Soul Food with Vikram Vij, Amrita Sondhi, Arun Garg and Arran Stephens at 2012 Indian Summer Festival

All photos by Ariella Fong

“ As a chef, what food means to me is that you have come to my house, and I am taking care of you. For chefs, it is the feeling of [cooking] the best… I want to cook and make the best meal ” --  Vikram Vij

As part of the wellness weekend during the 2012 Indian Summer Festival, four of Vancouver's most respected minds in the food industry come together to discuss the role food plays in our culture, health, history and society. Joining host Vikram Vij, an award winning celebrity chef of the esteemed Vij’s restaurant, were Arran Stephens, founder of Nature’s Path Foods Inc; Dr. Arun Garg, Medical Director of Fraser Health Labs and Amrita Sondhi, author of multiple cook books.


The panel began with a discussion on the role Indian food plays in health and for each individual. Dr. Arun Garg stated that “food is what you eat, how much you eat, why you eat and when you eat.”  As agreed by the entire distinguished panel, food is not just simply consumed for sustenance but rather, the activity of eating is a symbol of what you are. As echoed by Arran Stephens, author of The Compassion Diet, “Food is integral, it is important that we treat our body as a temple and what we put in this temple has a result on our nature.”

Straying away from a medical or spiritual approach, Vij commented that as a chef, food to him is the art of practicing hospitality and a spirit of generosity, a practice that is integral to Indian culture. Admitting that he doesn’t pay much attention to fat content or focus too much on specific spices in his dishes, Vij’s approach to food is simply to make the best meal he can.

Throughout the one-hour panel, the discussion rotated from acknowledging traditional Asian food cultures to commenting on the detriment of adopting westernized consumption habits including meat centric diets, refined sugars, complex carbohydrates, processed foods and genetically modified foods.  This type of diet Dr. Arun Garg believes, leads to unhealthy factors such as obesity, lack of energy, allergies and sickness. 

The discussion also included how food and spirituality tie together, bringing a new perspective on the act of eating. To quote his guru, Arran Stephens says “you should fill one half of your belly with food, one quarter with water and one quarter with the light of god”. Stephen explains that to leave one part empty, one can experience higher states of consciousness.

In addition to discussing the spiritual properties of food, the panel also commented on the medicinal properties of Indian cuisine. Particularly herbs and spices such as cilantro, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, salt and good fats such as nuts, avocado and purified oil can ward off sickness and aid the mind and body. 

On the other end of the spectrum, audience members questioned the effects of our culture’s tendency and the societal pressures to consume large amounts of caffeine, sugars and alcohol. In response, Amrita Sondhi, spoke about Ayurvedic traditions focusing on particular doshas, which are one's personal constitution based on physical and mental characteristics: air (vata), fire (pitta), and earth (kapha). Those who have certain characteristics, such as “earth” are stronger and can handle larger volumes of caffeine or alcohol while others who have “wind” characteristics are lighter, and perhaps smaller and whose bodies cannot handle these extreme foods. But if you are one who can’t quite kick the morning coffee or glass of wine at the end of the day, fear not. As Dr. Arun Garg advises, “food is what makes us and we should treat it with respect, with moderation and balance.”

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