Saturday, May 23, 2015

H, R, HR, and being your own FDA

It tells you something, when the headline of "Maggie noodles 2014 batches recalled by the FDA"  shares the front pages of newspapers   with the PM,  protests by farmers, planes landing on the Yamuna Expressway ,  black money,  and the Delhi quarrels between the CM and LG.

And while I can understand why someone needs to certify drugs , I never could see why someone needed to certify foods.

Until now. 

Long long moons ago,  there was much discipline in the way we lived . That was how "management" happened instinctively in families. Mostly by the mothers, the Executive Directors.  To be sure , there was HR.  Human Resources Management.

There was more consideration about the "H" in "HR" than the "R", or the Resources that lay around.

 We were our own FDA, and our own cops. And we did our own appraisals and took them seriously.  I count many HR managers amongst my friends, and they would possibly be the first to acknowledge the contribution of their domestic  "Executive Directors"  in making them what they are today.

  Matriarchs of families cooked seasonal foods, traditional foods, along with foods that were prepared in summer, sun dried well on terraces, and then stocked  for year round usage,  as accompaniments , on kitchen shelves. Kids guarded the drying stuff on the terrace as part of their summer holidays, and shooed off inquisitive birds et al. There was a wide variety in the foods we imbibed throughout the year.  At mealtimes as well as snacks.

One of the biggest differences between childhood then (> 50 years ago)  and today, is strong knowledgeable mothers vis a vis those today who mindlessly give in to every whim and fancy , in a family unconcerned about food values.   

I've known someone who once had to travel to the native place urgently, left her college going sons to their own resources,  and on return, indulgently mentioned that in the 4 days that she was absent, the fellows managed to consume 45 packets of Maggie noodles.  The empty packets were the proof. It wasn't that regular food was unavailable ; there were places that would provide a dabba service, canteens etc. Maggie didn't grow in your backyard, and had to be bought, just like the dabbas.  But their choice was clear.  (What my son wants , my son gets.)

I've known some ladies who aspire to make pav bhaji "just like in the hotels",  blobs of butter, shining oil, perhaps food color et al, and they never forget to mention how Coke or Pepsi is mandatory on those days because "In my house , it is a must, no one has pav bhaji without it..."  . 

And I have known well educated and informed ladies , who pride themselves on their Chinese dishes (after having attended classes) , who display horror and surprise at the fact that I cook all that without MSG.  Ironical, because the horror is misplaced. 

And what to say about mothers who dote on expensive high fructose corn syrup loaded fruit juices for their kids, and then crib and discuss on how fresh fruit prices have gone through the roof.  And they  are always the ones who look for kiwi fruits, imported apples , pears, extra large grapes, fair and lovely bananas,  and assorted fruits sold with individually suck fancy labels.   

I grew up enjoying seasonal vegetables and fruits.  There were certain fruit preparations which were traditional and seasonal, and one learned to appreciate and enjoy them.  As a child one loved sweets, but something that has always remained with me throughout half a century is that, doing exercise earns you a meal.  I didn't know then what a calorie was.  And anyone overdoing sweets (or any other  special item ) out of normal proportion at a meal, was gently admonished. Being able to eat like a glutton was never considered an achievement.    

The unwritten rule at mealtimes was that you ate what was served on the plate ,  regardless of whether the vegetable qualified as your favourite . Asking for seconds was optional.  And so you always started the meal with one representative of everything  that was  cooked,  long before someone designed the food pyramid. The various preparations  offered a plethora of tastes and textures.   Some of us tried shoving unpopular veggies behind dal katoris  and got found out.

And it was never all serious.  Raw mangoes, guavas (off the neighbor's tree) , tamarinds (red and green), Rai amlas ,  were all enjoyed secretly, with spices and salt,  on hot afternoons on the shady part of the terrace,  while everyone else napped ,  and matka cooled water drunk immediately because it tasted so sweet.  Families even made ice creams  in pots, where the churning work was outsourced to the kids and their friends. Seasonal fruits, saffron, sitaphal and such , were perennial favourites as ice cream flavors.  

Traditional snacks and festival food preparations had much to do with the seasons and the soil. These were prepared and relished during those days, and offered to friends, but we never made meals out of these. Unless of course, it was Puran Poli.  That too, in moderation .  We were introduced to delicacies of other parts on India too, and loved them.  But like the Bard said, "For everything there was a season...."

When food processors first appeared on the Horizon, my mother was in the process of acquiring a ghanti or electrified grain grinder.  The existing option was the manual stone grinding , which was laborious and time consuming and the public grain grinding places at the chakki,  where the entire output came with huge temperatures and assorted mixed grains from the previous grind. She felt the excessive commercial grinding power destroyed the nutrition due to the heat generated.  To this day, we see the difference between food prepared from the home grinding ghanti and commercially ground flours. I still have my mothers chutney stone, and use it. 

Clearly, this isn't the place to praise anyone.

But it is certainly the place to point out, that sometimes, taking unpopular steps is necessary to introduce and convince kids about good food.  There is something to be said about seasonal and traditional versatility   in our foods. Traditional practices of cooking foods, that not only preserve but even add nutrition (think cast iron kadhais).

And there is something to be said for taking the trouble to introduce kids to this at a young age.  So they can make sensible decisions when faced with a food ad tsunami, made up of 50%  inaccuracies .

It is difficult in a society, where some folks get their self esteem from being demanding and having people give in to their demands.  And a mother trying to improve some one's eating habits gets made fun off by those who didn't bother with them in the first place .

Like I said , we need to concentrate on the "H" in the "HR".

Today we are awash in the "R"'s as in Resources.  Most resources today come glamorized.

There is , as in life, an over emphasis on  "looking good".  Even in food.

Many resources claim that they make life easy. And convenient . Even in food.

Like stuff that discourages  active chewing, and encourages mindless swallowing.  

Sometimes, swallowing  of claims, rumors and distorted facts emblazoned in television and print ads.

(Having said that, I wonder if it is a sign of the times, that the first thought that came to mind when one heard about Maggie people being booked for excessive quantities of lead in the food,  was whether some one was getting back at someone ?  (banning 2014 manufactured batches in mid 2015, given the consumption rate of Maggi Noodles,  kind of boggles the mind..)

On second thought, would the FDA do similar actions  against cosmetics producers using harmful products in things like fairness creams et al ?  

At the end of the day, what really remains is the ability of generations to use native intelligence acquired thru generations, common sense , and be their own FDA....


  1. Can't agree more with you. If advertisers are pushing junk and poison down our throats, we need not open our mouth and swallow them, right? Whether it is Maggi or Coke or 'two bowls of Kelloggs.' But to be our own FDA, it needs time and effort, which are in short supply in this fast paced world. So it is 45 packets of Maggi noodles!

  2. Good one! M sure many mothers would now b banging their heads in frustration, now that their official convenience food is under the scanner & they need to get their aprons in order.