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Tuesday, Jul 01, 2003

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Food and drinks are just matters of faith

D. Murali

BY now, we are all sufficiently careful before downing that soft drink down our gullets. We check for dead reptiles, unclear sediments or for bits and pieces that we are not paying for. If food and drink and air are so essential to human life, is it not surprising that we don't have around us ways to ensure that these are clean?

For food, a simple test of purity and freshness is that it should give you a pleasant feeling when you taste it. If it makes you contort your face, or feel like throwing out, or if you have to put a clip on your nose to swallow it, there is some problem. But this facile test cannot stand if there are too many additives, as is common these days. The ultimate stuff that sits on your plate may be a derivative of so many disparate things that it would be difficult to judge if it is okay or not. And no CA would certify it.

It is when you have to assess the quality of what you consume that you need the full power of all your sense organs. So, you sniff if it stinks, feel if it has become sticky and gooey when it is not supposed to be so, see if you can spot those tiny worms and such, and boldly and apprehensively taste to confirm your fears.

As in a Steven Speilberg movie, strange creatures growing in the rotten food may give out all noises as special effects whenever their limbs moved, and gel-like threads could hang out.

With air and water, it is tough to rely on our senses, much degraded as they are owing to our way of life.

Clear water need not be clean water. And good taste is not the test of purity. During a typical day we pass through fears of getting poisoned many times over. We don't check if the water that comes by the tap when we brush our teeth is all right - because the water lorry came in the wee hours to fill up your apartment sump and the lorry was transporting chemicals till a few weeks ago.

Then the milk from the fridge that you reheat in the microwave could be curdling already. Next the bread loaf with a best before that expires two days ahead, but you wonder if fungus is growing but not visible. You put on the trousers and throw into your bag a much-advertised ointment to handle itches because you don't know if the washing machine you used for cleaning the garments did or did not wash away all the detergent.

On your way, a friend gives you laddu that he brought from afar, after the pilgrimage, and you know it is already stale, yet you gulp it because you are not supposed to show disrespect to divine offerings.

But if gods had to protect all those who consumed cooked items much after their shelf lives, they would have nothing else to do.

Well, lunch at the canteen and there is a pail of pickle that must be dating back to Jack and Jill days. You need that to go with curd rice but won't it be nice if somebody certified that it was safe to take the red and oily stuff.

While you go through this plight, your kid opens his tiffin-box in school and squirms because buttermilk has turned quite sour hours ago. In the evening, you pick up chilli bajji from roadside kiosk.

We know what our bank balance is by clicking the mouse, we are able to retrieve mails and get confirmations for outgoing mails within seconds, we monitor BP and glucose near ubiquitous weighing scales, we track cargo by the minute, and so on. Yet are we able to check the quality of what we consume?Theoretically, you can take suspected stuff to an institution where they would test and tell. But we need such facility everywhere, so you can take a sample of whatever needs to be confirmed - be it a chocolate that your colleague offered, or the holy water from a place of worship.

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