Nutty Business

By Radharao Gracias
09 August 2011 22:59 IST

Coconut water, good for your daughter, sings Harry Belafonte. Coconut oil good for all, says Anacleto Viegas and gives me a copy of The Coconut Oil Miracle, a book by Dr.Bruce Fife. I am relieved, that Anacleto is not opposing coconut oil as a medium for cooking ! After all, our families frequently eat out together and we can avoid oily debates on the dining table.
The Book is a detailed study and calls the coconut nature’s elixir to lose weight, prevent heart disease, cancer and diabetes, strengthen the immune system, beautify skin and hair. The book seems to back everything that we Goans have grown up with but now refuse to acknowledge. An extract from the book reads:
“The tropical oil war was in full swing. At stake was the $3-billion-a-year vegetable oil market in the United States, where the dominant domestic soy oil producers had launched a vicious propaganda war against foreign competitors. The tropical oil industry, having few allies and comparatively little financial muscle to retaliate, couldn’t match the combined efforts of the ASA (American Soybean Association), the CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), and others. Few would listen to the lone voices protesting the dissemination of the false information attacking tropical oils.
Researchers familiar with tropical oils were called on to testify at Senate hearings on the health implications of these products. “Coconut oil has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol, even in situations where coconut oil is the sole source of fat,” reported Dr.George Blackburn, a Harvard Medical School researcher who testified at a congressional hearing about tropical oils held on June 21, 1988. “These (tropical) oils have been consumed as a substantial part of the diet of many groups for thousands of years with absolutely no evidence of any harmful effects to the populations consuming them,” said Mary G.Enig, Ph.D., an expert on fats and oils and a former research associate at the University of Maryland.
Dr. C.Everett Koop, former surgeon general of the United States, called the tropical oil scare “foolishness.” Commercial interests either trying to divert blame to others or ignorantly following the saturated-fat hysteria were “terrorizing the public about nothing.” Dr.David Klurfeld, chairman of the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at Wayne State University, called the anti-tropical oils campaign “public relations mumbo jumbo.” He pointed out that tropical oils amounted to only about 2 percent of the American diet and that even if they were as bad as the ASA claimed, they wouldn’t have much of an effect on health: “The amount of tropical oils in the U.S. diet is so low that there is no reason to worry about it. The countries with the highest palm oil intakes in the world are Costa Rica and Malaysia. Their heart disease rates and serum cholesterol levels are much lower than in western nations. This [tropical oils scare] never was real health issue.”
Despite testimonials of respected medical professionals and lipid researchers, the media paid little attention. The saturated-fat crisis was news, and that got headlines. Major newspapers and television and radio networks picked up the anti-saturated-fat ads and developed alarming news stories. One such story was titled “The Oil from Hell.” Those who knew the truth about coconut oil were ignored and even criticized by those brainwashed by the media blitz. Because of the frenzy stirred up by the ASA and their friends, the fictional message they trumpeted won out over scientific fact.” 
The message of the book is simple and clear. Those of us who live in the tropics, must not discard the coconut which has served us so well for so long. Sadly no one seems to care. 
I visited Benaulim village the heartland of coconut in Salcete. The village has earned an enviable reputation for the quality of its nuts. (Yes, both varieties indeed !) Coconut saplings are no more being planted in the village. Coconut is being replaced by concrete. The Benaulim variety of nuts may disappear forever.
Several reasons are being cited for the decline of the coconut, falling prices being one of them. And for this everyone agrees that Chief Minister Digambar Kamat is to blame. He gave up the family business of coconut merchants and entered politics. The result? Low coconut prices and even lower standards of governance, it is said. 
Coconut pluckers are difficult to come by, complains one landlord. Why should we continue the hereditary business? Asks an old and grizzled plucker, whose father and grandfather were also in the same occupation. My son has become a lawyer, says he. And it is true. Lawyers have become pluckers, complains a litigant. And it may not be untrue.
Why should we climb coconut trees? Asks another plucker. The job is risky and everyone looks down upon a plucker. Not true, I tell him. I have always seen pluckers climb the tallest tree and look down upon everyone else ! 

At this rate in a generation or two. There will no coconut trees, no pluckers and Goa as we know it. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Radharao Gracias

Radharao F.Gracias is a senior Trial Court lawyer and ex President of the South Goa Advocates Association. He is also former independent MLA of Goa. He has been an activist on issues related to Goa for more than three decades.

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Instead of blaming everyone man's bogeyman Amrika, the onus for proving and spreading the good work on coconut oil lies with the huge research orgs like CFTRI with their battalion of lifetime employed scientists as well as with the Indian Medical Association. I dont see any exceptional research from these orgs that is relevant to the life of a South Asian.

I couldnt figure out if you favored the toddy tapper's son turning into a lawyer or not but the comments from a certain section of our society, the 'marginally educated so called upper class' which feels a certain sense of unmerited entitlement is irksome. They resent that blue collar workers are now white collar. Who will till our fields, pick our coconuts or carve our beds? Hey why not you? Maybe therein lies your talent. In the west many sons and daughters of highly educated professionals turn to these jobs. They grow veggies, work in engine rooms, wait on tables, fish and make beautiful hand crafted furniture. Fortunately for this world talent and intellect rests in everyone! Its all up to us to find what we can excel in!

- Helga do Rosario Gomes, NYC | 18 th August 2012 19:59


राधाराव, आलेमांवाचे तकलेर नाल्ला तेला डबो ओतय.

- vinay, America | 13 th August 2011 06:45


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