Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Artificial Starvation in India

Yup, the title says artificial because that's what it is. It's not real but your mind and body don't even realize it's not real. This happens in western countries but not on as grand of a scale as it does here in India. I've spent a good amount of time trying to understand what is causing all the problems I have with food and over the last couple of months produce has been a hot topic on the news as well. It has helped me see some things from a much clearer perspective. It doesn't piss me off any less or make me feel any better and the feelings are not going away but at least I can understand the cause and work towards a resolution.

Artificial starvation occurs when you hear/see or obtain the information from somewhere that there is not enough food to go around. This could be because the veggies at several of your street bazaar shops is significantly sub-standard, the news tells you there's a shortage of something or your refrigerator is a lot emptier than normal. Your mind goes into a survivalist mode of thinking you need to acquire more food somehow. There is not always a shortage of food in reality, but the food available may be of diminished quality (or old), foods that you cannot eat or it may just be that you haven't been to the grocery store for too long.

Before I go on, I should also mention that studies in the US have proven men feel more secure when the refrigerator has more food in it. So this is not a phenomenon unique to India however, it is more prominent in India and obviously a more newsworthy topic at the moment as the US isn't currently fighting with it's farmers (at least not publicly or on the same legal scale). 

Now, back to India. I've written many times about my own struggles with food and now I know for sure that some of my problems are due to this artificial starvation. I am sick and tired of eating the same foods over and over again meal after meal. I can feel that it has affected my body (nutritional deficiencies) and mentally it is not good either. I have skipped many meals and refused to eat because I'm more than over fried potatoes. Hubby on the other hand thinks fried potatoes are God's gift to mankind and can't understand why eating 3 meals a day with them would be a bad thing. I love him, but I swear sometimes he has the diet of a 6 year old kid. I on the other hand do not. There really are only so many ways you can cook a potato before you never want to see one again.

Skipping the meals only makes me feel more hungry at the end of the day and results in some sort of dramatic scene in which I declare my disdain for many things about my life here. Most of them are true feelings, it's just that I'm better at being more mature when I'm not hungry (and in the winter I'm also cold and tired which is a triple threat). However, my own personal lack of food and my own allergies and problems that I have with the food and spices here is not the biggest problem I'm facing.

Here in Punjab, more specifically the inner city street bazaars, there is a significant issue being faced by all residents with the availability of produce items. I now understand, thanks to the news, why my family does not purchase food items in the local bazaar and instead FIL purchases them elsewhere. (Yay! One step closer to finding a solution!) I actually found it shocking to learn through the news just how bad it is. On average, India loses 30-40% of it's food supply due to inadequate food storage conditions (see the SMR link below for full details). In other news reports (forgive me I can't find the specific link now) it has also been told that what happens is that the food in the bazaars tends to sit out longer, sometimes not even making it into the bazaar for days after harvesting. Small bazaar shop owners then let it sit in their shop for days without any storage conditions other than the local temperature and the food spoils. Now, India doesn't use chemicals and preservatives in their foods like the US does (a VERY good thing) so the food has begun to rot before the local bazaar consumer has a chance to purchase it.

This isn't different than any other standard purchasing/retail process except for the lack of preservatives and adequate storage and transportation conditions. In the US the government regulates the temperature, time, and handling between when the produce leaves the farm and when it reaches the consumer. I think in most grocery stores in the US there is also less of a supply chain. Where I'm from for example, stores purchase locally from local farmers only. So your small neighborhood convenience store (the equivalent of a bazaar store in India) has purchased a small amount of produce from the farmer down the street within the last 48 hours.

Now I understand why the food in our refrigerator seems to rot so fast and I also understand why as soon as food enters the house it is confiscated and consumed faster than a bolt of lightening could strike. Coupled with availability of quality produce and the artificial starvation mode it's no wonder I don't stand a chance of having food I haven't hoarded away in my room like a packrat. Hopefully I've explained enough of this well so you all see what I'm dealing with. At least now I know I'm not crazy and I'm not actually starving. (I actually track every bite of food I eat to prove it to myself now.) I am still concerned about how to deal with this myself. I simply can't get out to HyperCity every day or two because of hubby's work hours and I'm not legal (nor mentally prepared) to drive in this country. Closer grocery stores are usually picked over and offer a limited variety of produce as well. (I now understand that too since the street bazaars have been outed.) I have no idea where FIL goes and I'm horrible with navigation so even if I could drive it would be a challenge to get myself to the only place I've ever seen hubby trust to buy veggies from a cart.

I guess my only option is to turn up the b*tch a notch and turn into a nagging nightmare until I get new stuff brought home every day. I really don't want to be that person and I'm already stressed over how much b*tching and complaining I have to do. It's not a good feeling and I'm tired of that too. I also have to find a way to overcome my mental boycott of tomatoes because I've now cut out one of my core foods for survival because I had to eat it too much. I'm pretty damn close with pasta also. I didn't even like pasta in the US and here I eat it probably 10-15 times a week.

Needless to say I'm tired. I'm tired of fighting the battle to feel like I can survive here in India. Here's some sources to back up my claims just in case any of you are skeptical on the food crisis (or perceived food crisis) going on here.

SMR: If FDI in retail comes into force, it is hoped to help improve India’s food distribution system
Murthy, C.: A Study on Quality, Grading and Prices of Vegetable Marketing in Karnataka (Not Punjab but this will give you an idea of how the government of India tries to regulate the produce industry.)
PunjabNewsLine: Search results for recent conflicts between farmers and the Punjab government
NDTV: Malnutrition a matter of national shame: PM

I'm going to close this with a disclaimer. The government is trying to resolve this however, in the mean time many housewives who are responsible for the shopping and the produce entering their homes are being forced to take in substandard produce due to the availability of higher quality produce or the ability to get out of their neighborhoods. This happens for multiple reasons and I'm not addressing any of those today. I also feel like the Punjab government will never be able to squelch the moron who purposely buys old produce at rock bottom prices just to try to make a few extra rupees and I'm not attacking him either. He's motivated by the housewife who will endlessly bargain to pay 1 rupee less per kilo for her veggies. Until someone figures out that bargaining is BS, many women will be stuck with feeding her family low quality food. Oh...and one last thing, HyperCity also made the news a couple months ago for selling expired food so you can't even trust the fixed price or big retail stores around here either. In the US, I avoided Wal-Mart for just such reasons - they freeze their veggies causing them to rot insanely fast and our Wal-Mart often had rotten produce on the shelves. Screw that. Yes, I am too damn good to eat rotten vegetables in any country. Thank you!

Tomorrow I will be writing about how this makes me feel in regards to my MIL.


  1. There is only one parameter to determine the availability of fresh produce in your hometown and that is its proximity to the nearest railway station. Much of mumbai is surrounded around these network of rails so there's always fresh produce around. The neighbourhood you describe you live in sounds like a town so it's not surprising.

    Malls here undercut their prices by nearly half if it begins to near its expiry date to encourage quick sale.

    Opening up the retail sector to foreign investors has strategic consequences for india. It is said that the intertwining of economies among nations(say china and india) can prevent wars between them. The problem is that the trade balance is already uneven.

  2. They might not use preservative, but there has been several instance of using artificial rippening in local whole sale markets, especially during the mango season where the demand for mangoes is high, I think it was 2 years ago that the problem was brought up in the media as some rippening methods are actually harmfull to health, apparently can be used on other fruits as well.

    I've been in India long enough to know that the governement promising to do something about anything almost never really happen, it's a political stunt :(

  3. Here most of the produce is grown in Punjab. There is no need for the railway for most of the transport (that I'm aware of). You're right about the town aspect of this neighborhood though. The longer I live here the more it resembles one of those backwoods type towns like you would see in the movie Deliverance. (Minus the incest...eww!)

    I wish the malls and stores here would cut the price when things get close to expiring. That would be an easy way to spot the things I shouldn't get. HyperCity sometimes does "buy one get one free" for their old merchandise but it's never on produce.

    I'm not so sure I buy into this war prevention through trade. I know what they mean but it doesn't help countries or societies at all. Too much import into the US actually hurt it significantly and it's in the news now how it's hurting India. Now, I wasn't around or aware in pre-import overloaded US but watching the news reports in India help me see just how things went downhill there. One that stands out is where a shopkeeper was talking about cheap chinese sari's being imported that were woven by machine and how they are made much cheaper than the by hand sari's this man sold. He was talking about how detrimental it was for the women who had worked this job their whole lives and didn't have other skills because it was going to drive down their prices so that businesses could still carry the goods. It was sad to hear but opened my eyes to where the US started going wrong a while back. As you can see by the current economy, this is not the right path to head down. War could be much better prevented if more people respected their differences and the boys would stop trying to cause trouble. (proverbially of course...I know boys aren't the only culprit ;)

  4. Oh man I know! Recently it was all over the news here how local chicken farmers were using hormones to make the chickens grow faster and a lot of people were being harmed by the chemicals. It was sick! There was some fuss about watermelons over the summer as well. You really have to be careful and only purchase from trusted sources around here.

  5. My DH is the same as your Rohit only he won't eat potatoes, he eats rice all the time, and I have to ruse to have him eat anything else :)