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The changing food habits

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K S S Pillai
As some figure-conscious mothers refuse to breastfeed their newborn babies and use alternatives available in the market, it is natural that the habit of eating junk food has become widespread.
The other day there was a news item in a newspaper about how a primary school teacher improved the health of her students by persuading them to change their food habits. They and their parents agreed to replace junk food with roasted chickpeas, groundnuts and jaggery.
She also convinced the shop selling junk food near the school to cooperate. When the students were medically examined after a few weeks, their health was found to have improved dramatically.
There was a time when eating outside one’s home was taboo. One of the duties of a housewife was to cook food for the entire family. The lunch boxes of school-going children had traditional food in them.
The situation has changed, particularly for middle-class families staying in cities. Eating out has become the ‘in’ thing. With many of them spending much of their time glued to their mobile phones, they upload the event on social media platforms for all their friends to see. Restaurants have been adding service charges to their bills for quite some time. Recently, a union minister said the practice was illegal, and legislation banning it was being brought about.
Many had been paying the additional charges, perhaps thinking it was below their dignity to complain about such a matter. While paying the four-figure bill, they would be least bothered about a few rupees.
As there is no legal restriction on the price the eateries can charge for the foodstuff, they will hike the prices if the service charges are banned. Taste getting preference over nutrition, the doctors will continue to laugh their way to their banks.
Recently, a Kerala MLA caused a mini-storm about the high price of appams and egg curry charged by one such place. The menu stated the price, and customers who ordered the items were aware of their cost, the eatery owner defended. The social media were agog with comments on the matter, and the price was brought down eventually.
On my recent visit to Kerala, I found several restaurants with fancy foreign names along the national highway. One could see large boards like ‘Real Traditional Kerala Food Served’ every few kilometres. When I visited one, I was intrigued by the language spoken by the staff. It was revealed later that most of the cooks and the other workers were migrants from other states!
The eating culture has also changed in the state. Once, out on the road early morning, I could not find an eatery serving idli and dosa. Only paratha and beef, I was told. These items were available even late at night in the cities. I could not believe this was happening in a state that was the home of idli and dosa.
When I was a child, all restaurants served these items with tea or coffee, with or without milk, prepared in the traditional style and served in large glasses. I didn’t wrinkle up my nose at the early morning beef eaters. Even God had said, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”
My experience was not different when I ordered a cup of tea after six in the evening. The teashop owner looked at me as if I had freshly landed from another planet. Nobody drinks tea in the evening, he said. The long queues outside the outlets of alcoholic drinks told me what they drank after the sunset.
While forcing myself to adjust to the situation during the short stay in Kerala, I took refuge in what the scriptures said: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” After all, it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to ‘The Kashmir Vision’, his articles and short stories have appeared in many national and international publications)


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