By Shruti Sonal:
Last week, as I stood bored in a corner at my 5 year old cousin’s birthday party, I could not help but observe the food laid out on the table. Numerous bottles of carbonated drinks, more packets of chips than could possibly be eaten, pastries topped with synthetic cream and noodles dripping with oil. However, I stopped myself before going into the “kids these days” mode. I was a part of the first generation that got hands on these products, and never let them go.
India, having a young population, has long been worried about the rise of obesity, which plagues 5% of its population today. Combined with the liberalization of the economy and rising incomes, the influx of international processed-food brands has changed the way we eat. The key to understanding the popularity of junk food, despite the widespread knowledge that it is harmful to health, lies in science. At the turn of the century, as Americans battled obesity, food chain giants came under scrutiny. In an article published in New York Times, titled “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food“, Michael Moss referred to the “Moskowitz Report” which looked into the reasons that drive people to over-consumption of junk food. Apart from the convenience and affordability associated with packaged food, the report discovered a theory of “sensory specific satiety” that highlighted the tendency for big, distinct flavors in junk food to overwhelm the human brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. The report argued that this is the guiding principle behind the success of the processed-food industry, immortalized by the Lays tagline “No one can eat just one!” This allowed researchers to decode the addictive nature of such kind of food items, which contain high levels of salt, starch and fat content that reward the brain with an instant feeling of pleasure.
As life becomes busier, health has taken a backseat. The habit of eating junk food is inculcated within us from childhood, as chocolates and chips are handed out to halt our tears. Further, they made their way into our tiffin boxes and were stocked on the shelves in our school canteens. The result was that one probably learned how to say Frooti and Lays before they learnt the alphabets. In this context, the Delhi High Court’s ruling, directing the Central government to enforce restrictions on the sale of junk food in and within 50 metres of school premises is significant.
Thus, once kids start regarding these food items as a part of their daily life, it is tough for them to leave them behind. The teary farewell bid to Maggi, despite the knowledge that it contained harmful elements, emphasized how eating processed food has become an essential part of our routine. In such a scenario, limiting their sale in school will play a key role in ensuring that they’re not overconsumed. Moreover, as lessons learnt in school stay with us for the rest of our lives, it will help in inducing a feeling of guilt before consuming these food times. Growing up in a school that sold coconut water instead of Coca Cola, and fresh Rajma Chawal in place of packaged noodles, I can vouch for the school’s role in affecting an individual’s food habits. It didn’t prevent us from consuming junk food altogether, but ensured that it remained restricted to the “special occasions” when we were allowed to bring a pack of chips and a bottle of soft drink each.