Saturday, December 28, 2013

National Food Festival in Delhi (December 16-22, 2013)


From Mr. Lalloobhoy Battliwala

Photos in the text are from

Among the things I miss out on. Not that I would've been able to go or eat much if I was in Delhi.

As a youngster, I used to wish I could stay on the streets (near my home, on the frontage of shops) or railway platforms (where I could also bathe in the open) and live on street foods, read, sing. Near my middle and high school, one man started with a cart some 50 years ago. Now there are some 20 such carts and stalls, some with tables and chairs set in the open in an area given up by the city authorities in exchange for promises to keep it clean and the food fresh. Thousands of people walk or drive over every Sunday evening. Once a vendor called up his grandfather from the back to come speak with me as his old customer.

Street food is not a distinct South Asian phenomenon; but Indian cities have the greatest variety (incl. Chinees Food, Pijja and Makroni, Bargad and Fris) . From tea to full meals. And it has evolved from eateries for specialized groups (brahmins) or cooks (brahmins, because other castes would not eat anything made by someone below their castes) and even sureties of purity ("100% Dalda Ghee", which was hydrogented oil).

Those were in shops or run out of homes, and they still are. But carts and stalls have grown phenomenally during my lifetime. Small towns, highway junctions, railway stations (on the platforms and outside), beaches, temples, markets, malls, everywhere you see food and drinks in a country that has some 200+ million under- and malnourished people including, I am guessing, 100 million children.

A lot of it is because of migrant or transient labor, single workers, and now has become the main snack alternative for the middle class. And of course tea, coffee, and soda are for everybody all the time. Or ready-to-eat seasonal fruits - watermelon - and vegetables - cucumber - and juices - sugarcane, now orange, pineapple, musambi. Then of course roasted peanuts, chickpeas, dry fried snacks and biscuits.

On the carts, own or rented. Netting sometimes as little as $2 a day in Delhi. Walking miles and miles for their set place, sometimes paying the police or the gangs their cut, and yes, sometimes giving the beggars some leftovers at night.

A little over a year ago I developed the concept of "outsourcing of the kitchen". This is surely a major example. Now there are home deliveries and take outs, and the middle class of course has household help to run fetch the food and drinks. This is where cooking has been growing rapidly, along with institutional cooking in dormitories, hospitals, office buildings, and restaurants of course. And then there is the food processing, canning, packing, freezing industry - from chips and cereals to fish and dairy/meat products.

That is a cooking market segment ignored by those who cook up "improved stoves" programs, because most of them are obsessed about the poor in their imaginations and marketing brochures, not the real people who cook to eat or purchase food outside. They also ignore the poor who in fact work in such outsourced kitchens, from chopping and hauling to running the stoves and cleaning up. Or their working conditions, and their environmental conditions - water and air quality, food quality throughout the supply chain. The street food industry in India is also a major employer of children, just as children go as cooks and servants in the homes of the better off or in other areas of food preparation and service.

What the poor need is training in home economics, domestic and food sciences, food marketing, not just stoves.

Who knows, cleaner, fresher, more efficient street food may be better nutrition for the burgeoning urban masses. As Anil Rajvanshi said some time ago, the poor don't have the luxury to cook own meals. And as we find in the rich countries, the poor go for cheap prepared foods (in the US, qualifying for food stamps), and nearly everybody including the rich has either no time for or forgotten cooking (don't even know their vegetables).

The energy problem of the human machine is rarely even thought of.

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