Macdosa, future food

To save the world it may be necessary to create a culture where the humble samosa replaces the mighty burger

By Mario
Published: Friday 15 October 1999

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth. In this case, the meek dosa and the meek samosa may hold the key to the future of food security in the world. It is, therefore, time to dislodge the burger and make it give way to its humble cousins -- the samosa and the dosa.

It is strange but true that each time you bite into a burger and chew on the meat, you threaten world food security. Each time you convert a person into a burger enthusiast you threaten it even more. Let us take the case of the Asian giant, China. As its economy strengthens, a visible change is being felt upon the Chinese demand for meat. With rising incomes, the demand for beer and pork products has jumped here.

To produce both these items, large quantities of grain are required. It takes several kg of grain to produce one kg of pork or any other meat product. Pork and beef are emerging as the hot favourites of consumers across the world. What isworrying is that cereal production is not increasing at thesame pace. As the demand for meat products grows evenfurther, so will the demand for grain to produce that meat. The final outcome could well be a paradox: scarcity despite plenty.

Increasing desertification in certain regions, where the water table is either falling or groundwater is being poisoned by nitrates, aggravates the problem. Farmlands also face exhaustion, mined as they have been of their micro-nutrients by intensive agricultural practices.

In India, fortunately, preference for meat is comparatively low. A survey of passengers travelling by Indian Airlines -- ones who can very well afford to buy meat -- has revealed that a very large percentage favoured vegetarian meals. On an average, Indians consume mutton or chicken occasionally. Pork and beef are virtually unheard off. The country's culture and religion are responsible for this. Moreover, once the methods and benefits of the Green Revolution percolate to states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan, grain output is expected to boom. It may, in fact, nearly double by 2020. However, there is a threat that food may become expensive as India may then be tempted to export grain to meat-consuming nations with depleted stocks.

Added to this is the increasing preference for fast food. Under high work pressure, people tend to grab meals or graze ratherthan eat. Soon we may have to introduce the dosa and the samosa as fast food favourites in the international market. All the more reason to do so as the burger is fast becoming a luxury that people across the world may not be able to afford for long.

Data shows that neither income nor attractiveness is strongly correlated with a sense of well-being. Richard Ryan and Tim Kasser from the University of Rochester, usa , claim that there is more to the issue. In a recently published paper, the researchers sketch an increasingly bleak portrait of people who value only 'extrinsic goals' like money and beauty ( Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , Vol 25, No 5).

Ryan and Kasser say such people are not only more depressed than others but also have more behavioural problems and physical discomfort, as well as score lower in levels of vitality and self-actualisation. This pattern is remarkably consistent. The Rochester study essentially looks at the 'dark side of the American dream'. And this culture turns out to be very detrimental to mental health. Americans are encouraged to try and strike rich. But the researchers note that "the more we seek satisfaction in material goods, the less we find them there". "Satisfaction has a short half-life; it is very fleeting," says Ryan. Sounds familiar?

The researchers say the detrimental effects of seeking only extrinsic goals seem universal, irrespective of income -- whether the person is after the first million or nth million -- or age. It is not even limited to culture. Ryan's group gathered data from subjects across the world, including Germany, Russia and India. Pursuing wealth, regardless of whether it is the East or the West, is psychologically unhelpful and even destructive. Says Ryan: "The findings come through very strongly in every culture I looked at."

Significantly, it appears that affluence per se does not result in lack of satisfaction. Problems crop up when affluence becomes the focus of life. The negative psychological feelings depend upon the extent to which people believe they are already on the way to attaining extrinsic goals.

In a study yet to be published, Ryan's group looked at over 300 young people in the us and Russia. The psychologists found that lower levels of mental health were found not only in people who wanted to make a lot of money but also in those who thought that they were likely to make it.

In another group of young people, they found that college students already on their way to attaining financial success and popularity had lower self-esteem than those leading a normal life. Those aspiring for only affluence had more transient relationships, watched more television and were more likely to use cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs than those who placed less emphasis on extrinsic values.

The researchers feel that pursuing goals that reflect genuine human needs, like wanting to feel connected to others, turns out to be psychologically more beneficial than spending one's life trying to impress others or to accumulate trendy clothes, fancy gizmnos and the money to buy them.

The family background of people who laid a great emphasis on extrinsic values was also investigated. The psychologists discovered that 18-year-olds, for whom financial success was especially important, turned out to be those who had mothers who were not very nurturing. When parents are 'cold and controlling', write the researchers, "their children apparently focus on attaining security and a sense of worth through external sources."

But it is not clear whether psychological profile would go hand in hand with a quest for extrinsic goals. It may be that unhappy people are more likely than others to chase money and fame. Conversely, the very act of chasing money and fame may reduce one's sense of well-being because "it makes you ignore the goals that could lead you to have more satisfying experiences", says Kasser. Yet another possibility is that extrinsic goals and poorer psychological health are symptoms of something else that is amiss.

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