There’s poison on your platter

We are facing the worst ever gastronomical crisis mankind has ever known.

By Asha Iyer Kumar

Published: Tue 16 Jun 2015, 9:07 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:15 PM

By the time this story goes to print, much of the media hysteria and wry humour surrounding the noodle episode would have died down in India, and the focus would have shifted to other transient issues. It will be a while before the consumers decide if the stuff deserves to be given a second chance in their lives or it should be expelled once and for all. The state will roll its eyes till the corporations flex their muscles, and like all other tsunamis this one will recede, leaving us wondering, “what did we gain or learn from the scare it gave except the fright of food?”

Ever since the internet took control of what we read, understood and applied in our lives with its daily dose of truths, half truths and lies, I have lived in the shadow of fear wondering what might be the next thing that will break the smooth tenor of my life. That the benign vegetarian platter in front of me will top the list would have been unimaginable until some years ago, arguably because we didn’t know what we ate or because what we ate wasn’t so laden with harm.

Healthy eating has always been a contentious and confusing subject with as many versions of truth to it as predilections. Dieticians and doctors have driven our beliefs in different directions veering us from the ancient to the modern and vice versa. We now have only nebulous ideas of what our bodies need and how much, very far-fetched theories slapped on us by experts that we suspiciously circumvent or accept blindly. No, nothing is concrete about our perceptions of methods to maintaining good health. We stagger between hearsay and facts, and go about fixing our meals in our own innocuous way, keeping our focus on a few basic mantras — less sugar, lesser fat, lots of fruits and vegetables and no fast food.

Then a new generation of meals and snacks in handy packets arrived that made life so delectable and easy. Somewhere between the hurly burly of earning a living and rustling up quick meals, we forfeited our sense of good eating. Or were we just gullible, allowing ourselves to be waylaid by greedy corporate sharks and crafty small timers who added insidious ingredients that could make our morsels look pretty and taste perfect? Suddenly, there are startling revelations about the presence of poison in every crumb we ingest, there are unpronounceable chemicals that can cause the big C in anything we pick off the shelves, our fruits and vegetables are no more safe bets thanks to the pesticides and we are facing the worst ever gastronomical crisis mankind has ever known.

A recent news report from India said that the mangoes that took the sting out of our Arabian summers came with traces of combustible materials used to ripen the fruit artificially. It not only explained to me why the mangoes these days tasted more like disoriented papaya, but also made me wonder if the human species had descended to such levels of corruption as to stuff our stomachs with veritable causes of disease knowingly for some extra lucre in the pocket?

One can contest the real issues and implications of the recent exposures endlessly, dissect the drama being played out and we may even say RIP to the greatest culinary invention since sliced bread with our collective might and will, but the questions it raises about the stuff we put in our mouths will not be easy to answer. Is our food tainted deliberately or is it a fall out of multiple processes?

Can strict regulations be an effective antidote in a country where one can duck punishments permanently? Caught between deceit, ignorance and reckless habits one feels scared; very scared to the point of being paranoid. What organic recipe can save this generation that is dying of heart attacks and cancer at thirty and forty?

Asha Iyer Kumar is a writer based in Dubai

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