Foreword by Curt Ellis
I knew Deepa Thomas was a miracle worker in the kitchen long before I tasted her remarkable cooking. Through my work as an advocate for rethinking the way we eat—first as a filmmaker of the documentary King Corn and now as a founder of the child nutrition nonprofit FoodCorps—I found myself speaking to a group of entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley in the spring of 2014. I shared the message I’ve been trumpeting for fifteen years now: that if we care about future generations fulfilling their potential (and want them to have a planet on which to try), we must find a way to farm and eat that is good for the health of people up and down the food chain, and good for the health of the lands and waters that sustain us. After my talk, a man approached me with a warm smile. “I’m Thampy Thomas, and you must meet my wife. Deepa’s cooking got me off insulin shots.”
A few months later, I found myself in the San Francisco kitchen of Deepa Thomas. She opened a jar of fragrant spice and pulled from the oven a stunning plate of coconut-scented vegetables. With a painter’s grace (Deepa is one), she made the art of cooking look effortless. With one eye on the latest dietary research from Stanford and UCSF, and with the other on the centuries-old wisdom of the Indian Ayurveda, Deepa remade Indian classics with equal reverence for good taste and good health. And with a life story as compelling as any I have encountered, from her childhood in India to her ascent as an entrepreneur and—now—her rebirth as a chef, Deepa filled our evening with stories that proved as exciting as her cuisine.
In this important new cookbook and engaging memoir, Deepa’s Secrets, readers will find more than seventy recipes for healthy and delicious New Indian meals, and one master recipe for a long life well-lived: embrace every challenge the world sends you as if it were an opportunity; embrace every person the world sends you as if they were a teacher. Deepa’s life is a testament to the power of such thinking, and her cooking is a testament to how much joy it will bring.
Beyond its filling and fulfilling contributions to our kitchen shelves, Deepa’s Secrets represents an important addition to our national conversation about the way we farm and feed ourselves. With the scientific consensus now quite clear on the health risks inherent in the modern global diet—one rich in refined grains, processed meats, and added sugars—Deepa points the way toward a culinary approach that gives us all of the flavors we love, with little of the harm.
The latest think-tank estimates place the cost of our national epidemic of diet-related disease at $1.4 trillion per year. A little over $400 billion of that is the part we all think of first—the medical costs of treating a country with staggering rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. But it’s the other nearly-$1 trillion that holds my interest most. That figure captures the lost economic productivity that comes from our workforce dying younger, progressing less in their careers, attaining less education, and achieving less than their potential in school. Follow each of those trillion dollars to ground, and you find a child growing up with a broken relationship to food. A child who won’t have the chance to fulfill her dreams.
In my work at FoodCorps, which seeks to change the way children learn about food in school and to change the way we eat, I have seen first hand the urgency of reimagining our diets, at home and on the lunch-line. In one memorable example, a father in New Mexico loyally attended and videotaped our parent-child cooking classes, noting that “My wife already has diabetes, and my daughter is already pre-diabetic—we must learn how to cook in new ways for their sake.” Indeed, we must create a future for food that nourishes our children’s potential by first nourishing their bodies.
But as the memories and stories captured in Deepa’s Secrets suggest, nourishing our bodies and nourishing our souls come hand in hand. Food is love, as the adage goes, but more accurately, food is about navigating our ties with one another and with the world around us. In Deepa’s journey from the monsoons of New Delhi to the foggy hills of San Francisco, food became a source of connection and continuity to the culture and family she had left behind. Our relationships to the people and places we have loved are not static—nor should the food be by which we remember them. The modern interpretations of Indian cuisine that we find in Deepa’s Secrets reflect the principles of the Ayurveda and the passion of family recipes handed down through generations, but they also reflect the freshness, seasonality, and pace of our time.
Deepa’s success developing a diet that freed her husband Thampy of his daily insulin shots should be inspiration for us all: it is a reminder that health is something we have a chance to control, and that food is, always has been, and always will be, central to our healing. But Deepa’s story takes us further: to a world where amazing things are possible, and to a worldview where we are empowered to not just follow recipes for joy, love, and well-being, but to create them.
—Curt Ellis, co-founder and CEO of FoodCorps
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ―Hippocrates
As far back as the time of Hippocrates, the recognition of food as medicine has played an important role in history. Hippocrates’ views as expressed in a large body of writings compiled after his death known as the ‘Hippocratic Corpus’ promote the use of diet and exercise as the best way to combat and prevent disease. Hippocrates emphasized diet first, then medicine.
Today we have Deepa Thomas, and her ‘Secrets’ who gives us a modern way to look at food. She shares with her readers her healthy ‘prescription’ for what to eat, how to eat and how to prepare food that is extremely nourishing. Deepa harnesses a truly global perspective on food. Whether she is teaching us the ‘Zen’ of preparation, the importance of presentation, or her emphasis on the quality and types of ingredients, Deepa unlocks the ancient ‘secrets’ of food as life.
With so much attention being placed on ‘diet drift’ especially in the West, Deepa brings us back to basics. This ‘diet drift’ is represented by a move away from whole ingredients, freshness, and self-preparation. It manifests in cooking shortcuts, aka ‘fast food’, the overuse of grains and carbohydrates including sugar, and a de-emphasis on presentation, including portion size. Deepa’s Secrets takes us back to our roots. Her recipes encompass an ease of preparation, a balance of ingredients and eye-pleasing presentations of healthy food.
This not just another ‘cookbook’, it is not just another ‘foodie-lover’ tome, but rather a very serious treatment of food as an essential part of our health. We owe Deepa a bouquet of gratitude for her comprehensive and informative treatise. She reminds us at every turn that food has a major role in our lives, and that our first line of self-care is what we eat. Thank you, Deepa!
—Dr. Joan Fallon