Saturday, August 2, 2008


Eating out practices are becoming more and more ingrained in the Indian culture, especially in urban and semi-urban regions. In a state like Karnataka, even during festival periods, families frequent restaurants instead of cooking special menus as has been the practice a few years ago. This is probably due to the increasing fragmentation of large families of yesteryears into nuclear ones consequent to industrialization and expanded opportunities to good education and employment to female population. Though precise statistics are not available regarding the frequency of eating out amongst the population in general, even a conservative 'guesstimate' indicates it could be twice a month and many indulging in 'eating out' once a week. Urban families may thus depend on outside food to meet 7% to 14% of their annual food requirement. However if rural population is taken into consideration it is doubtful whether even 1% of the families have the opportunities to eat out due to low density of restaurants in these undeveloped areas. In contrast Americans are reported to be taking more than 20% of their meals, on an average outside of their homes. Such massive exposure to 'eating out' could be a veritable reason for the US Food Industry to be in a vanguard position as it is to day.

It was Britishers who conceived the idea of mass or collective feeding in early years of 20th century, based on their experience in feeding prisoners and destitute populations during various wars fought by them as the supreme colonial power till middle of the last century and the first Public Restaurant was opened at West Minister Bridge Road in London by the Queen in May 1917 under the National Restaurant Division of Food Ministry. Establishment of a modern cafeteria at Peckam under the name Pioneer Health Center in 1926 and opening of Oakley House in 1935, probably signaled the beginning of modern cafeterias and restaurants with many customer services and facilities, almost similar to what we see to day. It was also the beginning of man's quest for knowledge about food and nutrition culminating in the establishment of Food and Agricultural Organization of United Nations around 1945. The Nutrition Institute at Coonoor , Tamil Nadu, headed by late Dr Patwardhan played a significant role in evolving the science of nutrition as we know to day.

One of the factors for the slower growth of the restaurant sector could be the rigid caste bias that existed in India prior to the exit of Britishers and reluctance of upper caste population to consume foods cooked by others. Besides, upper caste members, even with some entrepreneurial streak were reluctant to start food business as selling of food was often considered as a sin and food has to be given free as 'dhana' as per the ancient scriptures. It was only after 1950 organized restaurants came up in many major towns and cities with a cosmopolitan clientele as the caste barriers were crumbling due to modernization, education and urbanization. Restaurants also played a critical role as a national integrator by popularizing foods from different regions all over the country.

In India one can see the true flowering of the concept of mass feeding of different categories like midday school program, large industrial canteens, anganwadis, large scale commercial catering at weddings and other functions attended by thousands, temples, mosques and langars for devotees, cafeterias and restaurants serving hundreds of varieties of traditional foods as well as foods characteristic of other cultures like Chinese, Mexican, Italian, etc. In many ways development of food processing industry is linked to the growth of the catering sector and with less than 30% of the country's population exposed to modern day foods being offered by the restaurants, it is no wonder that in India the processing sector does not achieve the type of development one expects with such a high resource base for which it is renowned. .


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