By Praba Iyer
February 18th, 2017
When I moved to the Bay Area in the 90s I came across a book called Flavors of India by
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff. I was intrigued by the recipes as they were
Indian but they had a little twist. For example Shanta‘s sambhar (a
soup made with vegetables and legumes) recipe called for ginger and
lime juice. Being from the South of India, I had never made sambhar
without tamarind using ginger and lime juice. When I tried it, I was in
for a pleasant surprise. It was delicious.
Shanta has been one of the very early writers for India Currents magazine and a pioneer in introducing Indian vegetarian cuisine to San Franciscans and others in the Bay Area. Her new book, Other Avenues Are Possible, is a comprehensive historical examination of the food co-op movement in the Bay Area and it talks of her involvement in The Other Avenues Co–Op Store. When she moved to the Bay Area in the early 70s, she joined the San Francisco natural food movement and thus began her lifetime of work with food and co-ops. This book is an in-depth look into the trials and tribulations of communities that have cooperated and supported sustainable farming and food sharing. It is also quite daunting to read about the obstacles and challenges co-ops face even to this day when farm to table is an approved and accepted way of life.
In her opinion, there can never be too many organizations that work in the area of food co-ops. In her words, “The most valuable lesson that I got out of this journey is the symbiotic nature of the relationship between a co-op and the community it serves. When the Outer Sunset neighborhood where I live did not want a Starbucks in the neighborhood, we helped them, and when we needed financial backing, the community in turn helped us.”
In the chapter titled “Keeping the Vision,” she lays out ways of encouraging and supporting sustainable healthy food communities. Even though I am a chef and educator, it was an eye-opener for me at many levels. We are so far removed from the process of growing and distributing food that we forget the committed work involved in keeping sustainable methods of production alive. When asked about how young people can get involved in the food movement, she refers to Michael Pollan who says, “Cooking your own meals can be your best weapon to fight agri-business.”
Shantha’s passion and commitment is woven through the pages of her writing. The decades of hard work, determination and struggles to keep Other Avenues Co Op Store open and successful is fully evident. This book is for all those people who care about a green planet, food politics, communal engagement and like Gordon Edgar says, “a must-read for anyone who eats food.”
Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay [email protected]