By Sada Reddi
In today’s world, we must be extremely cautious about all the foods we consume and do our best to limit unnecessary risks being taken with poor eating habits
The term food pollution is not a term we currently use because we associate food with something which is wholesome and good for our bodies and health. But in recent years we have come to understand that food is the source of many diseases and the term ’food pollution’ has been coined to highlight the dangers and risks that people run today by consuming the kinds of food which will result in diseases of various sorts.
Today more and more people are becoming health conscious and do everything possible to avoid the junk food which pollutes the body. Yet not all the people are aware of the dangers which result from consumption of these dangerous foods and some learn the lessons the hard way. After spending many thousands of rupees to undergo surgical operations and meet medication costs, they realise that they have gone wrong in terms of food habits and it is only then that they adopt a new lifestyle.
Even when people are keenly aware that some kinds of food are very bad for their health, they continue to consume those cakes fried in oil; they rarely refrain from the excessive sugary foods. Now with Divali approaching, all caution will be thrown to the winds. No one will come out to advise that Divali cakes must be given a different type of cooking with reduced sugar or oil. There will be no radio or TV programme on how to improve cooking for better health. Doctors, nutritionists, health advisers and consultants will, as it were, have gone in hibernation. Meanwhile families will have a field day preparing ‘Gulab Jammun’, sweet potato cakes and other sweeties with the result that blood sugar of thousands of diabetics will shoot up to dangerous levels resulting in a number of other health complications.
Though many are aware of the great risks, they will invoke a thousand excuses for not taking proper action to stop the excess. Some will argue that Divali is a special occasion for self-indulgence; they will say that to indulge in the consumption of sugary sweets so as to satisfy one’s sweet tooth is excusable for the occasion, in the hope that no serious consequences will follow. But that is not necessarily the case. Even that one-day consumption of sweet cakes can have dramatic consequences. Others consider it traditional to prepare very sugary foods and will not be guided by prudence to modify their cooking to avoid the inevitable harm. Such obduracy overlooks the fact that their religion is a non-dogmatic one, that it is accommodating and open to change, and that, after all, traditions are a matter of invention and people are always inventing new traditions. So if they have the will, there is nothing to prevent them from adopting healthy and controlled cooking habits for Divali.
However, we should be extra cautious with bad food habits not only on the occasion of one festival. In today’s world, we must be extremely cautious about all the foods we consume and do our best to limit unnecessary risks being taken with poor eating habits. We can only do that when we realise that all revolutions, industrial or technological, bring with them all kinds of pollution and food technology is not an exception in this respect.
In Britain, between the 1950s and the 1980s, the annual weight of additives ingested by every person, especially children, has more than doubled to more than three (3) pounds. This weight may include in any combination about 2500 chemicals which the authorities in the UK or US would have certified as harmless. Twenty years ago, a young man in Mauritius who felt that his body was growing effeminate suspected his fondness for chicken necks to be the cause of this situation. Many may not be aware that the soup we enjoy may often be a pesticide soup. In other countries, hyperactivity in children has been traced to the salicylates which most junk food additives contain. In Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, there was a direct link established between contaminated water and male breast cancer, although the link between environmental factors and breast cancer has not been proved conclusively.
In Mauritius, we may not have a class divide in terms of food consumption habits. We may generally have an ethnic divide but we are not quite sure, where such divide exists, as to how it translates itself in our distinct cooking and food habits. In the Unites States, the working class is more likely to fall on fast foods and junk foods and is likely to be more vulnerable to diseases and prone to disabilities and accelerated death. In Britain, the white working class consumes more fast foods than other classes. In Mauritius, we need to carry out more directed research on our food habits and their links with prevailing diseases.
According to a report which was published online in the journal Circulation by the American Heart Association (AHA), it was thought that people who consumed fast foods, even as little as once a week, increased their risk of developing coronary heart disease by 20% compared to those who never touched it. The rate increased to 50% for those who indulged in such foods two to three times per week, and to 80% for those who went beyond that. Regular consumption of fast foods also seemed to lead to a substantially higher risk of Type 2 diabetes and later Alzheimer which some consider to be Type 3 diabetes.
All over the world, families do not have time to prepare fresh meals. Most women are working mothers and they find it necessary to rest and relax during weekends rather than cook at home. Inevitably, fast food restaurants have filled the need to provide fast foods in the circumstances. All the supermarket centres are packed to the full on Saturdays because eating out has become an established practice for many. In particular, children are provided with large amounts of junk foods on those occasions. As they grow up on these foods, they are heading on to become obese and face risks of increased obesity, blood pressure and heart problems in their adulthood.
In recent years, government has taken a number of measures to increase risk awareness but has also passed laws to regulate the food industry and food habits. But we all know that, in the case of cigarettes, awareness did not stop people from smoking. However, regulations banning cigarette advertising and smoking in public places actually impacted on smokers pushing them towards giving up smoking. We also know that aggressive advertising in a number of public places causes people to overeat. So, effective strategies to discourage people from consuming sugary and fatty foods and drinks need to be followed. Education campaigns need to be intensified towards promoting healthy eating habits. Regulations to sanitize the quality of food should not be limited to school canteens; they should also be applied in other workplaces. Current research is showing that that the applied regulatory approach remains the best approach in the public sphere for producing effective results in terms of limiting the damage done by poor eating habits.
* Published in print edition on 16 November 2012