From the Viewsroom

Taste of quality

J Srinivasan | Updated on December 15, 2020

Street-food can be made safe, too

You have not lived if you have not had Pappu’s paani puri… Every city/town has a hundred such street-food vendor serving up local specialities and/or their own unique to-die-for concoctions. Though things have improved significantly, often the taste and hygiene remain inversely proportional. Indeed, for the foodie, it is really the slight disregard for the latter aspect that adds to the yum factor.

The key characteristics of street-foods are they are cheap, fast, convenient and easily accessible. Especially in towns and cities, with migrant populations and people on the move, they serve the useful purpose of keeping large sections fed on low outlays. But as an informal sector of the food business, street food vendors usually fly under the radar, escaping formal inspection and control. Besides human health problems, such as food poisoning and water-borne diseases, they also contribute to environmental hygiene issues as they mostly occupy public places. Oversight is not easy because of their very transient nature and rent-seeking by regulators themselves. But a recent news report may offer a solution. The other day a food aggregator spoke of plans to on-board over some 36,000 street-vendors on its platform. Beyond expanding the geography of operation of these small vendors, this is also an opportunity to usher in quality controls. The aggregator can easily set some basic norms — on the water and ingredients used, nutritional standards, the hygiene quotient of the outlet and its staff, the waste-disposal arrangement, and so on.

Perhaps, a star rating system can be thought of which can become a USP for the vendor and a reference point for the customer. Well implemented, it can create a tourist food circuit, even. And, hopefully, this will soon lead to a replicative behaviour with more vendors wanting to ‘qualify’ to join the platform of a food aggregator by improving standards.

Especially in a country like India, street-food vending affords a viable self-employment opportunity for a large number of people with limited education but having the skill to put together an interesting fare. But what is wealth accretive, however limited, for one set should not become wealth destructive for another.

Published on December 15, 2020

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