My name is Aneela Mirchandani. I live in San Francisco, USA, but I grew up in India, in a multifarious, fast-paced, hellishly-infuriating, uplifting city known then as Bombay. The Bombay of my childhood formed a backdrop to my dreams and frequently stepped in to become a character. Each day before breakfast one might have seen ten things that might each have formed the basis of a novel; each evening one would come home, defeated by the crowds, the heat, the dirt, the heated battles over tiny plots of land; and be revived by food and Bollywood movies. Each morning, the smokey gray light would remind you that in the vastness of the city absolutely anything might happen on any given day.
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About The Odd Pantry
It is a fact universally acknowledged that this blog is about food. But food itself is about much more than food; it takes you in any direction you might seek to go, whether it is cultural history, or botany, or politics.
This is a relief to me. I love to write and being interested in just about everything, I chafe against being in a narrow box. Although I started this as an online log of my recipes, I have used it as a springboard to write about utterly anything that interests me, as long as there is a thin thread to connect back to food—just enough to justify the topic of this blog.
Here you will find notes about cultural differences between India and America. Taste tests of strange fruits. A peek into my family’s history, but also a tiny glimpse of what the British rule in India looked like from the ground. Experiments on the yogurtification of milk. An examination of how microbes turn food sour and a parable about why the ancients fermented food. Some etymology: why I dislike the word ‘curry‘ and how the number of words for eggplant came to rival the number of names given to Hindu gods. You will find a certain amount of humor, but also pathos.
I have always been fascinated by the weird and unfamiliar foods. Hence the name of the blog, which I have used as a backdrop for my experiments with leaves shaped like diamonds and pods that have wings, leaves that are intensely sour, beans that are surprisingly gritty, plant parts that most throw away as waste, and an unexpected spice.
But it extends beyond food. Some time ago I realized that there was a word for what I loved so dearly—biodiversity. I’m in love with the lushness of life, and it doesn’t have to be edible, either. There is nothing more precious than the sheer luxuriant surprise that each different life form can cause us; whether it is the strange societies that ants form, or the intelligence of octopuses that seems to reside primarily in their arms. We earthlings have paid dearly for this wealth with millions of years of evolution, and yet, we seem set on losing it in a couple generations of feverish excitement.
When one loves something dearly, one wants to touch the heart of it; and this is where my interest in evolution and genetics comes from. I have had a few excellent teachers: not anybody that I have actually met, except through their words—Richard Dawkins, who changed the way many conceptualize evolution with his book The Selfish Gene (and in an offhand chapter, invented the word ‘meme’), and Daniel Dennett, one of the best explicators of the central ideas of evolution.
My view on GMOs
Given that genetically modified crops lie at the intersection of food and genetics it was inevitable that this would be a rich subject for me. Foodies in general tend to be deeply suspicious of them because they are often conflated with industrial food; and such was also my attitude when I first started reading and writing about them.
But after several in-depth research projects including interviewing GM farmers in India, I have come to see great possibilities in biotechnology. Each trait, however, must be judged on its own: the very fact of being genetically-modified is neither here nor there, because it tells you nothing important.
Why do I say that? Because the process of inserting a gene from one species to another is much like inserting a step from one recipe to another, and does not imbue the receiving species with some indefinable essence of the donor. All of our conventionally-bred crops are subject to constant mutations out in nature. A mutation also creates new genes that the crop may never have seen before. Sometimes, these mutations lead to new crops being patented and sold (a great example of this is Cheddar Cauliflower); no one bats an eyelid or demands tests.
The big difference with genetically-modified crops is that the insertion happens with human intention.
Perhaps it bothers people that lifeforms have now become subjects of human engineering; but since I am a software engineer myself, this does not faze me at all. Here is a post that more fully expresses my stance on genetically modified crops.