It was a regular Sunday morning, just as usual. Pa behind the paper, Dadu fiddling with his watering can, Ma
making hot pancakes for everybody. Cheeku gearing up to make an announcement...
“I want to be an explorer! Not just any old explorer, but the greatest ever explorer who everyone will
remember for ever and ever!”
Ma didn’t turn a hair, “Really? But what will you explore?”
“Insects! Because I have nerves of steel and am not scared of any creepy crawly squirmy wormy bugs.”
Pa raised his head from the newspaper and butted in, “Unlike your Ma, who jumps up on the bed whenever
she sees the tiniest cockroach.”
Ma, with a sidelong glare at Pa, said, “But, Cheeku, entomologists already study insects for a living. “
“Fine, an astronaut then, and I’ll zoom through the galaxy to find eerie aliens with bogey brains and slimy
Ma raised her eyebrows, “I guess you are just a bit too small for the spacesuits, sweetie. Maybe when you’re
just a bit taller and older?”
Cheeku responded, “AUGHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.! Blast these dreary dismissals! Dadu, how can I
become an exceptional extra-ordinary exemplary explorer?” He was not really sure what ‘exemplary’ really
meant, but he added it just because it sounded good.
Dadu said mildly, “Well Cheeku, perhaps you don’t have to come up with such grand schemes. Can’t you think
of something in your everyday life that you haven’t fully explored yet? ”
“Everyday life? But how do you become an everyday explorer? And how do you know anything about it?”
“Oho! If I’m so clueless how did I come to be the only Balcony Botanist around?”
“Balcony Botanist? What’s that, Dadu?”
“You see, I love to study nature, like a botanist. But I’m too old to go outdoors every day, so I’m researching
potted planting out on the balcony! Plants that grow in pots need special looking after, unlike plants that grow
in the *wild. And you see, my balcony garden is flourishing. I’m growing my own *ecosystem!”
*Nature has the ability to sustain itself in any form of difficulty. Ecosystems of plants and animals have been
around for thousands of years and they have sustained themselves even while evolving into something new.
To sustain means to be able to support yourself independently and keep going. To be sustainable means to be
capable of living and providing for yourself with as few bad effects on the environment as possible.
*The Latin word eco means how living things relate to their environment. An ecosystem is a community of
living things existing in harmony with their environment.
Slurping on a banana-mango smoothie later that morning, Cheeku thought of all the things he loved.
Mango chutney and guava jelly
Pea soup that warmed his throat and belly
Pickle with parathas and garlic toast
The blueberries Nani sends by post
Aromas that wafted from fresh-baked cakes
The yummy slurps of flavoured shakes
Chomp munch gulp- tastes that are radical
Essentially all things *Gastronomical!
*Gastro is the Latin word for stomach and Gastronomy is the art of good cooking and eating. So anything
GASTRONOMICAL is YUM!
“That’s it! I LOVE FOOD! I’ll be a food explorer, better than anybody ever!
Ma, I’ve got it. I want to be a food explorer right now. Quick, give me some seeds, some food growing seeds.”
Ma gave Cheeku four soaked peanuts that were meant to be in a tangy salad, and a bunch of coriander seeds
rescued before they were blitzed into a masala-paste. For pots Cheeku got a bucket with a broken handle and
an old rusty cookie tin.
The Balcony Botanist helped him pack in some rich brown soil that was moist and cool when he squished it
between his fingers.
“Botanists get to play with a whole lot of mud!”
Dadu, “Now plant the peanuts (Arachis Hypogaea) an inch and a half deep into the soil. Make sure they are
spread out because the roots will need space once they start sprouting from the nuts. The coriander seeds
(Coriandrum Sativum) can go into the cookie tin. Sprinkle them about a quarter inch into the soil.”
After watching Cheeku hard at work with gloriously dirty fingers, Dadu applauded, “Marvellously done, Mr.
“So when will my peanuts and coriander be ready to eat? In an hour?”
“Plants take time to grow, Cheeku, you can’t hurry nature. Your coriander will be ready in three weeks time.
But it’ll be almost three months before the leaves of the peanut plant turn yellow. That’s when you’ll know
they are ready to be eaten. Till then water them a little everyday. Just be patient.”
“Ohhh! But I want do something right NOW. Maybe I’ll go food hunting.”
Cheeku rushed to Ma. “Let’s go to the closest supermarket; I need to study the intricacies of the indigenous
hunting gathering techniques.”
Ma always looked at the practical side of things. “Oh good, you can strap on this shopping bag and help me
carry the fruit and vegetables that we’ll buy.”
“But they sort and pack everything neatly in plastic bags for you at the supermarket anyway!”
“Well, these bags are a lot more comfortable to carry plus they’re more stylish than shifty plastic that might
tear any minute. And who ever said you can only buy food from supermarkets?”
NUTTY NAMES & PECULIAR PLACES
Ma and Cheeku set off food hunting with their shopping bags stylishly slung over their shoulders.
Inside the super market it was cool and clean
There were isles of food in shelves that gleamed
Carrots, onions, tomatoes, and beans
And the *apples were shiny-red and beamed.
*Illustration showing the processing+ export+ import of apples
“You know Cheeku, most of the fruits and vegetables that are sold here are chosen because they don’t spoil
over long journeys in trucks and trains or ships and planes to reach the shelves. Not because they are tasty or
*Food miles are the distance that food travels from the farm where it is grown to your plate. It measures
things like the amount spent in food packing, petrol used for transport, and the Carbon dioxide released in the
air to make food reach our homes. It tells us about the impact our food has on the environment.
“That’s right; food miles are big in food aisles. So by the time they travel from the farm to reach our kitchen
they aren’t very *fresh.”
*Fresh food tastes better than food shipped long distances from other states or countries. Local farmers can
offer varieties of fruits and vegetable for their taste and freshness rather than their long shelf life.
“Is there a place where we can get food that grows close to us and doesn’t have to travel?”
So Ma took Cheeku to a *Farmers Market.
* A Farmers Market is a place where farmers sell their grown fruits and vegetables directly to people instead of
selling them to a shop or store first = food fresh from the farm.
When the ardent adventure seeker Cheeku saw the lanes in the Farmers’ Market piled high with mounds of
food fresh from the field, he was as thrilled!
The market was loud with the hustle and bustle of buying, selling and bargaining. (Dialogue of farmers and
buyers in the illustration.)
Fruits in rainbow colours and curious stripes.
Vegetables in strange shapes with knobs and spikes.
On carts and mats, in cubbies and rows,
And everybody carried their own bag on their elbows.
Cheeku smartly wiggled his way to the front of the crowd, and jumped onto towering piles of pomegranates,
beets and aubergines. He inspected each object with care. He felt the smooth firm skin of the tomatoes; saw
the bright even colours of the greens. He smelled the sharp tang of lemons and the heady scent of musk
melons. He haggled and gaggled to get bargain prices for Ma, and hitched up his shopping bag that was fast
filling up with food.
The farmers grinned at the tiny inspector.
“We don’t see too many children around here, Mister. What’s a boy your age doing in a fruit and vegetable
Cheeky Cheeku- never at a loss for words. “I’m a food explorer, Mr. Farmer. I’ve grown my own ground nuts
and coriander. I’ve come here to inspect the locally grown food fare and I only want fresh and hearty produce.
Do you have anything interesting to offer?”
“Yes, I do! You must sample my *organic harvest. It’s fresh as this sunny Sunday morning.”
*Organic food is food that is grown without using un-natural fertilizers and pesticides that can be bad for the
soil and underground water and also for you if you don’t wash them properly before eating them. Organic
food is good for the planet as it grows a variety of plants together in one place, and uses only natural
fertilizers. This helps the soil keep all its nutrition which makes the plants grow better. It also saves resources
like petrol and energy.
Ma bought the plumpest pumpkin from the organic farmer and they set off for home.
On reaching home, they headed straight for the kitchen and Cheeku helped Ma to sort out their shopping. He
felt the knobbly texture of the cauliflowers, separated the beets from the pomegranates, the bitter gourds
from the bottle gourd, and shook the mud off the bunches of spinach and mint.
Feeling very important he declared, dramatically as usual, “Ma, now that I am a knowledge super-power, I am
ready for followers. I’m off to fill the hollow heads of all my prospective pupils with my unparalleled
knowledge of food.”
Ma said, “Why don’t you call your friends over and fill their hollow tummies with some food instead? And
don’t be so pompous, a true leader is always humble and happily shares all his discoveries so that awareness
spreads. Who knows, when word of your discoveries spreads - you just might get famous, Cheeku!”
“Great idea Ma! Let’s have some cake and smoothies to go with my recruiting mission!”
So Cheeku tied his apron tight...and they made plump pumpkin cupcakes and banana chocolate smoothies.
Pumpkin Cupcake recipe illustration
Banana Chocolate smoothie recipe illustration
He then called Pingu, Minty and Chintoo, Bobo, Toto and Chimpu.
He also invited the Balcony Botanist, and even Pa hung around.
He laid out the table with brightly coloured mats, and everyone sat around chomping their delectable
cupcakes, slurping their sensational smoothies, and having a toasty old time. Everyone complimented Cheeku
on the beautifully-decorated table and the delicious food. But this wasn’t an ordinary tea party!
COOKING CLUBS OR SECRET SOCIETIES?
After his third cupcake, Cheeku banged on the table and called for attention. “I have called all you excitement
seekers to share my food knowledge that I have generously gathered for everyone’s benefit. But there’s a lot
more we still have to find out. Together, with me, obviously, as your grand, garrulous leader, we can become
the greatest ever *Gastronauts!”
* The term Gastronaut has been coined from the Latin word gastro, meaning stomach, and the Greek word
naut, which means sailor. No, not a stomach sailor - a food explorer!
Swallowing the last of his smoothie, Chimpu piped up, “I’ve heard of Gastronauts before.”
“Fine! Let’s not be just Gastronauts – we’ll be Eco Gastronauts! Because what we do affects not only us, but
everything around us. We’ll be global guardians, helping the planet with every bite!”
And after a lot of bickering and chattering, debating and quarrelling, accompanied by a record amount of bites,
slurps, scuffles and sniffles, the eager explorers finally decided on their fantastic name and wrote down a set
of guidelines for future food explorers to follow.
HOW TO BECOME AN EXCELLENT ECO GASTRONAUT
A Gastronaut is a person who explores and enjoys the world of food, the way an Astronaut explores space.
True Gastronauts not only explore food, they are fantastic chefs and daring eaters. They find out about
different food cultures.
Eco Gastronauts figure out how our food can help the planet, and they spread the word to others so that we
can be happy and sustain ourselves for at least a billion (no, gazillion) years more.
6 Ways to become an Eco Gastronaut:
1. Buy food that grows locally.
To make farmer friends.
Ensure your food is fresh and yummy.
Reduce food miles.
2. Try and grow food.
It’s fun and it’ll test your abilities.
You get to play with mud.
You’re allowed to eat what you grow.
3. Learn to recognise food.
To be a true food expert, you have to know what you’re looking at.
4. Get busy in the kitchen.
To be food safe
Cooking is cool!
Sharing food brings people together.
5. Learn to recognise tastes.
A trained tongue can distinguish flavours and will make you a taste expert. .
You can come up with your own gastronomic recipes.
6. Spread the word and convert more people to become Eco Gastronauts!
(Cheeku, Chimpu, Chintoo, Bobo, Britty, Barkhu, Minty, Pingu, Puttu and Toto.)
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