By: Mugdha Chiplunkar, ’23-’24 Washington Fellow

This year, our Washington fellows have been participating in a weekly book club.  This book club allows fellows the opportunity to dive deeper into climate justice and theories of change, and discuss these topics with their peers.  The team started the year by reading Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas and has now moved on to reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  Upon reading chapter two of the book, titled The Council of Pecans, Washington Fellow Mugdha Chiplunkar was inspired to reflect on her own connections to cultural foods.  See her reflective piece, titled “Warming Up” below.  To read more of Mugdhas writing, visit her blog sippin

Warming Up

As the weather gets colder, a new ingredient dots the surface of my mom’s parathe: til, or white sesame seeds, that lure me into the kitchen with their subtly nutty aroma. A staple in our household during wintertime, til are, as my mom likes to remind me often, ushna or a “heaty” food; they warm you up from the inside, preparing your body for the winter.

In ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’, the author Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “[Seeds] are designed to be food for winter… They are safety for hard times, the embryo of survival.” While Kimmerer writes about pecans, I think about til; two vastly different types of seeds, yet pecans and til occupy a similar, familiar space in the lives of people across cultures and languages. To me, til are the markers of change and symbols of sustenance, powerhouses during the winter. They teach me to stay resilient in the face of metaphorical bad weather, a combination of patience and strength that only a seed can muster, and to have faith in the cycle of seasons. Although today’s metropolitan markets make them available whenever and wherever I want, til shine during the winter.

When my mom slides a fresh paratha onto my plate, the glossy white til seem to whisper, “Spring will come,” and thus I eat. Spring will come, colorful and chaotic, the promise of a good winter.


Mugdha Chiplunkar, ’23-’24 (Washington Fellow) Having lived half her life in Pune, India, and the other half in the US (split between California and Washington), Mugdha has a unique appreciation for the many communities and environments she has had the opportunity to be a part of. This appreciation for the land she lives on and the connections she has made there transformed into a passion for environmental conservation and education in high school, when the pandemic struck during her freshman year and served as a wake-up call to prioritize what she really cared about. Mugdha began volunteering as a Youth Ocean Advocate at the Seattle Aquarium, and at the Sammamish Animal Sanctuary where she spent many weekends cleaning pastures, feeding, and hugging all kinds of rescued farm animals! Now, Mugdha finds herself at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she is hoping to study biology with a focus on ecology, evolution, and conservation. Outside of her academic pursuits, she loves to play badminton and any pick-up sports (most recently, ultimate frisbee) and have meals with her family and friends.

Published On: February 5th, 2024 / Categories: Blog /