Mahua Mukherjee still remembers the first time her five-year-old son Antariksh saw potatoes growing in the ground. The family was at a resort in Hessarghatta when they came across a vegetable patch, and from Antariksh’s reaction, Mukherjee realised that the idea of a potato in its natural environment was utterly alien to her son. “He kept telling us that potatoes come from supermarkets and not the ground,” she said. “He was really confused, and was not able to make the connection between food, its source and agriculture.”Not long after this incident, Mukherjee was sought out by Pushpi Bagchi, then a student at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, who was working on a thesis project about children and their relationship with the food they eat. As part of her research, Bagchi was meeting and talking to parents like Mukherjee, who were concerned about the lack of such a relationship. Bagchi’s thesis finally took the form of a book titled A Garrulous Gastronaut’s Guide, which attempts to educate kids about a food culture outside urban consumerist lifestyles. “I wanted to design a product that would get kids and their parents to re-evaluate their food choices, food habits and consumption patterns,” Bagchi said.Bagchi first began thinking about the project when she noticed that her young cousins, aged between four and six years, had very little respect for food, and that they usually got whatever they demanded, which was usually processed food. She soon began to develop her idea for a book which would aim to encourage both parents and children to appreciate food more holistically.The book’s protagonist is six-year-old Cheeku, who starts off wanting to be an explorer. Since he loves eating, he is guided by his grandfather into an exploration of food. As a first step, they go out into their garden, where Cheeku learns how to plant seeds. The narrative that follows is a lively mix of storytelling and information with each section attempting to deepen the reader’s understanding of food. In the course of his explorations, Cheeku encounters concepts such as recycling, farmers’ markets and food miles, and by the end of it, he and his friends set up a Gastronaut’s Club, dedicated to the understanding of food. “I wanted to introduce ideas like food sustainability through a character who is a child, who is also learning these things for the first time, as opposed to somebody older teaching the principles,” Bagchi said.
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