Inside a candy pink-and-yellow shamiana, a group of children in blue uniforms line up in front of stalls heaving with different kinds of foods. Tubers in shades of brown, beige and cream; pink and red berries; tiny yellow, orange and red tomatoes; leaves of many sizes and shapes; a variety of millets and rice; yellow and purple corn the individual kernels gleaming like jewels. The children mill around, pointing to various foods, asking questions of the people manning the stalls.
Kolia konda, kulu konda I am writing down the names of the foods I dont know anything about, says Mahendra Kumruka, looking at a row of tubers. Further down the row, Chintu Saralka is scribbling with a frown. In the future, I need the names to identify these foods. Otherwise how will I know what to eat, or how to cook it?
The children are at an adivasi food festival organised by Living Farms, an organisation in Odisha working towards regenerating forests, food and nutrition security. The festival is one of several that have been held in the past four years or so, as an effort to build a knowledge base about their food ethos among tribal children in Rayagada district, Odisha. Their food has become influenced by the mainstream textbooks, television, and what they get in school, says Ashita Abraham, a teacher. You heard what they said in the game earlier the first thing that came to their minds was bhaato rice! Abraham is talking about the ice-breaker that was organised earlier in the day which had the kids naming different foods they ate. Their answer rice made some of the tribal mothers present wince and hide their faces in mock horror. Horrified because theirs is a community that has for generations existed on a wide variety of millets. Agar mandua nahin khayega, toh hamarey jaat se nikal jayega (if they do not eat millets, how can they be a part of our community), they would say.