Thursday, July 31, 2008


Can you imagine eating and enjoying the above classical delicacies of India, sitting on top of a volcanic crater 10023 ft above sea level in Hawaii, 2600 miles west of Los Angeles, in the midst of Pacific Ocean? It was made possible by the modern food technology developed in India, manufactured by the processed food industry and being exported to USA regularly. For the information of those who are not familiar with Hawaii, it is useful to note that it is the 50Th state of USA, comprising 5-6 islands, in the Pacific Ocean, born out of violent volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Hawaii always evokes excitement amongst tourism folks, especially those fond of beaches and water sports. Millions of tourists visit one or more of these islands which has a Polynesian cultural background though assimilation into mainstream America has created modern infrastructure and good quality life. For food technologists, Dole Fruit Company is synonymous with pineapple processing which had its origin in Lanai, one of the Islands in Hawaii where huge pineapple plantations and fruit canning facilities flourished during the first half of 20Th century, making them the world's largest suppliers of processed fruit and vegetable products. Of course the increasing costs of cultivation and dearth of labor shifted the epicenter of Pineapple processing to Philippines and Thailand, again driven by the vast experience of Dole Fruit Company. To day Lanai is still a private island with less than 200 s.miles area owned by David Murdoch who developed it into a fine tourist destination with super luxury hotels and a private airport. Only wealthy tourists venture into Lanai which is better known for the lavish private wedding of Bill Gates, the multi billionaire founder of Microsoft Company, about seventeen years ago, probably because of least access to this area to journalists across the world. Coming to the Bisibhele bath episode, Haleakala crater is considered as world's largest dormant volcano. This volcano has not rumbled or spewed lava since 1790 but has been classified by geologists as "active but not currently erupting'. This crater lies on the eastern side of the island Maui, a 1800 s. miles volcanic land which is attracting millions of tourists from all parts of the world because of its calm beaches, panoramic views and salubrious climate all year round. A scenic, winding road 35 miles long takes one to the top of the crater which is an environmentally protected area with no commercial activities. Though the drive up and down does not take more than 3 hours and plenty of restaurants and eateries are available in the plains, many visitors take packed foods along with them to have pleasure of a 'party' on top of the world at the summit of the crater in the midst of the biggest ocean in the planet. During a recent visit by group of Indians to the summit, it was a sight to see servings of several products from MTR Foods stable that included Bisibhele bhath, Aloo Parotha and Paneer Palak which was unique because the Indian Food Technologists and Entrepreneurship made this possible. The pioneering 'Retort Pouch Technology' developed by Defense Food Research Laboratories at Mysore enabled the pioneering entrepreneurial giant MTR Foods to market more than three dozens of highly perishable ethnic Indian foods with shelf lives of 1-2 years. Though Indian stores are standard fixtures in many parts of USA, there are places like Hawaii where neither Indian restaurants nor Indian grocery stores exist making it hard for hard-core vegetarians to enjoy their holidays. With the pioneering efforts of MTR Foods, there are a few others like ITC, Priya, Kohinoor, Ashoka etc who offer Indian ethnic foods in 'ready to eat' format to the benefit of Indian immigrants and tourists. The Indian stores and restaurants are doing a great service in
popularizing Indian foods outside India and it is encouraging to see these ambassadors of Indian culture and ethos through traditional foods, are continuously upgrading their presentation format making them on par with western food markets and eateries.Their contribution enables Indians feel that wherever they are, it is like back home.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008


The spiraling prices of gasoline across the world seem to be having ripple effects on many other fronts also. The inflationary tendencies witnessed in many Asian and African countries are attributed to the petroleum prices going north, at one time almost touching $150 a barrel. With many countries including those who were net exporters of oil are dependent on oil produced in the Middle East, Russia and South America. Most dramatic case is that of Indonesia, one of the major producers of oil becoming a net importer since 2004 because of increased consumption and production declines to the extent of 40% as the sources of oil are drying up. India has always been an importer of oil meeting 70% of its needs by imports and naturally the consequent escalation in the cost of imports is bound to be felt in all spheres of life. The rise in inflation from 4% just a year back is approaching 12% now causing severe strains on the national economy and untold miseries to the less affluent section of the society. If staple foods like rice, wheat, pulses and edible oils are becoming costlier by more than 50-70% compared to the prices prevalent last year, one can imagine the plight of population in the country whose income rise is way behind the inflation.Though this is a global phenomenon the effect is more dramatic and debilitating to developing countries whose capacity to withstand the inflationary monster which challenges their right to survive, is practically nil. On one hand the rise in oil prices is being attributed to rabid speculation associated with forward trading, but many economists feel it is simply a situation responding to the classic demand-supply distortions in the world market. As a support to the latter argument, it is pointed out that practically all commodities including food, cement, steel and a host of others have been climbing the price ladder independent of the rise of oil prices during the last one year. Interestingly, a critical analysis of demand profile for oil during the last few months indicates that more than 90% of the consumption of increased oil production originated in developing countries like India and China where automobile density is increasing faster than before and purchasing power is growing significantly with GDP rises of 8-10%during the last few years. The moot question is who should curb oil consumption if the exhaustible energy sources like petroleum are to be conserved? The developing countries with very high per ca pita income or the less fortunate fellow countries coming under the umbrella of developing world with larger aspirational goals to achieve? It is a valid case for some to argue that the huge petroleum subsidies being doled out in many developing countries in Asia and Africa do not discourage consumption and if the the market price distortion is set right demand for oil could go down. Even the subsidized kerosene distribution in countries like India is being held responsible for rise in Aviation Fuel prices. However if Kerosene prices in these countries are to reflect market realities, the alternative would be massive deforestation in many countries to meet the need for cooking fuel in the form of firewood, an ideal recipe for environmental disaster that will not recognize any mundane national boundaries in spreading chaos and misery all around. According to Al Gore the Nobel Laureate and a passionate advocate of renewable energy tapping of solar and wind energy can alleviate most of the ecological disasters that the world is facing to day if only adequate attention and investment is made. Where there is a will, there is of course a way out for any thing and every thing man confronts. The resources are there, technologies are there, money is there but what is lacking is the conviction and the will to look for changes that are earth-friendly. Brazil had set the earliest example of using renewal energy by using ethanol; from sugar cane in the gasoline blend to extend the available fossil fuels.Use of spent plant oils in Europe was another welcome initiative as long as virgin palm oil and other edible oils were not diverted for use in automobiles. The mandated use of ethanol in gasoline in USA has already diverted 20% of its corn crops, a valuable edible material sufficient to ward off hunger and keep alive millions of human beings, for producing ethanol exclusively for blending automobile fuel. It is cruel for George W Bush, the President of USA, to blame countries like India and China for the escalating prices of food grains and edible oils in the world market because of small increases in food consumption in these countries due to marginally higher per capita income, implying that aspiring to eat better and more nutritious food is a crime! He can only ignore at his peril that almost 30% of the population in his country is courting disaster day by day by becoming obese due to food over-consumption, 50-200% more than that required by a normal human being for a healthy life. If only 10% of what is wasted in USA is spared, it can feed 30 million famished people on the earth besides influencing global food prices in a positive way. Globalization will lose its meaning and relevance if it exposes more and more people, especially in developing countries to the pangs of hunger with each passing day, widening the already existing wide divide between the haves and the have-nots. . .


Tuesday, July 29, 2008


These days every one is concerned about the quality and safety of life in this planet besieged by pollution, indifferent foods and sedentary living. No one seems to have an answer as to how best one can lead a good quality life with extended longevity. Every one also knows that foods and their consumption pattern have lot to do with the health and consequently the longevity. The anxiety becomes more acute as one retires, finds no fixed avocation and starts ageing with lot of leisure time available. It is in this context that many people try to propound their own 'recipe' for a 'ripe', life though there is no unanimity as to the meaning of ripe life which differs from person to person. One of the most recent reports very pompously declares that the best way to ensure a good quality life is to choose good genes from good parents! Though there is some truth in this claim it poses more questions than an answer. Obviously we have an option on the types of
genes we acquire from the parents and it must be a cruel joke to tell any one about the quality of genes already inherited on which off springs have no control. Having said this one will be tempted to question what guarantee the inheritance of good genes can confer on the off spring a good quality life as the environment, physical, mental and food consumption can adversely affect even the good inherited genes due to mutation and other factors. Another suggestion is keeping away from news papers and electronic media to avoid getting agitated by the horrid stories of murder, rape, burglary, political jugglery, violence, riots etc which form the staple of the media. Of course one can try as it will not do do any harm at least. Some others swear to the fact that if one is not irritated so often during the day to day chores, longevity is assured. It is debatable whether such an ascetic behaviour is feasible in to day's fast moving 'dog eating dog' society one
lives in. Especially in a society like that in India where 'crab in the basket' behaviour is widely prevalent, it is doubtful whether even a hermit can be a silent spectator without reacting to the environment. More over conquering the demon that resides in all human beings, the 'ego' is a challenge by itself. Staying in good company is supposed to prolong life as good company is presumed to be engaged in only happy activities without raising the tempers. could the spouse be best company? Opinions differ but there seems to be a majority view that spouses can be the biggest source of tension driving many to seek avocations keeping the partners separate and engaged in their own avocations for at least some time during the day.Similarly cultivating friends and expanding the family network are considered useful in dissolving family tensions to varying extent but it is mute point as to how many people have adequate time to engage in social activities in a world that lives on a fast pace. Physician is always an integral part of the health of a family and regular consultations, it is said could ensure good health to the entire family. But what is disturbing the paucity of physicians who are true to their Hippocrates oath and have the interests of their clients upper most in their mind. With the cost of medicines sky rocketing every day, the hospitalisation beyond the reach of most middle class families and the cost of health insurance increasing exponentially each year excluding more and people from the health coverage, it is only a pipe dream that regular consultation can be the route to achieve longevity. Other commandments to lead a healthy and long life include avoiding liquor and cigarettes and doing regular exercise which of course can contribute to longevity. But views, however, differ as to whether one can indulge in moderate consumption of alcohol and still stay healthy, though 2 drinks per day have been reported to be beneficial. Similarly doing exercise means different things to different people. Walking, the simplest form of exercise, can do a lot of good to keep one fit, the extent of walking that is ideal still defies unanimity. Walking three times a day for 10 minutes each is claimed to be adequate by some, many others insist on 40-60 minutes walk every day, necessary to cause sweating to ensure good health. Obesity, a very common 'disease' in many affluent countries, definitely cuts down the span of life considerably besides affecting adversely the quality of life one leads during the life time. Why is obesity a major scourge in the world. Simply stated obesity is often caused by excess calorie intake, more than that demanded by the body for leading a particular life style and uncontrolled food consumption, driven more by the desire to eat and consequent palate satisfaction rather than the body requirement. Both the quality and quantity of foods consumed influence the development of obesity. The desire to eat is universal but if the food is not balanced and the quantity is not related to the level of physical activity one performs, the result would be higher BMI leading to over weight/obesity. It is generally agreed that one can always put up with an over weight of 5-6 kg but beyond that weight reduction should be one of the goals to avoid obesity and consequent onset of diabetes, cardiac problems, hyper tension etc. Extreme diets such as Atkins and others are not desirable and any weight reduction effort must aim at reduced calorie and fat consumption accompanied by exercise like walking. It is a fallacy to think that doing exercise alone without cutting on food consumption will achieve weight reduction. Both are necessary. As for quality of food, a healthy diet should focus more on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats confining saturated fats to less than 10% of fat consumption.The ICMR recommendations are based on Indian conditions and can be helpful in maintaining sound health. but as a universal practise, increasing vegetables in the diet as much as possible should the governing guide for better health. Recommendations of 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables are frequently made as ideal situation for normal as well as many health compromised populations world over.