"We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine-gun." -- George Orwell in his 1937 novel The Road to Wigan Pier
Seventy years down the line, Orwell could not have been more correct.
Pro-industry food safety and standards bill does not address safety concerns
This is for all those who have switched from normal home-cooked food to takeaways. Rajma-chawal and dal-bhaat , or even the occasional pasta bake, have the right ingredients. Pizzas don't. And pizzas cost more. The point is all about what's happening to our consumption habits.
What is clear is that Indians are spending more, but they are spending less on buying food. The National Sample Survey Organisation (nsso) has computed the monthly per capita consumption expenditure during 2004 to find that rural Indians spend roughly 57 per cent on food-related items, while urban Indians spend 46 per cent.
More importantly, the household food budget has been thinned out to buy less cereals and spend more on beverages, refreshments and processed food. Rural India spends Rs 37 on buying processed food and beverages, which is 10 per cent of its food expenditure in the month, on an average, across all categories of households. Urban India spends Rs 101, or roughly 20 per cent of its food expenditure. Both urban and rural India spend more on buying processed food and beverages, than they do on buying fruit for the family. In the case of urban India, the spend on processed food is even greater than that of the vegetables it buys each month. It certainly spends more on beverages than it does on milk and milk products. Desiring the lucrative and fast-growing market, food processors and retailers, including multinationals, have pulled out all stops to extend their business across the country. India is the only place where Pizza Hut has opened fully vegetarian eateries.
What makes the food industry salivate is the fact that this spending is not restricted to the elite. This is 'mass' produced food for the 'masses': this factory food is reaching poor households in urban and rural India. The same nsso data shows that in rural India, households with a monthly per capita consumption expenditure of as little as Rs 225, spend Rs 6 on buying processed food and beverages, while their richer counterparts, with Rs 950 or more to spend, buy processed food worth Rs 100. In other words, even the poorest are hooked. The same is the case with the urban poor -- spending Rs 11 out of their food budget of Rs 158 or roughly 7 per cent on processed food and beverages (see graph: Different diets). In other words, the business of processed food has entered the kitchen and is a major part of the diet.
The problem is that while industry is getting into our homes, the quality of our food intake seems to be declining. nsso data in its 55th round (1999-2000) estimated that the average per capita fat consumption was increasing exponentially in rural and urban India. "With the advent of the fast food culture, people eat more of packaged food and fast food like pizzas, burgers, chips and soft drinks. This leads to an increase in our calorie intake which disturbs our metabolic activities. Disturbed metabolic activity and a sedentary lifestyle lead to an increase in the chance of obesity, which has become a rule rather an exception in the upcoming generation. Type 2 diabetes (which basically come as a free supplement with obesity) has increased. This compounds the risk of heart attack," says Navjeet Talukdar, heart specialist at the Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Delhi.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.