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Getting high on food

Zubin D’souza

Madhya Pradesh in India is a state that lies bang in the centre of this colossal subcontinent. It has had a rich history replete with ancient structures of immense beauty; wars that redefined populations and romance stories that have stood the test of time.

Amongst all the beauty and splendour and art that defines this wonderful geographical location is a little known fact. It is also the largest producer of legal opium in India!

Generations of farmers have tilled the lands and toiled under the harsh sun to harvest their poppy pods which produce the opium that goes into creating medicine and pain killers.

Recently these farmers have been under attack!

Their attackers are pretty menacing and creative and manage to carry away a large portion of the produce. The helpless farmers haven’t been able to fight back effectively.

It is not that their attackers are career criminals with assault rifles and specially modified vehicles. That would have probably been easier handled. The menace comes from fluorescent green, cute and chirpy parrots who are addicted to the opium rich milk that oozes out of the pods.

These pretty birds who have the option of eating almost anything in the world unhindered seem hell-bent on focusing all their energies on the opium crop….and with good reason.

Indians definitely know a lot about opium addiction. In fact we are the ones who probably created the manual on using it effectively in food. We are so taken up by the entire gamut of psychoactive substances that we have even ensured that a couple of gods from the Hindu pantheon also enjoy leaning on these products.

Lord Shiva who is considered to be the destroyer is continuously plied with a ‘chillum’ filled with the choicest marijuana to keep him calm because his frenzied dance called the ‘tandav’ is what causes death, earthquakes and tsunamis!

Shaivaites or devotees of Lord Shiva believe that the surest way of attaining spiritual enlightenment or an open communication line with the great god is through a lit pipe filled with cannabis.

In fact derivatives of these thought processes managed to convince an entire generation of ‘flower children’ to stumble through their youth in a cannabis induced haze.

For better or for worse, the trend does not seem to be dying down any time soon.

There are proponents and opponents and both sides are armed with data, studies and a continuous stream of donors to the cause.

Amsterdam has gone one up and legally sells ‘space cakes’ which are hash infused or weed imbued lollipops. These are great tourist attractions and sometimes are great for recollections of a fun time but this is not what cooking with these trippy additives is meant to be.

The original idea of these substances were meant to create a balance between stress and euphoria; it wasn’t meant to earn some nasty people the GDP equivalent of developing nations!

We have always heard stories of poppy fields guarded by gun toting mercenaries; or proceeds from the sale going on to finance armed conflicts or human smuggling chains.

But poppy isn’t all that bad as it is made out to be.

The opium fields of Afghanistan and Myanmar are run by subsistence farmers who are more concerned about food security rather than earning insane profits. Opium is a hardy cash crop that tends to be much in demand which ends up being a rather win-win situation for the poor farmer.

Before it became vilified, opium had a long history that was intrinsically linked to culture.

The Minoans who were a Bronze Age civilization from the island of Crete handed down a 4,500-year-old recipe that consisted of milk, opium and honey as a pacifier for crying babies.

The Greeks listed poppy seeds and opium as sedatives in the 1550 BC medical treatise known as the Ebers Papyrus.

Poppy seeds may be illegal in several countries in the Arabian Gulf and Singapore for their morphine content but it hasn’t stopped the rest of the world from using it.

The Czech Republic produces the largest amount of poppy seeds in the world, which are subsequently boiled with milk and used as a filling for pastries or the milled matured seeds of the blue poppy are boiled and eaten with pasta.

Across Europe poppy seeds are sprinkled on buns and soft rolls while the Jews traditionally make a sweet poppy seed paste as a filling for various pastries.

The Bengalis who live near the eastern seaboard of the Indian subcontinent revere the poppy seeds and enjoy the sublime richness and ethereal feel the paste gives to their highly addictive potato stew called aloo posto.

Poppy also provides thiamine, folate and several essential nutrients to the body but it is always almost eaten for the wonderful taste and incomparable texture. It is so addictive that even parrots cannot stay away!

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