One can imagine the outrage when that one single form of allowable sensual joy is attacked. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) recently released a study referring to harmful substances in some of the yummiest snacks brought into India by our caring MNCs. A huge reaction ensued . Over tea and bhujia, cold drinks and samosas, butter chicken and naan, Indians held discussions on how what they considered the love of their life – delicious yummy food – could be harming them. The CSE study hit where it hurt most – instant noodles, potato chips, cold drinks are all middle class indulgences. In scientific mumbo jumbo like trans-fat content and percentage daily intake, things few understand , it said something like ‘This stuff is bad for you’ .
The MNCs jumped, engaging PR firms to clarify that they have been misunderstood. After all, anybody advertising their products with cute baby voices or other emotional tugs like grandparent-hugging could hardly be making anything harmful. If you believe the advertising, chips and cola make you a more loving, endearing person. Burgers and fried chicken help you make better friends.
So what is going on? Is it really that bad? Don’t people eat chips and lead long, healthy lives? And what on earth is this trans-fat and non-trans-fat business? Well, while there is no need to hyperventilate, there is reason for concern.
The modern Indian middle class diet is turning from bad to horrible. As they whiff early affluence, they see more money as an excuse to ingest more calories. We are already culturally trained to love food. Easy availability of tasty but unhealthy food has made it worse. Add lack of awareness among the masses and manipulative advertising, and the situation could turn horrible.
The CSE report aside, one doesn’t need a laboratory study to figure out that some of the things we eat are bad for us. Here are some simple facts. A juice brand that calls itself real, sells mangonectar that can have eight spoons of sugar per glass. A pack of instant noodles is nothing but unrefined, processed starch. The malt-based , so-called nutritional milk additives for children are mostly sugar. Expensive breakfast cereals can’t beat the health value inherent in a few simple rotis. Fried potato chips and burgers with patties that were frozen months ago are quite obviously not healthy.
It isn’t just the MNCs. The mithais and namkeens that we think are part of our traditional heritage, the thick gravies served in Indian restaurants and some homes, and the samosas and pakodas we regularly see being sold in railway stations are equally bad for us. Simple, healthy meals with low oil and sugar are the best. And yet, no one – the government, MNCs or people like us – seems to care. We shall pay the price in the next 10 years. Obesity levels will increase, fitness will decline and heath care costs will rise. The affluence we feel so proud of will actually come to bite.
We need to rein in our MNCs, for they seem to have little ethics in their advertising. When they are selling something that is harmful in the long term, they should disclose that to the buyer. Children and teenagers should be protected from the onslaught of unscrupulous MNCs who sell junk as aspirational . We need stringent labelling and advertising regulations .
We should laud the CSE study, which is a wake-up call for all of us. We also need to adopthealthy eating habits in the family. Social engagements should not revolve around food. People need to stop forcing others to eat in order to prove their love. If you love them, let them be healthy.
Taste is an important sense, do not let it lead you to doom. We need to be more self-aware of what we eat. What goes inside you is what finally makes you.
Anyway, all this food talk has made me hungry. How about you?