My father peeked into my room, saw that I was typing furiously, and left. He came back, ten minutes later, peeked into my room again, and said, “Disha, pizza banabo?” (Disha, should I make pizza?). I looked up at him, blushed, and reminded him to garnish it with moz. It wasn’t until my mother screamed at my unhealthy food habits and disrupted monthly cycles, that she said, “While you feast on a three-course meal, think of those walking back home, hungry, famished, in dire need of food.” My privilege and hypocrisy hit me right into my face.
On 7th June every year, World Food Safety Day is celebrated to draw attention to the consequences of consuming contaminated food and water. While the rich feast on organic, hand-tossed, sanitised-kitchen-only criteria, a large section of the society remains vulnerable to the countless toxicity emitted from contaminated and unhygienic food practices. It is essential to understand that the very process of sanitation or maintaining hygiene is of immense privilege.
While the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) ensures that basic standards of quality and hygiene are maintained, how accessible are these to the one who is unable to afford a meal? I remember the time my maid called my mom profusely at 10 p.m. in tears when the last morsel was dusted, and she was left penniless to feed her family of five. In that moment of hunger and vulnerability, a hungry stomach would feed on any and all forms of edible products.
To ensure food safety, it is crucial to ensure food security. The public distribution system, as visionary it may be, at the grassroots level remains highly inaccessible to the community most in need. While middlemen and rotten foods take the bait, the one in dire need does not just starve death, but points towards a distraught policy.
The lockdown has led to a brutal reminder of India’s stark societal differences glaring right through our television screens, as the number of deaths remain unknown, and probably will remain the way for posterities. Governments have not yet admitted, rather have denied any starvation-led deaths from taking place. Bold of you to think that one who sleeps on an empty stomach would search for an FSSAI stamp. While the rich were feasting from dalgona to biryanis, the deprived would have been thankful for a glass of milk.
“Activists tracking the reported deaths during the lockdown to control COVID-19 said on Saturday that over 300 people had lost their lives owing to starvation, exhaustion, suicide, accidents and other non-virus related reasons.” Daily wage earners and migrant workers who are barely surviving have garnered attention from international media and agencies in lieu of the hasty lockdown execution. The executive director of the World Food Programme, warns the UN Security Council of an impending hunger catastrophe and says, “The world is one the brink of a hunger pandemic that could lead to multiple famines of biblical proportions.”
Is safety and sanitation nothing but a bare-minimum standard of the rich? When a man and a dog fed off of spilt milk in Agra, did he think of his safety or the undue contamination that might attack his body?
— NDTV (@ndtv) April 13, 2020
With exhausted savings, miles of walking under the scorching heat, availability of food and ration is a utopian dream, let alone, healthy, scrumptious, and safe food. Despite countless schemes and programmes rolled out for the poor, how many actually reach the pockets of the drivers, workers, painters, gardeners, maids, construction workers, and valuable manual labourers?
This World Food Safety Day, look beyond the stamps and marks, beyond your privilege, and into the very grassroots level of an India that remains invisible to you. This World Food Safety Day, remember, safety is a privilege, which this country cannot afford.
The United Nations reiterates the importance of food security with regard to food safety and says, “There is no food security without food safety. Ending hunger is about all people having access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.”
A small history lesson would remind you of the Great Depression of 1929; with the aftermath of a world war looming large, along with an economic catastrophe, families licked the last drop of milk and consumed the last shred of a loaf. Did they care about its safety standards? Did they care whether it was past the expiry date? Did they care about its processing? Maybe not. Maybe Snickers is right, you are not you when you are hungry.