Ban on target

Pushpesh Pant | Updated on November 02, 2018

Ready to lure: Mass produced packaged foods are big business and the industry ensnares the gullible with what can only be termed Food Pornography   -  KK MUSTAFAH

The emerging trends in food and politics in contemporary India are not very different

A good friend of ours has been busy for some time now compiling ‘mega’ and ‘micro’ trends emerging in the universe of Indian food. His slide show has many mouth-watering images of what you can, or are likely to, order online from service aggregators or the uncharted seas our avant garde chefs are likely to sail to fuse or confuse recipes and indulge in strange molecular magic. Health foods, comfort foods, back to roots in search of identities foods — he has the works.


How one wishes he were with us in Gurgaon (now renamed Gurugram) this Navratra! The most powerful emerging trend that drowned us in misery was enforced vegetarianism. Obviously the Constitution doesn’t incorporate any Fundamental Right to Eat Meat but nor does it pronounce a Directive Principle of State Policy in Public or National Interest that enjoins the government to make citizens eschew flesh, fish or fowl.

What had started as a ‘Beef Ban’ enforced by hooligan vigilantes flouting the law has by now it seems for all practical purposes become a Tsunami-like wave threatening to sweep all carnivores into oblivion. One had found reassurance in the Supreme Court’s observation that it isn’t for the Courts to tell people what they should or shouldn’t eat. This didn’t inhibit the government in Haryana from issuing a diktat to the butchers to down their shutters for nine full days so as to preserve the sanctity of the Navratra. Ironically, this is the time when devout Hindus worship Shakti including in the forms of Durga and Kali who are traditionally propitiated with the sacrifice of a goat or a buffalo and meat is happily consumed as prasad. The courts have already banned animal sacrifice in public view and not many have complained about it.

But things are certainly getting out of control. Last time it was Jain sensitivities in Mumbai that triggered a similar ban. Consenting adults of same sex apparently have more freedom of choice than meat eaters in this country.

Another emerging trend that exposes the hypocrisy of our rulers pertains to the sale of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. As everyone knows both fall in the category of products injurious to health and none dare argue that the government should not ban them, or at least should only regulate their use. The Health Ministry recently issued a directive to state governments to ban electronic cigarettes that, according to a sizable body of scientific evidence, are far less harmful than cigarettes. One can counter this by stating that one doesn’t know how harmful these new products are. What distresses us is that no one seems to be concerned about the incidence of mouth cancer caused by chewing tobacco in forms of khaini, surti or gutka. Why has the government failed abjectly to enforce a ban on these products? Of course it ensures that scary pictures and deterrent warnings are printed on the packaging but surrogate advertising continues unrestrained to reinforce the seductive message that sticking loyally to the brand of your preferred poison is cool!

This brings us to another emerging trend in the realm of food and beverages: making some foods and drinks aspirational. Clever ads link traditional celebratory sweets with chocolates and cold drinks become synonymous with a particular brand of Cola. Certain ingredients are touted as super foods, very good for the health and trendy DINK-ies fall for the bait. The market for mostly imported health foods is flourishing. Cooking oils and millets deshi are being swiftly displaced by attractively packaged imports. Heat and Eat packaging is irresistibly tempting, particularly to the upwardly mobile young, always hard pressed for time.

Fast foods are synonymous with junk food and many schools and parents are aware of their hazards. Schools try their best but there has been no perceptible fall in the sale of assorted chips, noodles, cookies and crackers. Mass produced packaged foods are big business and the industry doesn’t hesitate to ensnare the gullible and the innocent with what can only be termed Food Pornography. Ads that make a child or adult wide-eyed and drool, dream of conspicuous wasteful consumption oblivious of the harmful ingredients -- colours, flavours, preservatives -- strike at the root of sustainability. This to our mind is the most dangerous of all the emerging trends.

The realpolitiks of food is sharply focused to distract us from problems of agriculture and nutritional deficient diets of less fortunate Indians subsisting under the poverty line by creating a colourful mirage of healthy or sinful foods. Celebrate the diversity of regional cuisines but don’t protest homogenisation. Let people quarrel about naming a National Dish but don’t ever let them have the freedom to eat what they like or can afford. Create the illusion of cakes about to rain and this circus is enough to make the masses forget the missing bread. Actually, the emerging trends in food and politics in contemporary India aren’t so different.

Pushpesh Pant is a food critic and historian

Published on November 02, 2018

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