met Mark, an American tourist trying to palm off the books he had read to lighten his backpack. He had been travelling around the world for the last 25 months. Sneaking a peek at his tiny rucksack (smaller than my daughter’s schoolbag, surely), and trying unsuccessfully to hide my own luggage (three times the size, for a three-day trip), I blurted out, “With just that?!”
Smiling, Mark said perhaps the reason he had managed to stay on the road this long was because of his light bag. “I make it a point to give away one thing every day,” he said. For the next 4 hours on the train, I listened to his experiences in Lebanon, Syria, parts of Africa and South America, admiring the wisdom this young man had accumulated from a journey that included just one set of spare clothes!
Clearly, there are many ways to get more out of less!
The author writes on health issues for various news publications