Op-Ed: Cynical Food Adulterers And Helpless Consumers

“Have you heard this? Formalin has been found in fish samples collected from the Unit IV market in Bhubaneswar.”

“So, what’s the big deal? Just stop eating fish. Simple.”

“It is not so simple, actually. What does one eat if one doesn’t eat fish?”

“Chicken, of course!”

“But chicken is often afflicted with bird flu and sundry other diseases. Don’t you know that?”

“In that case, switch to eggs.”

“It seems you haven’t heard about ‘plastic’ eggs that hit the headlines a few months ago.”

“What about mutton then?”

“Well, for one thing you can never be sure whether the stuff that you are buying is actually mutton. I have myself seen tails of skinned lambs being coloured black with paint brush to make them look like goats to customers. For another, it leads to a rise in cholesterol levels. Don’t you know that?”

“If that is the case, it is best to turn vegan.”

“But these unscrupulous traders haven’t left vegetables untouched either. I am sure you have read or heard about artificial colours and chemical preservatives being used to make vegetable appear fresh, not to speak about the effect of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in growing vegetables.”

“Then one has no option but to live on thin air.”

“But isn’t the air we breathe polluted with a hundred different pollutants too?”

“What about water?”

“It comes with even more pollution than air.”

I don’t think I need to clarify that the above conversation is apocryphal. But I do think that it neatly sums up the utter helplessness of the average customer. Even as s/he sees cynical and criminal spiking of food stuff with pollutants and harmful chemicals, there is precious little that s/he can do but to continue consuming stuff that s/he knows is heavily polluted and could cause serious health hazards.

Old timers would always grumble about the fact that the mustard oil that is available in the market doesn’t smell the same it did in their younger days anymore. “Genuine mustard oil will leave you in tears,” they would say with a tinge of pride and nostalgia for the bygone days. With increasing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and genetically modified (GM) seeds, the vegetables that we eat doesn’t taste the same either. This bitter truth has been brought home to me every time I have strayed into an area where they still grow vegetables the traditional way; organically. Why, even fish doesn’t taste the same it did in my childhood – as we have come to know now – due to use of formalin to increase its shelf life.

But loss of taste and smell would be a small price as long as it is safe and good for the human body. What we are witnessing instead is a lot more serious: loss of quality and reliability of nearly everything we consume, including air and water. Little wonder then that people have their hair falling off or turning grey in the prime of their youth; teenagers develop diabetes and other ailments that we thought were ‘old men’s’ diseases. While it is true that our sedentary lifestyle has contributed significantly to lowering of the age limit for serious diseases, including heart attacks, there is no denying that the chemicals and pollutants in the food stuff we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink is a major reason for the modern man becoming more vulnerable to ailments than his previous generation.

Had it been a totalitarian country, those who adulterate food stuff for profit would be hung from the nearest lamp post or shot in the head. In all probability, people would gather in large numbers to cheer such public execution of the adulterer. But democracy has no such ‘privilege’. And if you live in a ‘democratic’ country like India, you are condemned to watching helplessly as unscrupulous traders spike your food with sundry chemicals and endanger your health – even life – in the process. You have little choice but to keep consuming such adulterated stuff and keep pretending that they don’t exist because the State doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal to ensure that our food is free from adulteration.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).