Millennium Post

Requiring a revisit

Thanks to India’s lenient regulatory norms and ‘neoliberalism of the media’, food MNCs have been pushing Indians into unhealthy eating habits; writes Aditi Singh

Requiring a revisit

What a delicious life!

A succulent, grilled patty oozing hot cheese, sandwiched between fluffy buns. Isn't this meant to be good for you? An envisaged blanket ban on all meals that are heavy in fat, artificial sweeteners, and sodium has been fueled by the pervasive melodies of the digital world, which also permeate the physical world. TV, radio, print media, and billboards all magnify the harmful messaging. Further, individuals in cities with less access to food as a whole are impacted the most by the shift in diet. Poor quality, highly processed meals are frequently far more affordable for consumers than healthy alternatives. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), consuming convenience foods is one of the many variables that promote the growth of conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and liver damage. With an astonishing 8.7 per cent of adults in India between the ages of 20 and 70 having diabetes, this disease is becoming more and more of a predicament.

Food insecurity has escalated to previously unheard-of levels as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There is a dramatically increased demand for emergency food supplies and other forms of food assistance. A protracted stretch of rising food hyperinflation is already forcing millions of households to trim down on food consumption, posing a concern of basic undernutrition amongst family members after the epidemic hindered the nation's economy, increased unemployment, and reduced salaries.

Growing trend of fast food

Over the last 20 years, there has been a noticeable increase in the consumption of junk food, particularly highly processed foods. In India, pre-packaged food items come in loads of different variations and are sold both in superstores and online. Consumers have been motivated to select such items by the difficulty in obtaining the raw components needed to make seasoning and the length of time required to do so. This product line has a wide range of things, including ramen, macaroni, crisps, milk-based products, poultry and fish products, ready-to-cook crepes and paratha items, curry meals, and pre-cooked foods.

As development solidifies and the economy opens up to globalisation, households begin to embrace nutrition utilisation designs that vary from the conventional ones. The unused dietary propensities reflect worldwide designs and may be very different from the habits that have been created locally over numerous eras. Customers now have strong preferences for meat or fish, non-seasonal and zonal harvests, and highly processed comfort nourishments and drinks, all of which are quickly accessible in emerging general stores and fast-food outlets.

The neoliberalism of the media undoubtedly aids the development of dietary globalisation.

The widespread promotion of international goods is made possible by the mushrooming of global cinema through well-liked TV dramas or mega films. By associating their products with particular movies, TV shows, or celebrities, McD, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi seem to have been able to increase their market share. These well-known food companies also frequently support major sporting events that receive international attention. This is quite appealing, especially to the younger clientele. The branding options for these bigger food corporations have increased because of the intertubes.

Actions to take

Given that superstars promote crap food, consumers urgently need to have a safety warning that is powerful enough to counteract their sway and deter people from mindless snacking, which is not good for their health. The statement on the top of the wrapper classification must be straightforward, appealing, easily acknowledged by all people, and serve as a cautionary tale in order for it to work and fulfil its intended function.

According to government figures from the 5th National Family Health Survey, one in four Indians is now morbidly obese. At the national scale, adiposity has climbed from 21 per cent to 24 per cent among women and from 19 per cent to 23 per cent among males. For western companies looking for opportunities, the 1.39 million people living in India comprise a top priority market. The idea that these food items are prepared in front of customers in a clean, hygienic manner using cutting-edge cooking techniques that use less oil is a trick. The promises of worldwide excellence are made in TV advertisements with exceptionally low-cost bargains. According to the nutritional information provided on the McDonald's website, a McDonald's chicken sandwich in India contains 2.5 times as much sugar as one in France, and the salt content of the fries is significantly higher in India, with frighteningly high levels of saturated fat. KFC India experiences similar effects. Furthermore, Domino's is serving cream that has been emulsified with mayo and oil rather than actual mozzarella cheese, which contains no dairy. It doesn't even provide nutritional information to its consumers, which is strangely legal in India. The fact that there is no regulation here, in contrast to how it is in Europe and the US, is obviously being abused by these titans of junk food. Many such international corporations in India have not made any nutritional commitments, which demonstrates their hypocrisy.

The current discrepancy is that while certain Indians still experience malnutrition, the middle class is witnessing an obesity epidemic. India is the second most obese country in the world, with 14.4 million teenagers. Youngsters who are fast food junkies are looking forward to significant operations at obese centre clinics that specialise in stomach surgery for extreme instances. It's estimated that by 2022, the market for liposuction surgeries will increase to a USD 10.57 billion figure.

The overall scale of the local food industry has significantly increased because of globalisation, which has created ample opportunities for international manufacturers and retailers to enter the food business. The rapid expansion of homogenised goods and a cosmopolitan diet in the Indian market is accelerated by trade liberalisation, which considerably promotes the extensive installation of international retail businesses and eateries.

Conversely, urban slum dwellers who cannot afford to dine at places like McDonald's look for alternatives at nearby food carts to satiate their hunger. Due to its low price, it is clearly detrimental to health and less nutritious. The consideration is that, whether it is a domestic or an international food chain, FSSAI must exercise stringent oversight and unwavering monitoring over everything. Consumers shouldn't inadvertently eat something without knowing the implications. Local food vendors should receive training to ensure food safety, preventing the adulteration of traditional foods and ensuring their viability. The Central government ought to work with the states and union territories to develop research lab infrastructure with the aid of technical personnel.

Views expressed are personal

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