Wednesday 18 July 2012

Can you cook it?...Yes you can!

I know some of my friends' children are reading my blog (hello Godchild), so I thought I would write something vaguely educational about how babies and young children do not eat properly in urban slums and about my experience of a community based cooking demonstration today.

In Mumbai, the first thing that strikes you is that basic human needs such as clean air, water, food and housing are severely constrained.  The most vulnerable are the children of the urban slums, especially newborns and infants.  Their health and development is entirely dependent upon their mothers' ability to breastfeed, the ability of mothers or caretakers to provide nutritious meals, the public healthcare system and the overall support of communities.  All of which is generally severely lacking.

A whacking great total of 47% of slum children in Mumbai under the age of five are stunted (a ratio of height to age), 16% are wasted (too thin for for their height) and 35% are underweight.  Child malnutrition is thought to play about a 50% role in the cause of child mortality.  For the children that do survive, prolonged malnutrition affects cognitive development by causing structural damage to the brain.  This obviously has severe implications for the way these children will lead the rest of their lives; in terms of productivity, income generation and general long term health.  A child's full potential is therefore severely limited by malnourishment.

(Hey guys, I did not churn this out of a text book, it's what I have learnt over the last few weeks!)

There are many reasons why women and children are not being fed properly: first springs to mind is just the sheer lack of money.  On average, most workers living in a slum earn probably about £1.50 a day tops.  Out of this they will have to pay for rent, electricity, clothes and food. There are also many social issues such as alcoholic and abusive husbands - women can become guilty if they or their children are being beaten up and then refuse to eat.  Also, women commonly do not know how to breastfeed properly or they may have superstitions surrounding breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding as we know, is extremely important in the first few days, weeks and months of a baby's life.

Unsanitary surroundings and impure water leads to diarrhea and other diseases such as TB, Hepatitus, Malaria and Typhoid and these illnesses commonly result in child malnutrition. Typically children are not properly immunised and when they contract these illnesses they are not able to hold down food, they lose their appetites and suffer from severe dehydration.   A mere lack of understanding about the importance of handwashing can have a severe knock on effect on a child's health.

A key cause is also just plain ignorance about nutrition; how to distinguish key food groups and how to buy seasonal veg and cook them properly (hmmm reminds of a certain Jamie Oliver campaign back in the UK!)  But even if they did, they may not even be able to afford the right stoves and vessels for cooking in. And on top of this there is the monster that is junk food.  Even the smallest of babies are being fed crisps and deep fried snacks that you can buy every few yards in the slum for a couple of rupees - babies being weaned may never ever get to see a mashed up courgette or banana (all of you mothers out there who love puree-ing would be distraught!). From speaking to the nutrionists, there seems to be ignorance about what is appropriate food for weaning or for slightly older children.  Can you imagine giving your two year old a vegetable Madras?  What chilli would do to the lining of a child's stomach? (if indeed that child will accept the food in the first place?) Well now you can begin to understand why food education is so greatly needed here.

So, as well as implementing many other initiatives to help reduce malnutrition in Mumbai's urban slums, one of the more 'fun' things my organisation does, is teach mothers how to cook basic, nutritious cheap meals for themselves and their children.  These are held every Wednesday afternoon at one of the clinics and today I went along to take some pictures.  Please see these below with captions explaining everything.  Thanks for looking.

Setting out cooking equipment prior to the demo.  This camping style burner and this one pan is typically all a slum dweller will have to cook with.  There are no handles on the pan and it seemed very unstable on the stove.  The Nutrela is a soya based food that the nutritionist recommends as a cheap way to bump up protein intake - this packet will cost about 30 rupees - 40 pence and should last for quite a few meals.

Prior to the arrival of the "students", the rice is cooked by one of our trainied nutritionists (note food hygiene is honoured with hair-nets all round for the staff!)

One of our community helpers chops veg in preparation for the class on the floor (everything gets done on the floor in India)!

Perfectly chopped veg - all seasonal and all available to buy on most streets.  Carrots, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, peas, coriander, cauliflower and in the upper right are fresh curry leaves.  This lot should cost no more than 20 rupees - 22 pence.

The class begins - this is our team of nutritionists and a couple of field workers.   On the menu today: Vegetable pilau made with the fresh vegetables above, Nutrela, and cracked wheat.  With a side of polenta cake (semolina mixed with egg) and a banana yoghurt puree for especially for the kiddies. It's not very Jamie Oliver, but it gets the point across.  It really does.

Each step of the cooking process is explained to the class.  One person stirs and cooks whilst another hands across the ingredients.  The class will be told the importance of purchasing seasonal vegetables (which are available absolutely everywhere) and how to supplement these with cheap and filling staples such as lentils (dal), semolina and rice.

Students concentrating hard.  What you can't see in this photo are their children creating havoc in the next room! (Oh yes creche services are made available during these sessions)

The finished product, an absolutely delicious (I tasted it) and highly nutritious vegetable pilau. The dishes in the background are the semolina/egg cakes which were also tasty if slightly bland (therefore good for kids). 

Banana yoghurty thing for the children. 

The after effect/the smile.  To be honest, this infant doesn't look like he has any malnutrition wonder why, see how he yomps down that yoghurt!

Yom yom yom.  A note for the reader - this child has a black dot on his forhead and kohl drawn around his eyes.  This is to ward off the "evil eye".  He also has black bracelets on each wrist and copper anklets for the same purpose. 
This little boy was so cute!  Sadly (and you can't see from this photo) but he has rickets.  He was motoring around the room by crawling on one leg and dragging the other. When he did stand up - he found it difficult and you could see how bent his legs were.

I really wanted to grab this child and give his hair a good wash.  He was delighful too but see the next photo.....

This cracked me up so much! He tried to put his feet into the Crocs of one of the nutritionists.  Where did he think he was going in those??  And see the wrong feet!  Hilarious, we were all laughing so much.
And to finish....his finest Elvis pose....uh huh....


  1. Keep up the excellent work!

  2. Nice work. Best thing is that they all covered there hairs for food and health safety.

  3. Keep up the good work, may your tribe increase!!!



Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.