As every visitor knows, Indian cuisine is amazingly good. To some extent, it is because of the traditional cooking techniques that have evolved over centuries. However, to a greater extent, the amazing taste is because of the natural flavour of the ingredients, mostly grown naturally and sold without too much processing.
As every Indian living abroad knows, the produce grown in the west does not have the same intrinsic flavour. In North America, the bulk of the produce is sold through big name grocery stores that are, in reality, huge multi-national enterprises. The produce is brought in from all over the American continent in large, refrigerated trucks. By the time it gets to the stores, it is several days old and loses most of its nutrients.
Farming in North America is dominated by large scale operations that emphasize quantity and maximum yield over quality. A lot of the produce is processed close to the site and what emerges from these plants is artificial, low-cost processed food devoid of natural nutrients. Customers slowly get used to this poor quality because this is all they can get. Over time, fake processed food becomes a real thing.
Over time, the poor quality of the product leads to a variety of ailments. Obesity is such a big problem in North America, caused, no doubt, by poor nutrition. Chronic ailments such as heart problems and cardiovascular diseases are rising very quickly in the richest country in the world. To compensate, people take more long term medication, starting earlier in their life cycle.
By contrast, Indian fruits and vegetables are packed with flavour. Apples taste like apples, oranges taste like oranges, but in the west, the lines are getting blurred. Orange juice and apple juice have the same nutrients, only the added flavours and the colours are different. Produce is designed to look good in the stores, as the huge, oversized bananas with no intrinsic flavour.
Vegetables are sold fresh in India, with very limited use of refrigeration. Sometimes, the vegetables are sold in the cities within a day of being harvested; you can tell the taste difference. In India, even the dairy produce is of much better quality. Indian milk, butter, and cheese can compete with the best in the world in terms of flavour and nutrition.
Lactose intolerance is less common in India than in the west because dairy products are of much better quality. Obesity is less of a problem in India. However, as the country moves towards more processed food in its diet, chronic health problems increase. India now leads the world in diabetes, triggered, perhaps by the consumption of more processed foods.
The Indian farming industry is in a period of flux because, with time, everything has to change. The current distribution system results in a lot of wastage, and the farmers get only a fraction of the final market price for their goods. There are demands for a more efficient farming industry that will provide more living wages to our farmers.
There is indeed a need for change, and current government initiatives and the farmer’s agitations, demonstrate this need. However, we have to make sure the change is in the right direction. There is simply no point in following the western model blindly because if we do that, we will end up in the same spot.
Do Indians really want that to happen?