“I’m on a diet.” These four words are guaranteed to turn any conversation around, with people instantly offering advice: “Have you tried (insert strange-sounding exercise routine)?”, “Why don’t you stop eating (insert food you’ve loved your entire life)?” and the ilk.
We’re obsessed with food, but not in a good way. Not like Nicolas-Thomas Barthe, the 18th-century poet, playwright and gourmand who loved food — to the point that he died of indigestion — and whose poor eyesight led him to keep asking his servant, “Have I had any of this? Have I eaten any of that?”
Barthe had the right idea. We obsess about what we can’t eat instead, idling around buffet tables to find items that fit our diets, resentful we can’t consume more calories than allowed. We’re full of nostalgia about the food we could relish with abandon as children, as we mournfully eat our quinoa salad.
But the nostalgia for fat-laden food may no longer be necessary. Guess what’s making its way into hipsters’ shopping carts: ghee! Yep, ghee is sweeping into American chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and in cutesy jars to boot. The word ‘artisanal’ has been bandied about. It is an integral part of new diet movements. ‘Ghee pronunciation’ is one of the suggested searches when you Google ghee. But this isn’t just a passing food trend like avocado toast or cronuts. Ghee is being embraced as something that’s good for you.
Ghee was omnipresent if one grew up in the subcontinent and/or with desi parent(s). Marketers made it synonymous with motherhood and love. It was sold in huge tins (that later doubled as storage units around the house) and was used copiously in everything from breakfast to desserts. It brought forth the familiar, most amazing smell of a sizzling tadka on a plate of perfectly cooked dal. It also formed a pool on top of curries, was unglamorous and messy, and seemed fairly unhealthy compared to vegetable and olive oils. In just a couple of decades, the familiar canisters of ghee, with ladles permanently stuck in them, have almost vanished from urban kitchens. Instead, fridges and supermarket aisles are crammed with extra-extra-extra-low-fat it-isn’t-butter spreads, while those familiar tins gather dust. A sighting of ghee evokes yelps of horror, panicked, ineffectual dabbing of parathas and straining of curries, accompanied with noses wrinkled in distaste.