Written by Tarushi Mohan
As part of a recent Poocho study aimed at understanding food experiences sought by Millennials living in Mumbai, I spoke to Avni*, a young Chartered Accountant who recently relocated from her hometown, Lucknow, to Mumbai. Living with three other flatmates in a swanky Mumbai locality, she talks about her preference for home-cooked meals, the affordability of organic ingredients in an expensive city and how she struggles to accommodate her hectic work day alongside her aspiration to lead a healthy (ier) lifestyle.
- 28 years old
- Living with friends
- Personal income ₹ 10.1 lakhs - 20 lakhs
Ghar ka khaana is the first step towards living healthy
Avni works with an MNC, spending the the better part of her day at office. Mumbai’s traffic does not help with time management either! She told me how she has to leave her apartment by 8 am in order to make it to office on time and only reaches home post 9 pm every night. “How do you manage your meals?” I asked.
“So I get up in the morning and I have my breakfast. Usually, the cook arrives early, she comes twice a day, so she makes breakfast and lunch in the morning. So after getting ready for work I have that and then I take public transport to my office. Usually, I have my lunch at work only, whatever the cook packs. I come back at night, like we have 10-hour workdays, yeah, I mean in the evening also the maid comes and she prepares the food.”
So it was home-cooked meals three times a day. Which begged the question, “Why?” I had to find out.
“So I think in general, we all want to be a little bit healthier and make smarter choices when it comes to food. And It's not 100% set in the stone right, that three meals, that's all you're eating. So you do end up having unhealthy snacks here and there. I think the proper meals should be full of nutrition and yeah, that's why I prefer home-cooked meals. I don't even like the canteen food that offices provide even though they're fresh and everything but I still prefer the food that is cooked in my home,” she clarified.
Even as Zomato and Swiggy brought an array of restaurants from street food to gourmet to her doorstep, this young professional opted for meals that were home-cooked. In fact, even when she did order in, she chose side dishes to complement and not replace her home-cooked food options. “So if there's a particular kind of thing that has been made at home, we get something to complement it. As in, if there's fried rice at home then I will maybe order a chilli chicken from outside and have that with the fried rice”.
I was more than a little surprised by her penchant for eating ghar ka khaana. On prodding a bit further, I came to realize that her relationship to home meals was also a product of nostalgia. “Yeah, so I’ve mostly had home-cooked meals since I used to live at home not very long ago.” She talked about how she felt her lifestyle was much healthier when she lived with her parents and had easy access to home-cooked meals and snacks. “Usually, my mother cooked. My mother would always put a little less oil and sugar in the meals and my dad would not like that,” she laughed and said.
Her past had found its way to her present kitchen. “...Yeah, initially we used to, either I or one other flatmate would just basically hover over the maid when she's preparing because we are very particular about the amount of oil and the spices and which vegetables to be used and all that.” The parallels were evident.
Avni’s roommates shared her desire for wholesome, home-cooked meals. These young professionals took the time and effort to ‘train’ their maid till she altered her cooking style to suit their needs.
For organic food, jugaad is cool
Having understood her inclination towards home-cooked food, I nudged the conversation along to ask her about her own interest in cooking and if she ever indulged in that as well. Her answer was a yes. “If she's (the maid) not around, like we give her a few days off naturally. So whenever she's on a day off, I don't mind cooking, especially during the weekends. Maybe sometimes I'll just ask her to do some of the chopping and some of the preparation and then I'll make the rest of the food. So when I usually cook it's something very specific that I'm not sure how the maid will make so maybe something like pasta or like noodles or eggs or something that I prefer to cook myself.”
From this statement, I gathered two very insightful points. First, for Avni, weekdays were for meals cooked by the maid but weekends were for indulging in self-cooked meals. Second, self-cooked meals are “fancy” meals which could be translated as “not-Indian” meals. On the weekends, Avni preferred to experiment in the kitchen.
Given the effort she and her flatmates made to ensure their cook was using the correct ingredients, I asked her about her grocery preferences and the kind of ingredients they used. She conveyed an overarching preference for organic ingredients in her daily food. She relied on Kisaan Konnect to source them. But that came with a twist. Given how organic ingredients are priced higher than your regular staples, affordability was a serious point of consideration. But Avni had a workaround for this problem.
“Look, I'm going to be perfectly honest. Not every time everything can be very affordable if it's organic. So keeping the budget in mind if it is something that we eat a lot of portions of, for example atta hai toh fir wo Aashirwaad ka packet aa jaega we will not end up buying organic but if it is something like jowar or bajra which we sometimes mix in the regular wheat atta then we buy because that will last for a really long time and you don't have to buy a lot of it...”
She was perfectly fine with compromising a little on the composition of her atta as long as there was some percentage of organic in there.
Food is not just about sustainability, it is tied to a socio-cultural emotion
Speaking with Avni made me realise how our eating habits are shaped by social conditioning and our “habitus” which in sociology is defined as socially ingrained habits, skills and dispositions that “become” us. The kind of food we grow up eating has the power to shape our food choices long after we leave the nest.
I asked her straightforwardly if her cooking was inspired by anyone and she said, “Yes, definitely from my mom and my grandmother. My nani lives close by and we would visit her every other day. So, both of them have basically been my inspiration. Only they do not eat non-veg or cook non-veg. So if I ever tried to make eggs or chicken or something that I have learned from YouTube, but other than that all the knowledge comes from them only.”
In spite of belonging to a vegetarian household, Avni consumed and cooked non-veg food with YouTube being her facilitator. Yet, her inclination for home-cooked meals and her cooking style stemmed from the kind of food she grew up eating.
I thought to myself how habitus plays such an important role in something as personal as food preferences. . Avni’s penchant for home-cooked meals cooked with healthy ingredients was a reflection of her childhood conditioning. Even though her busy work life did not spare her time to workout or indulge in any sports on a regular basis, her meals gave her a sense of achieving a comparatively healthier lifestyle, if not an absolutely healthy one. As a society, we have always valued home-cooked meals and Avni’s food patterns reflected the same.
*All research participant names are anonymized to protect their identities.