An NGO working with women seed savers in Sirsi is quietly pushing the cause of tubers, for all the right reasons
Can there be a revival of interest in tubers, just like millets? Sunita Rao of Vanastree would like to be hopeful. What fanned her hope was the response received by tubers at Foodu, an event held as part of the fifth Sambrama hosted by Venkatappa Art Gallery Forum in Bengaluru.
“A lot of people took tubers to plant and grow that day,” Rao joyously recalls. Vanastree, an NGO based in Sirsi, is working towards promoting traditional crop varieties, forest gardens and seed saving, and did a tuber food workshop and tasting session with Lalitha Manjunath. With hot vadappe s — prepared from boiled tapioca, rice flour, onions, dill and coriander — and holiges being served to visitors at a talk on tubers, and a table laden with different varieties of tubers — tapioca, elephant foot yam, sweet potato, dioscorea (yam), six kinds of colocasia, turmeric, ginger, sweet flag — on the side, it became a celebration of this long-forgotten food.
A tuber is a swollen, underground stem of certain seed plants, in which is stored nutrients for its growth and reproduction. Tubers can be classified into two categories: stem tubers and root tubers. While a stem tuber arises at the tip of an underground branch, a root tuber can sprout from any part of the root.
As the potato eclipsed all its other cousins, particularly in cities, the consumption of tubers got restricted to tribes in various tuber-growing regions, like Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. But it’s time we moved beyond the potato, which is vulnerable to pests and diseases and also requires more investment and attention.
“What makes tubers a special class of food is the fact that they are hardy, and have a longer shelf-life. Unlike potatoes, they are not vulnerable to diseases and pest attacks,” states Sunita.
The NGO is attempting a stronger case for the ignored vegetable, with a report titled ‘Tubers: An Overview with Prospects for Conservation’ to be published soon.
In 2014, Vanastree organised a Tuber Mela in Sirsi. “We asked Siddhi women to bring one traditional food item and they didn’t know what to bring. Very hesitantly, with low self-esteem, they brought a set of tubers. If you don’t recognise a particular community’s cuisine, it is like disrespecting them.”
COURTESY THE HINDU