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Trendy Superfood Diets Are Causing Food Insecurity In India

Thanks to their collective obsession with eating superfoods of all kinds, hipsters are now helping push indigenous populations in India toward hunger.

by Wyatt Marshall
Dec 14 2016, 10:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Shaista Ahmad

Hipsters have already ruined facial hair, many cheap beers, and fringe neighborhoods in cities the world over, but they aren't done putting their terrible mark on things just yet. Thanks to their collective obsession with eating superfoods of all kinds, hipsters are now helping push indigenous populations in India toward hunger.

According to Scroll.in, the trendy global fascination with vitamin-, mineral-, and antioxidant-rich foods eaten by indigenous populations has taken hold in India, and is leading some Indian tribes to sell traditionally foraged foods in urban centers. In doing so, the tribes spend long days foraging, sell what they forage cheaply, and overharvest certain plant species to dangerously low levels. Ultimately, the tribes are put into competition with urban consumers for the very foods upon which they have sustained themselves for centuries.

Presumably not all tribes are affected equally. But to give a sense of the scale of the problem, India's 300-plus indigenous tribes, known as "Scheduled Tribes" or adivasi, account for more than 100 million people, or nearly 9 percent of the country's population.

In Central India, a tribe known as the Baigas have long harvested a type of mushroom called pihiri, or Phallus rubicundus, from the forest as both food and medicine. In northeast India, the Karbi people similarly harvested the herb Alpinia nigra, and the Lai rely on foraged Mahua flowers as a source of food security, according to a study conducted by Wageningen University in the Netherlands. All three are now hot commodities in nearby cities, consumed as-is or as oils or pickles, and the tribes, struggling to profit on foraged goods they obtained for free, sell them for low prices.

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The report on Scroll.in article was written by Purabi Rose, a documentary filmmaker and consultant with the Indigenous Peoples team at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rose argues that tribes are losing important sources of nutrients just as their traditional lands are encroached upon by palm oil, coffee, tea, and rubber plantations.

"Through our demand for superfoods, we push indigenous populations to eat cheaper, less nutritious, less flavourful, imported staple diets like maize, rice and wheat," Rose writes.

So next time you pick up some weird smoothie at a pricy juice bar that has an "exotic" ingredient with insane "health benefits," maybe it's worth looking into where that magical ingredient came from. Alongside increased energy and ability to focus, one effect that might not be listed are feelings of guilt.