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Building a Healthy Bakery in India

Jan 18, 2013

by Danielle Tsi

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“And now let’s thank Danielle Aunty for joining us today! Give her a shooting star everybody!” shouted Adam Aronovitz. Twenty smiling girls raised their arms in my direction, wiggling their fingers as they cheered. I was spending the afternoon at the Odanadi women’s residential facility in Mysore, South India, a non-profit that rescues women and children from human trafficking, with Adam, his partner, Alissa Bilfield, and volunteer Nisha Parikh.

Alissa Bilfield and Adam Aronovitz, co-founders of The Cookbook Project

Adam and Alissa are co-founders of The Cookbook Project, an international non-profit focused on educating youth about nutrition and cooking using interactive and experience-based methods. “Our mission is to use food culture as a platform for talking about bigger issues such as nutrition, health and food choices with young people,” Alissa said.

With Odanadi (which means “Hand in Hand”), the Project is running a two-year vocational training program to prepare about 18 residents for the business of running their own bakery, Sattvic Sweets. Derived from the Sanskrit word Sattva, the word sattvic, when applied to food, connotes qualities of purity, nutrition and cleanliness.

Odanadi residents enthused after another successful afternoon of recipe testing.

This business idea was born out of a month-long Cookbook Project workshop on food and nutrition in 2010. The participants wanted to apply what they had learned by running their own food enterprise and turned to Adam and Alissa for help. In response, the couple developed this training program to prepare the residents to run a café of their own.

Said Alissa,“We hope that this project will provide the residents with an outlet for income-generation, allowing them to save money and gain financial independence. At a broader level, we’re looking to support the burgeoning organic agricultural movement in South India by using as many organic ingredients in our products as possible.”

A blindfolded participant tries to identify one of six ingredients commonly used in baking.

“We’re trying to do something different with this project by offering healthy Indian sweets and raw vegan cakes, with the hope that this will raise awareness about healthy eating and support a decline in chronic lifestyle-related diseases in the local community, like diabetes and heart disease,” she explained.“It’s not an easy task, as traditional Indian desserts usually feature large amounts of sugar and ghee (clarified butter), which play a big role in creating the flavors that Indians have come to love.”

The afternoon I was there, the girls tested a recipe for coconut burfi, a fudge-like sweet with grated coconut, sugar, cardamom and nuts, but with a healthy twist, using jaggery instead of white sugar. Two variations were made, one in a pan lined with ghee, and another lined with coconut oil, so that the girls could taste and discuss the differences in flavors. Adam, Alissa and Nisha led a discussion on organic products, their importance and a blind-tasting exercise featuring alternatives to traditional ingredients like date syrup (instead of white sugar) and sesame and coconut oil (in place of ghee).

The finished coconut burfi, a fudge-like Indian sweet made with coconuts, sugar, spices and nuts.

From recipe development to Ayurvedic nutrition (the Hindu system of traditional medicine) to sessions about business planning, the vocational curriculum spans 16 sessions, featuring a mix of external speakers and recipe testing. The team and their volunteers are currently building out the commercial kitchen at Odanadi, where the bakery will begin life supplying sweets to local restaurants and cafés. The current goal is to get the business off the ground and transition to a retail space in two to three years.

Receiving a "shooting star" from the participants — the interactive version of a group hug.

The couple are in India for another month or so before they take The Cookbook Project on the road again, to Chiang Mai in Thailand, and thereafter to Bali, and perhaps the Philippines, sowing seeds of change among underserved communities around the world. Their lifestyle turns my inner explorer and social activist green with envy, but it has also opened my eyes to the fact that opportunities for change lie everywhere if you just pay attention.

All photos by Danielle Tsi

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1 Featured Comment

  • mlezcano

    Mary Lezcano from BellaBboutique said 4 years ago Featured

    Truly inspirational what this team is doing. It makes my heart sing when I see the helpful hands of people sharing what they know and touching a community and so many individual lives. These girls in India have a tremendous opportunity and that is such a beautiful thing.

96 comments

  • mlezcano

    Mary Lezcano from BellaBboutique said 4 years ago Featured

    Truly inspirational what this team is doing. It makes my heart sing when I see the helpful hands of people sharing what they know and touching a community and so many individual lives. These girls in India have a tremendous opportunity and that is such a beautiful thing.

  • Plastidermy

    Chris Evans from Plastidermy said 4 years ago

    This is great soul work being done, sowing seeds around the world that will significantly impact communities and these young women's lives. Extraordinary.

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 4 years ago

    I'm so glad there are people doing this precious precious work. And using local culture to educate is the right way to go. Also, I use both ghee and coconut oil in my paleo cooking, and from what I've researched, ghee is just as good for you as coconut oil if the fat is coming from organic grass-fed cows~ It is perhaps not as good from an environmental standpoint though.

  • creativeclassics

    creativeclassics from creativeclassics said 4 years ago

    What a lovely story. It's amazing how many people are unaware of the health-rating of their food, so it's great to see this couple not only make their students aware, but help them develop alternatives as well. I wish them both the very best of luck!

  • amylburns

    Amy L Burns from AmyLBurns said 4 years ago

    A wonderful and valuable project on so many levels. Warms my heart.

  • maggiesraggedyinn

    Mary Robertson from MaggiesInn said 4 years ago

    All I can say to sum up my feelings after reading this is "YES"!!! This is real and very inspiring... thank you for sharing this, it makes me feel better about the world!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 4 years ago

    What a wonderful story!

  • rorymosman

    Rory Mosman from FeatherKeeper said 4 years ago

    This is a wonderful article! How encouraging the message of hope even in the medium of food preparation and nutrition! Always nice to see and read about those that are helping others! Thanks!

  • ThePattypanShop

    ThePattypanShop from ThePattypanShop said 4 years ago

    Great article!! Thanks for the post!

  • TreadleLady

    Donna Kohler from TreadleLady said 4 years ago

    What great work to teach people to start their own business and food is so basic. Teaching at a facility that rescues women and children from human trafficking is commendable. I love so much Indian food, will have to check my favorite Indian cookbook to see their sweets recipes and it's been a while since I've made my own naan, need to do that again soon.

  • memckeen

    LovelySquid from LovelySquid said 4 years ago

    I had no idea that heart disease and diabetes were health threats in the underserved communities of India, Thailand, The Philippines, etc. I would have thought their poverty would keep them from enjoying an overabundance of sugary and butter laden treats.

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 4 years ago

    Compliments!!!

  • chARiTyelise

    Charity Hofert from chARiTyelise said 4 years ago

    this may be might favorite article yet! what a wonderful initiative. I am so full of joy and hope when i read about projects like this that are happening in our global community. .................... It makes me think of that wonderful quote by Margaret Mead where she says, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. " ---i hope that others are inspired by your efforts to initiate other such wonderful projects in other communities! thank you for sharing this with us all.

  • VelvetRevived

    VelvetRevived from VelvetRevived said 4 years ago

    What a wonderful and inspirational post! Thank you! And thank you to Adam, Alissa and Nisha! So much good work being done here, keeping women and children safe from harm, teaching healthy food habits, teaching ways to run food businesses. Wishing them all very bet of luck in their futures!

  • s2000

    sonashri kalmegh said 4 years ago

    Underprivileged and poor people in India can not afford ghee or butter. They hardly afford one time food. Ghee is expensive more than oil. But its good effort to teach them healthy stuff.

  • BlueMoonBotanical

    Monica Rutt from rootsandflowers said 4 years ago

    beautiful story

  • StayArtisan

    J.K. Ramirez from HudsonBlueArtisans said 4 years ago

    Great story, thanks.

  • MaruMaru

    MaruMaru from MaruMaru said 4 years ago

    This is a great story!

  • hasincla

    hasincla from travelwanderings said 4 years ago

    So inspirational! From idea to action with a wonderful idea that helps people with health, finances, and looks like some straight-up fun! I love reading about stories like this, and I hope one day to be part of one of them.

  • GrowingUpWild

    Kelly Engel from GrowingUpWild said 4 years ago

    Such a wonderfully written story about such an inspirational goal. I love the beautiful photographs that accompany it.

  • LatressOnTheMenjay

    Amber Nichole from LatressOnTheMenjay said 4 years ago

    I love India and it's people and I love empowering projects! Bravo!!!

  • MrsGingerandWasabi

    Marta DQ from tribomo said 4 years ago

    What a wonderful project, congrats Adam and Alissa!

  • DewyMorningVintage

    DewyMorningVintage from DewyMorningVintage said 4 years ago

    Wonderful article and project! I love to see how people can take a terrible situation and turn it into a positive and enlightening experience. Well done. Thank you for this beautiful story.

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 4 years ago

    I'm amazed that diabetes & heart disease are a major problem somewhere like India, or that the people can afford sweets regularly enough to affect their health at all.

  • HennaTrails

    Kristy McCurry from OurFolkLife said 4 years ago

    I love to hear of such great works around our world! I am really loving the etsy blog and all it brings.

  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts said 4 years ago

    Very inspiring story! I hope the Cookbook Project is a complete success and that much good will come from the efforts of those who are working hard to make it happen.

  • crottedebique

    AnneSo Godby from crottedebique said 4 years ago

    This is an amazing story! Well done and keep the good work!

  • HappyWhoos

    Jessie Friedman from HappyWhoos said 4 years ago

    Truly inspirational!

  • dawnlafferty

    Dawn said 4 years ago

    I love India and hope to go back one day, beautiful story, best of luck to all who are part of this project :)

  • GisieArt

    Giselle from MyArtAndFashion said 4 years ago

    Wonderful and inspirational story. I wish you both the best!

  • PattiTrostle

    Patti Trostle from PattiTrostle said 4 years ago

    So happy to hear about this. Thank you. I wish them all the best!

  • PrayerNotes

    Prayer Notes by Cynthia from PrayerNotes said 4 years ago

    This is a wonderful story! Continue to these great pieces that inspire all of to appreciate and chip-in! ~Cynthia

  • FlauntRox

    Lin from Taurii said 4 years ago

    What an inspirational story, there are so many wonderful people in this world willing to share and care! And it looks as though the participants were having a lot of fun, too :~)

  • emwi

    Emily Wirt from emwi said 4 years ago

    This is awesome! What a great group. Thanks for sharing such an inspirational project.

  • deekish

    Deeksha Lakshmi from TheColorWagon said 4 years ago

    A great article Danielle! Reading the article took me back to Mysore where I have spent close to 4 years.. Thanks for sharing this story..

  • KPlager

    Kate Plager from BombyxBotanica said 4 years ago

    What a great idea!

  • blissfulvine

    JoAnne from BlissfulVine said 4 years ago

    This was a very encouraging story and so very, very interesting. I wish the best for this group as they continue on in their endeavors!

  • revathikalidindi

    Sridevi Suma from MyDreamDecors said 4 years ago

    Really great to hear this story..Being an Indian i feel happy to see this inspiring project...thank u so much for sharing..

  • Gemsadorned

    Sandhya Pidakala from SashasJewellery said 4 years ago

    It's truly wonderful and inspiring article....Wishing the best for this project!!

  • TheGroovyBaker

    Lisa LaConfiseuse from PamplemousseSucre said 4 years ago

    how fabulous! :D

  • ESTATENOW

    VINTAGE NOW from ESTATENOW said 4 years ago

    Very inspiring..thanks

  • likla

    Likla from Likla said 4 years ago

    Very nice and inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  • pinksnakejewelry

    pinksnakejewelry from pinksnakejewelry said 4 years ago

    Wonderful!!!!

  • nickigallery

    junko from NickiNickiGallery said 4 years ago

    Great project! I love Indian food, and I would love to try their new baked goods too!

  • irinisklavounou

    irini from IrinisWorld said 4 years ago

    How true. Sharing is not just about pressing a button on a social media site. If we have had the good fortune to develop some aspect of ourselves, some talent, opportunity or gift, the next step is to look around and see how, where and who we can pass it on to.

  • irinisklavounou

    irini from IrinisWorld said 4 years ago

    How true. Sharing is not just about pressing a button on a social networking website. If we have had the good fortune to be able to develop some talent, opportunity or gift, the next step is to look around and see where, how and who we can pass it on to.

  • irinisklavounou

    irini from IrinisWorld said 4 years ago

    WHOOPS....

  • butikonline83

    Hendri . from butikonline83 said 4 years ago

    Cool..

  • LydiaRener

    Lydia Rener from LydiaRener said 4 years ago

    I guess that the sentences In roma act as a roman is perfect for this! This is really great.

  • Namaz

    Nazima Banka from nazimabanka said 4 years ago

    As an Indian myself, I know the role ghee plays in an Indians diet, resulting in a very unhealthy addition, which should only be left as an indulgent treat on special occasions. Hopefully this group will make a long-lasting positive impact on the people of Mysore :)

  • BlueMoonLights

    Alexandra Simons from BlueMoonLights said 4 years ago

    Very inspiring! Education = Better World :)

  • HoneyThistle

    Wei from HoneyThistle said 4 years ago

    I love this - thanks for the great morning read :)

  • olusholaj

    Shola from YarningKnots said 4 years ago

    Kinda makes me thing of the book Sold. It's really great what they're doing. The world needs more people to take a stand. Way too many people are just sitting down getting receptionists' butt.

  • agoodhome

    Anna Addcox from agoodhome said 4 years ago

    What a wonderful undertaking! All the best to those beautiful women and children! I hope their bakery is a total smash hit.

  • PrincessAzmirelda

    PrincessAzmirelda from PrincessAzmirelda said 4 years ago

    This is an amazing project! Really inspiring! =)

  • nickiefrye

    Nickie Noel from SpunkVintage said 4 years ago

    Wow! Bless them in all of their endeavors!

  • Steampunkitis

    Susan Jane from Steampunkitis said 4 years ago

    Awsomely inspiring piece.

  • figmintvintage

    Tracy from FigMintVintage said 4 years ago

    More righteous articles like this{!}...and less like your foie gras article {which I've tried, without success, to banish from my memory}.

  • adamlawler

    Adam Lawler from LawlerDesign said 4 years ago

    Great project!

  • newtribetextiles

    newtribetextiles from newtribetextiles said 4 years ago

    Thank you for the beautiful article, and the wonderful project! I love India!

  • HuellaHuella

    Fabiola Friedman from HuellaHuella said 4 years ago

    This is such a wonderful post.

  • revivalbancroft

    Moxie and Suzy from RevivalVintageStudio said 4 years ago

    This story gives cooking with love a whole new meaning! Social Enterprise businesses are the wave of the future. Self sustaining communities globally! Please do more features about this! Thank you

  • bbqqueenie

    Sharon from OrchhaJewels said 4 years ago

    Great project initiative! India is a truly remarkable country

  • PinesVintageClothing

    Pine from GoodOldVintageOnline said 4 years ago

    Great post!

  • LuxoriaVintage

    Luxoria Vintage from LuxoriaVintage said 4 years ago

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this story! Incredible India!

  • BonitaBellita

    Stephanie from BonitaBellita said 4 years ago

    What a beautiful and positive way to share the knowledge one has with others and enrich their lives as well as fuel them. Very inspiring and heart warming to read about this.

  • rainbowearring

    TIN TIN MOE from rainbowearring said 4 years ago

    What a wonderful project and beautiful idea which is heart warming to people who read the artical .. thank for sharing.

  • christineshmisteen

    CHRISTINE SHMISTEEN from TheArtOfFinerThings said 4 years ago

    the blindfold thing... sniffing flour, baking powder, etc would be a hell of a surprise

  • freshpastrystand

    Deva America from freshpastrystand said 4 years ago

    Super rad! Me and most of my friends have spent extensive time in India. Sharing this one on my Facebook page as I know a lot of people who will love this! Right on!

  • loveofjewelry

    loveofjewelry from loveofjewelry said 4 years ago

    What a wonderful project and very inspiring.

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 4 years ago

    Love it!

  • nutraj

    Nutan Gupta from nutraj said 4 years ago

    Great Story! Thanks...

  • pasin

    pasin from Pasin said 4 years ago

    Wonderful story!

  • buttagal

    LC from cafedebutta said 4 years ago

    Love some curry but not too spicy. :P

  • StacieFamilyTree

    Stacie from StacieFamilyTree said 4 years ago

    Love the Vegan recipes teaching the children that nutrition absolutely does not need to come from meat but from the kindness your bakery is showing and the love and compassion for all.

  • OliCreations

    Francesca from OliCreations said 4 years ago

    Very interesting and inspiring article...it made me crave indian sweets which I love. Traditional sweets and desserts are unhealthy almost everywhere, finding healthy alternatives to introduce in a daily diet is a great idea, as long as the traditional recipes are not forgotten (they have their own value too) but saved as an indulgent treat for special occasions as someone wrote before me in the comments. Best of luck wth this great project!

  • Snowdon

    Alexandra Snowdon from Snowdon said 4 years ago

    Love this story, so very inspirational, if you need any help at all Adam and Alissa, give me a shout!

  • Anashjewelry

    Shana from PureRockAngelYogi said 4 years ago

    Go Alissa & Adam! I am so proud of you, sister. Thank you for your incredible inspiration, undying passion, energy, determination and love. Feel beyond blessed to have been here with you these past months. So much gratitude for letting PRAY Jewelry/ Mala Magic/ Palliative Care Mysore join Odanadi & Sattvic Sweets at the opening at Dhatu's this weekend. LOVE, love LOVE

  • PearlAmourJewels

    Asma from PearlAmourJewels said 4 years ago

    Indian sweets or Halwa is truly delicious and India is known for this delicacy that should be eaten in moderation but very hard to resist. Pistachio Barfi is my fav! A very touching and inspiring story and I wish all involved peace, health and luck in future endeavours

  • monkydku

    Surasak Nualthong from PaperMonkeyO said 4 years ago

    Great Story, Thanks for sharing this story.

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  • nativestrandsjewelry

    Rachel from PeppersJewelry said 4 years ago

    This was an interesting read. I can really get into an article about food. Thanks!

  • ElizabethMD

    Elizabeth M. Hollands from ElizabethMDJewelry said 4 years ago

    Wonderful inspiration.

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 4 years ago

    I love how they're working with traditional recipes and just changing them ever so slightly, I always think that traditional recipes are loosing out because we just dont need the calories in them anymore!

  • blingitongirl

    corrine from BebeAndKay said 4 years ago

    This made me so happy! People like this are a reminder that there IS good all around us. Being a huge fan of ayurvedic medicine, I wish this would catch on more- it really works! Thank you for featuring this!

  • frubean

    farah morley from Frubean said 4 years ago

    When the sky is stoney grey and I feel the sharp teeth of winter on my back, I warm myself with the thought that this world is full of creativity and artistry that shines out. A light that we can huddle around. A community that comes together and invites others to share in the joy of beautiful things. We link hands across oceans and deserts and as one of us sleeps another awakes. Together in a pact against the banal and the uninspiring we are the bakers of dreams.

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 4 years ago

    cheers!

  • halliefranco

    Hallie Franco from HallieJohanna said 4 years ago

    Truly encouraging to see such a wonderful endeavor!

  • etse007

    Jian Sell from Diy007 said 4 years ago

    This is great soul work being done, sowing seeds around the world that will significantly impact communities and these young women's lives. Extraordinary.---that is ok!!!

  • studioonmozart

    Jessica from StudioOnMozart said 4 years ago

    Wow--thanks for featuring these people from India! That's a great idea to develop community and to change women's circumstances there. That's really cool to know!

  • designlab443

    Tracy from designlab443 said 4 years ago

    Great work you are doing!

  • bratjen

    Barbara Ratjen from BarbsNook said 4 years ago

    This should be taught in similar places all over the world... even in America we have people who are hungry,and some who have very poor nutrition, 7 out of 10 people here are over weight, children should be taught early on about good healthy choices, so glad to see it happening there... Best wishes... and keep it going !!!

  • naturalwooddesign

    Darren from naturalwooddesign said 4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing! Inspirational!!

  • pangulcookie

    Pang uL Cookie said 4 years ago

    thanks

  • auniquedesign4u

    pam from stunningstuff4u said 4 years ago

    thank you for sharing your story...thank you for what you are doing. Blessings

  • RealfaerySupplies

    Betti and Jeno from RealfaerySupplies said 4 years ago

    OH, thanks for sharing this story. I am always happy to see some creative projects. I used to work in the Philippines in a street children project where we used to have a bakery and youths had training there, it was an income generating project, and it fed us too. I am for social enterprises too. We are in India right now, so we might visit this project as we will be around this area. Would be really fun:)

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