Food for thought: Why Paswan's idea to curb restaurant servings is in bad taste
Given the recent spate of statements from BJP leaders about banning beef consumption, it's clear that the BJP government intends to regulate what you eat. However, in a bizarre new twist, it turns out that the government also wants to regulate exactly how much you eat.
Ram Vilas Paswan, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Minister, has announced that the government will attempt to put curbs on food portions at restaurants. After all, with drought hitting large parts of the country, there are only so many Amit Shahs our farmers can support. Even less so when they're forced to travel to Delhi and streak the Prime Minister's Office .
But that isn't even why Paswan is trying to go down this route, instead, as with seemingly all moves made by NDA government functionaries, it is aimed at pleasing the Prime Minister. Paswan announced that the move is because “The PM is worried about food wastage”, and comes some two weeks after PM Narendra Modi's Mann ki Baat, where he lamented the wastage of food at functions.
That Paswan had two weeks to find away to curry favour with Modi, and only managed to think up a way to reduce the portions of curry served is a worrying indictment of just how shortsighted a minister he is.
Serious problem, silly solution
Food wastage is a very serious problem in India, that is beyond dispute. In the 2016 World Hunger Report, India placed a miserable 97 out of 118 developing countries. According to the report, over a quarter of the world's undernourished population resides in India. That should make any country with pretensions of progress take note, and Modi was in the right when he flagged the issue. Pawan's approach to the problem, however, is more laughable than laudable.
Speaking to the press, Paswan sounded less like a minister trying to solve a major problem, and more like an angry restaurant patron who wasn't allowed to parcel his left overs. “If a person can eat only two prawns, why should he or she be served six? If a person eats two idlis, why serve four! It’s wastage of food and also money people pay for something that they don’t eat,” said Paswan, adding, “You go to a Chinese restaurant; they give you so much (of food).”
His statement raises a few questions – who finds two prawns sufficient? Has Paswan never visited a restaurant that allows for packing leftovers? And, if he has, why isn't the solution then to order restaurants to pack leftovers?
But, above all of these, it raises one far more important question – does Paswan even understand the issue? Because, the fact is that restaurant leftovers play a very small part in food wastage. The real reasons are present in a government-commissioned report you'd hope a member of Modi's Cabinet would bother to read.
While Paswan thinks India's food wastage problem is because we're unable to stomach more than two prawns, a report by the Ministry of Food Processing Industries would beg to differ. The report, released just last year, shows that while over Rs 92,000 crore of agricultural produce is wasted each year (according to 2012-13, and 2014 prices), the cause of this isn't restaurants.
Instead, as the report makes clear, the major culprits of this massive wastage are India's lack of proper infrastructure to transport and store food. In fact, a 2012 report had placed India's cold storage requirement at 61 million tonnes then, while India's cold storage capacity in 2014 was just over half that, even as produce increased.
The other components involved in the preservation and transport of agricultural harvest are similarly lacking. A study by the National Centre for Cold-chain Development showed that the country is severely lacking in pack-houses for produce, transport for the same, and ripening chambers. In all of these cases the gap between what exists and what is required is over 85%, with the gap between required pack-houses and existing ones a mind-boggling 99.6%.
However, Paswan has decided to go with the path of least efficience. By attempting to micro-manage restaurants, instead of fixing the actual problems, he's putting the onus of a serious problem on restaurateurs, while ignoring the government's culpability in the problem. And, even if the wise minister wants to stick his nose in the restaurant business, maybe go about it by creating food banks, and services that collect waste food from hotels to give to the poor.
But if he's going to be coming up with silly solutions, instead of actual ones, we have a few suggestions:
1) Force fellow politicians to go on diets, leaders, after all, should lead by example.
2) Subsidise bariatric surgery, you can name the scheme after either Nitin Gadkari or Arun Jaitley
3) Stop politicians from inviting thousands of guests for gaudy weddings.
4) Close the parliamentary canteen and carry tiffin boxes instead
5) Tell temples to stop using offerings of milk, ghee, rice, and the like. Or put curbs on it based on how much Gods can eat. After all, if a God can drink only two cups of milk, why should he or she be served six? If a God eats two spoons of ghee, why serve four! It’s wastage of food.