Before there were plates, there were banana leaves. This uniquely Indian tradition of eating on a banana leaf goes back thousands of years, before we used plastic, steel, or indeed anything else to make plates. Easily disposable and environmentally friendly, many Indian communities continue to follow this tradition today, particularly for the upcoming festival of Ugadi.
Celebrated as New Year in the Southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka, Ugadi calls for a special meal on a banana leaf to mark the occasion. Ugadi Pachadi, a preparation of neem, raw mango, jaggery, and tamarind is perhaps the most popular dish. Pongal, pulihora, and of course a rava laddoo for the sweet tooth are customary as well. What’s more, a banana leaf can easily hold all these dishes as the perfect accompaniment to this special meal.
Unlike plastic – which can take centuries to break down – banana leaves decompose in a matter of days, making them the ideal way to serve dozens of people during Ugadi celebrations. An event that would have otherwise created a mound of plastic waste from single-use tableware can be made eco-friendly by this simple switch to banana leaves. Even while using steel plates, the chemical-based detergents used to wash these can contaminate groundwater. Chemical residue can be extremely harmful to your body and often lurks on plastic and thermocol plates as well.
Aside from the environmental wonders, banana leaves benefit our health too. They’re rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which aid in preventing long-term disease, including some types of cancer. This plant-based compound is absorbed into your food and is the same substance that gives green tea its health benefits. Their thin, waxy coating melts after coming into contact with hot food, giving your meal a distinctly earthy, flavourful taste. Moreover, banana leaves are a free or affordable alternative for Ugadi celebrations in lower-income communities and are even re-used as natural fertilisers in rural areas.
This Ugadi, go old school and celebrate for mother nature – all with a simple banana leaf!
This is one of the first articles in a series which India Beckons is planning to do on social themes, raising awareness on various social issues through these creatives and articles. This article is on environment-friendliness and how using traditional banana leaves (as they still are used in many parts of South India) is a very good option for those who care for the environment.