Momos may be a street favourite for all, but lawyer and BJP legislator Ramesh Arora of Jammu and Kashmir definitely doesn’t like the dumplings. So strong is his dislike for momos that he is even campaigning for a ban against the dumplings since according to him they contain the carcinogenic monosodium glutamate or Ajinomoto.
“Momo is a killer and we cannot allow a killer to grow in a civilised society,” says Arora, calling for a complete eradication of the ‘offending’ dumplings from his home state.
It might seem outlandish, but Arora has taken to passionately denouncing momos as “the root cause of several life-threatening diseases.” Drawing on a 2007 report by the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Cancer Research Institute, he argues that consuming momos causing stomach cancer, but also lists out a number of other illness, such as “memory loss” and “converting a minor headache into migraine“. His vehement campaign isn’t so much about these well-loved steamed or fried dumplings themselves, but what they allegedly contain – Monosodium Glutamate. Also called MSG and Ajinomoto, the food enhancer has been at the centre of various health-related controversies. It was only two years ago that the Delhi government banned Maggi noodles after tests revealed it high quantities of lead and MSG. After the news broke, the Nestlé-owned brand lost 80% of its market share. And perhaps that’s the kind of impact Arora is hoping for when it comes to Momos. A report by Hindustan Times says he has been able to reduce momo sales in Jammu by 35%!
But is his war on MSG justified? Internationally, however, there seems to be no clear consensus on the additive. In 2004, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared MSG unsafe. One year later, a new WHO report said it had “no adverse effects.” In India, the Food and Drug Administration says using MSG in food is permissible. But only a very small amount, explains Kanika Malhotra, senior clinical nutritionist at Health Care at Home India. To be precise, it’s “3 gm of MSG (less than a full teaspoon) is permitted for 454gm of meat while the higher limit being 5 gm (1 teaspoon).”
Arora remains convinced that MSG levels in momos are at deadly proportions. “They are found to be more harmful than alcohol and psychotropic drugs,” he says. While for the most part, his diatribe is about health and nutrition, Arora has gone on to accuse migrant Bangladeshi and Burmese people of sustaining the momo trade in India. As such, he seems to want to expel the snack food as if it were an external threat. To that end, he has even met with the state health minister Bali Bhagat, to convince him to outright ban the sale of momos.