Monday, August 11, 2008


Irrespective of religion, feasting or mass feeding is a phenomenon well entrenched in the Psyche of Indian society. From time immemorial, through the eras of mythologies and puranas, Hindus have practiced mass feeding as a part of the rituals associated with many occasions. Same is true with Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and others who form the cultural panorama of the country. The occasions such as marriage, birth anniversary, religious festivals, religious practices and others are invariably linked to feasts for relatives and friends. Of course when it comes to VIPs and super rich people, ostentatious spending on food is more a rule than exception. Such functions are organized at homes, hotels, temples, mosques, churches, public halls, specially built temporary structures, ships etc depending on the resourcefulness and depth of the pocket of those organizing such functions.

Another category of mass feeding is noticed in big temples like Tirupathi, Dharmasthala, Mantralaya, those in Udipi and other places and hundreds of similar institutions across the country,catering mainly to the pilgrims or devotees who throng such places in thousands every day. Though this practice had relevance once upon a time when catering facilities were not available near the worship centers and visiting temples involved long trekking over difficult terrains in the absence of good transportation infrastructure, this is no more true to day. Accessibility to many temples has become easy and less time consuming and In many places there are reasonably good restaurants and small scale eateries that can easily serve the visiting pilgrims. If at all they have not developed to the extent they should have, the reason is the continued catering practices by the temples themselves where food is free.

From an economic point of view this may not be justifiable because most of the pilgrims will not consider an additional financial burden on good food if they have to eat on their own. The fact that big temples at Guruvayur and Sabarimalai which do not have any free foods program, happen to be two of the most popular temples in India if the crowds there are any indications, proves the above point. In fact Guruvayur is an excellent example how private food catering can flourish around a pilgrim center as it has one of the highest concentration of food vendors in India generating huge economic turn over with large employment content. Can't we repeat this model all over the country provided there are no religious susceptibilities on this count? One of the dangers is about the quality and safety of foods served in small joints which require strict monitoring.

Mass feeding also takes place under the societal projects of governments most prominent being the mid-day school programs being run in schools obviously to improve school attendance under the national literacy program of compulsory schooling for all children. But it is sad that the authorities laid more emphasis on taste forgetting that program provided them with a golden opportunity to improve the nutrition and health of the children, especially from rural areas.The well designed CFTRI product, popularly known as 'Energy Food', capable of mass production and high quality with a calorie content of 300 kC and 16% proteins per serving were ignored by many states, for considerations other than scientific in favor of fresh foods to be prepared and served in the school premises. It is tragic that thousands of children are exposed to food safety risks inherent in using indifferent raw materials and unhygienic cooking environment. The program also suffered from lack of adequate financial provisions to deliver optimum nutrition to the beneficiaries of this program. Wastage and pilferage are other problems when it comes to use of commercially valuable raw materials like rice and other inputs in such public programs.

Coming back to the traditions and customs of community feasts the Indian society as a whole has to debate whether continuing with them is in tune with modern life styles and societal changes taking place on account of ever increasing prosperity due to fast growth of the Indian economy. Can there be any other way of celebrating special occasions other than feasting? Why not arrange for feeding in thousands of orphanages and other institutions for destitute that dot most of the cities? Why not confine the celebrations or other functions to the house holds involving near and ear ones instead of making them mass participated events?

One is reminded of the old days of 'guest control order,'which was promulgated when country faced food shortages during sixties, especially rice. But it is not fair to depend on government to force such measures and only a mass awakening can bring about a transformation that will benefit the country. The unpredictable terrorism risks, high petrol prices, over eating on such occasions, potential risk of food poisoning, enormous wastage inherent in mass cooking and dangers from unexpected calamities, all will justify a re-look at these practices, normally considered by many as unavoidable commitments of a society with rich cultural heritage. Sooner we do better it will be for the country.


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