The declining food culture in India
Gone are days when people used to live a simple life and eat simple natural food. There is no doubt that the quality of food which our grandparents ate as a child is far more different from the quality of food we eat now. It's not just different, it has become worse.
In the olden days, people used to consume food to gain energy and nutrients but now food is more about the trend and taste. The food culture and the food quality of India have gone through a drastic change over the few decades, and the changes don't seem to sit well with the health of the nation.
Due to Commercialization of agriculture in India, the focus is now more on high yield than high nutrients. Conventionally raised produce contain far fewer vitamins and minerals that they did a half-century ago. The pesticides and chemical fertilizers used to ensure high yield have disrupted soil quality, depleting it of vital nutrients. Even the farmers opting to produce organic food now are battling 50 years of depleted soil.
Two main reasons for low food quality over the years, are:
- The Food Revolution
The Food Revolution:
Nearly a decade after Independence, India was still struggling to survive on its own.
The traditional methods of farming were not producing enough food grains to feed a growing population. An Agricultural shift deemed necessary at that time.
In 1965, India led The Green revolution to increase agricultural production. Over that decade, many food revolutions were lead to convert Indian agriculture into an industrial system. Modern methods of farming were adapted, such as the use of high yielding variety (HYV) seeds, tractors, irrigation facilities, pesticides, and fertilizers. There was no denying that these revolutions were a success. Inputs like chemical fertilizers and pesticides helped achieve high crop yield
However, the quality of the food changed forever.
The pesticides and chemical fertilizers impacted the nutrition value of the crops and the soil. Food grown with the help of these chemicals can be the cause of many health problems including cancer, effects on reproduction, and immune or nervous systems.
Also, due to the commercialization of Agriculture, problems like adulteration of food and genetically modified foods skyrocketed. Adulteration diminishes the quality of the food by adding unnatural substances and most of the chemicals used in adulteration are poisonous and hazardous to health.
Let's have a look at how the food revolution has impacted the four major food groups in India:
- Milk and Dairy products: Gone are the days when the farmers would lovingly cater and take care of livestock to provide us healthy natural milk.
Nowadays, unnatural speeding up the development of dairy animals is taking place to increase both the production and procurement of milk to meet the growing demand.
It all started with The White Revolution, it was the biggest dairy development movement led in India in 1970. The revolution was led to ensure the economic growth of the dairy industry. While it had some positive results such as developing a co-operative and employing people, it had an adverse effect on the quality of milk.
Moreover, milk adulteration is very common these days. Its major adulterants are starch, urea, formalin, detergents, ammonium sulfate, boric acid, caustic soda, benzoic acid, salicylic acid, hydrogen peroxide, sugars, and melamine. These adulterants are poisonous and cause health hazards. With the adulterated milk, all the other dairy products made out of milk suffer the quality.
- Animal food: Animal Food is the food that we derive from animals like eggs, beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and fish. Today it is an unimaginably huge industry but The Food Revolution has been specifically hard on this industry. To increase the export growth and domestic production of animal food, the animals are made to eat unnatural food loaded with chemicals and drugs like Growth hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified feed that can cause hormone related diseases in humans.
In early times, people used to eat the healthiest kind of animal food. There were animal farms to shelter them where they were fed healthy and natural food.
Now, they live in dark, tiny and unsanitary conditions where diseases spread rapidly.
The nutrient absorption from these products has gradually decreased over the years.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Nowadays, fruits are sold with the surety of turning out sweet. The vegetables look fresh and bright in colour. However, fruits and vegetables grown naturally always differ in colour, size, and sweetness.
The demand for products with the purpose that would serve “look good-feel good” criteria have subjected fruits and vegetables to artificial methods of growth.
They are being artificially ripened and injected with sugar water to make them sweet. They are also injected with dyes to make them look brighter and fresher. The most common chemical used is calcium carbide, to make them mature faster.
Due to processes like these, they tend to contain fewer phytonutrients that give vegetables and fruits their health benefits.
- Cereals and rice:
One of the main developments in The Green Revolution was wheat and rice production. Their production almost doubled in just a few years of the revolution. The main catalyst in this revolution were chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The green revolution did save the day but it didn't look out for the future. The agricultural advancement in the wake of fertilizers and pesticides resulted in damaged soils, water/land pollution, ecological and environmental imbalance.
The quality of soil has depleted a lot due to the chemicals because of which the quality of food also suffered. The crops are not getting enough nutrients from the soil to grow.
Wheat and rice being the staple food in India are grown the most. So, they are most affected by the quality of the soil. They are often adulterated with ergot, a fungus containing poisonous substances which is extremely injurious to health.Globalization: The advent of fast foods
The Food culture in India began to change as foreign companies arrived in Indian markets due to Globalisation. Within 10 years of globalization, packaged and processed foods became the norm. They were cheap, easy to make and symbolized western culture. You can find them everywhere from malls, restaurants, colleges, roadside corners, and offices. Indian people shifted from their rich and nourishing native cuisine to having junk food like doughnuts, pizzas, burgers, rolls, and wraps.
Junk food has become extremely popular and has penetrated every street in India. From large multinational food companies to small stalls, everyone is selling it because junk food is in high demand. The problem with them is that they are high in calories from sugar or fat, and have very little nutrient value.
The packaged food is full of artificial flavors and sweeteners. They are stabilized with chemical preservatives and are packed in low quality plastic which causes cancer and birth defects.Summing it up:
To ensure that our future generation can eat as nutritious and healthy food
as our grandfathers did, we need to take the right steps today.
We need to bring a change starting with ourselves, to reduce the trend of processed food and conventionally grown food using chemicals and pesticides.
We must support organic farmers and organic food brands to make sure the next generation eats naturally grown food.