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The food you eat isn't 'real' any longer

By Gajanan Khergamker

We are living in tricky times. Older generations, which valued the merits of naturally-produced foods like the small Gauthi Methi or the thin-skinned locally-produced Tamatar consumed on a daily basis once, have now either been elbowed out of an existence that counts towards consumers or simply relegated to a minority whose opinion doesn't matter. 

Food choices, patterns and benefits were brought down generations by families that cherished values and processes innate to the land. But, with the burgeoning of consumers and, concurrently, their market-manufactured desires, the compulsion to copy tastes and ratify non-native foods and choices, is now overwhelming. Also, gluttony is the new normal.
Simply put, one must respect the weather, wares and wishes of a land s/he belongs to. After all, just like native humans, processes too are native to the place of origin. And, the more we disregard local processes, the more we expose ourselves to the backlash of nature. Yet, population growth, synthetic surges of taste and need have triggered food patterns that are foreign yet customised to the taste of the native. Chinese foods, for instance, in urban India, as opposed to the Chinese food in Russia or in Maharashtra's rural districts vary drastically.

Humans have willingly offered to allow their senses to be tricked by flavourings that are produced in laboratories and mimic natural tastes. And, with an industry that's growing by the day, for one to question less even object about the inclusion of 'fakes' into food products simply to enhance taste, is a rarity. 

To generate 'The Food Report', DraftCraft International's team of researchers travelled across Mumbai, Pune, Raigad districts and the interiors of Maharashtra like Kolhapur and Solapur districts - both urban and rural zones - to identify the dietary patterns of people, the foods being consumed and the effect of Western 'fast foods' v/s the traditional Indian fast foods and emerged with interesting findings.

Cities, where one would imagine there are several options and information available, seem to be gripped by some sense of misplaced propaganda. 

Oblivious to the dangers of processed foods, 'fast foods' and faking agents, there are restaurants, bakeries, Chinese-selling food stalls even Indian food outlets using flavouring agents to enhance traditional Indian dishes in Mumbai. Concurrently, in the interiors of Maharashtra, the food of choice remained more or less the same, just that their ingredients were truly 'Fresh and All-Natural'. The vegetables and fruits were produced naturally and not in commercially-driven bulk processes and for mass consumption. They looked and smelled fresh while being sold for consumption and given away for free to the poor at the end of the day. 

Hoarding old foods, refrigerating them and reheating them the next day for sale, camouflaged as 'fresh', simply didn't happen in rural Maharashtra. The simple yardstick for good healthy food would be to eat it fresh off the stall as you watch it being prepared in front of you and delivered 'fresh'.

The need to opt for flavourings arises when there is a surge of consumption and an unpredictable shift in eating patterns. If you could avail fresh food without any adulteration, you wouldn't need to opt for any faux flavouring. Also, the use of millets in food is prevalent across rural zones as opposed to refined wheat-flour aka Maida and its makes across cities. The consumption of millets such as jowar, bajra and ragi is restricted to diet food and made available at hefty prices in ‘Healthy Food’ outlets in Mumbai. 

As for the general population, it's the obvious-convenience of cooking, readily-available and cheaper Maida-based foods like rotis, naans and puris that elbows out any chance of going through the drudgery of cooking jowar and bajra rotis, also considered 'rural' and not coated with the commercial finesse of, say, a Butter Naan. 

The goodness is restricted to choosing Garlic over Butter in one's choice of Naan. Exasperating yet true. Food habits will change if not by choice... by circumstance! The urban consumer in metropolitan cities like Mumbai is making the shift. After all, it's health that's at stake. And, he'll have to make the change or risk extinction. Just like that good ol' greenish-orange Santra which has disappeared and been replaced by the juicy, commercially-produced Malta.

This was the editorial from media-legal think-tank DraftCraft International's The Food Report - Jan 2023 (Maharashtra) that was generated as part of The Public Health Project. 

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