Sunday, September 25, 2011


Why is that India is not able to produce champions in any field of sports, in spite of its large population? Could it be due to lack of physical stamina because of wrong types of foods consumed which do not help to evolve appropriate body dynamics so necessary to out perform others in a competition? What about the sub-par sports infrastructure that is available for the sports persons to practice and get trained as per international standards? Can inadequate patriotism and lack of determination be a factor? Why is that the hockey champions of yester years are struggling even to qualify for the Olympics? Is the country satisfied with a Milka Singh of the past? How can one explain the consistent inconsistency of the national cricket team which attains glory at times during playing at home and then collapses like a pack of cards under foreign playing conditions?

The abysmal performance of Indian athletes or sports persons in any field of competition rarely gets the attention it deserves but even a mediocre performance by one individual is acclaimed as fantastic! The sports administration in the country is plagued by corruption, inefficiency, favoritism, short sighted goals and no vision . Look at the Common Wealth Games fiasco with millions of rupees being siphoned off by the Organizing Committee (OC) and it is no wonder that the Chairman and senior officials are languishing in Tihar Jail for corrupt practices! Most of the Associations are run by old politicians with one foot in the grave, not allowing the real, experienced practitioners to play any constructive role. Many of them rule the roost for decades without any shame or guilt and accountability is the last thing that counts in the country. Many of these Associations have developed their vested interests to perpetuate the monopoly without allowing new comers with novel ideas to have a shot at the top position. Even selection of national teams are ridden with factionalism, parochialism, regionalism, caste and religion. How can any one expect that such a country is capable of selecting the best to represent the country?

One of the most disgusting aspects of Indian sports is the way selected sports persons are treated by the non-playing bureaucrats whether in travelling or lodging or feeding. The proportion of non-playing officials as a part of any contingent invariably is relatively high and these officials are known to enjoy the best of every thing at the expense of the playing members. Athletes and teams are housed in most unsatisfactory staying places, basic traveling comforts are denied and adequate funds not made available to eat nutritious foods. Predominance of cricket over all other forms of sports has contributed to some extent the deteriorating quality of sports persons in other areas and to day most youngsters aspire to become a cricket player in preference to all other sports, the main reason being the luxury enjoyed by cricket players in terms of remuneration and perks, best boarding and lodging facilities and recognition for good performance. In spite of the existence of a moribund Sports Ministry at Delhi, nothing has been done during the last 4 decades to improve the situation! Probably Indian Sports would be better off without a Ministry at Delhi!

What is the provocation for such an outburst as expressed above? London Olympics are scheduled for 2012 and India, as usual has to do the formality of sending a "huge" continent for participation in the true spirit of the Olympic movement! It is reported that so called Sports Authority of India (SAI) has submitted a proposal to the sports ministry urging it to address the traveling and dietary problems faced by the India athletes while training and competing in international events abroad. If the SAI Director General is to be believed Indian athletes do not get proper rest prior to their participation in international competitions and further these "unfortunate" participants, especially in power events such as boxing, weightlifting and wrestling are deprived of healthy Indian food of their taste while competing and training abroad. Whose mistake it is? Why this late realization? SAI seems to have come up with some "suggestions" to the Ministry for consideration! The "suggestions" made by SAI include -- "wherever the journey is more than eight hours, Indian teams may be allowed to travel three days prior to the event instead of two days as in the existing guidelines. To overcome the food problem, Indian embassies may be asked through the MEA to arrange Indian food from the nearest Indian restaurant in proximity of the hotel where Indian teams are being stayed" Most Indian athletes are reported to be vegetarian by habit and serving non-vegetarian food affects their food intake significantly. Added to this the quality of foods served to them is grossly inadequate because of taste and nutritional factors. The "punching line" is that this "affects the performance of Indian athletes while participating in international events abroad!

As a country India should be ashamed of such absurd interpretation for the failure of Indian athletes abroad. After 64 years of independence, it is now that the SAI is discovering this fact and if this is not outright baloney what else it can be? It appears that the GOI is already preparing grounds for dolling out excuse for another shameful performance being anticipated in 2012 Olympics after wasting millions of rupees from the public exchequer in the name of sports! Like in all spheres of human endeavor China has provided a sharp contrasting picture producing world winners in practically every field of sports within a short span of time. Why is that India cannot achieve even a fraction of what China has achieved? The simple answer is the dominance of non-sports person in every walk of sports activity with no vision, commitment and skills required to motivate Indian sports persons!


Friday, September 23, 2011


World seemed to be divided regarding the current agricultural practices that account for the production of all foods. While the labor intensive traditional cultivation is more or less replaced by input intensive mechanized operations, the organic food sector presents a totally different picture. Added to this some of the people movements like the local foods, whole foods, farmers markets etc have added further confusion to the already complex food production system. The yearning for change is driven by concerns regarding the safety of foods raised by modern technologies involving intensive use of fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, weedicides, growth regulators, etc which invariably leave residues on the foods and gain access to the stomach of humans capable of causing health damage, short as well as long term. Two of the most controversial changes that continue to influence to day's agriculture are the growing organic food production and genetically modified food production.

Mainstream agricultural practices themselves have changed beyond recognition with mono culture, no-til and minimum-till operations becoming industry standards. The great green revolution that saw quantum jump in food production in nineteen sixties and seventies is characterized by mono culture cultivation without any crop rotation and intensive use of chemical fertilizers and toxic crop protectants. Decades of such practices literally destroyed the soil health in many countries and crop yields are plateauing or actually declining raising concerns all around. This is happening at a juncture when the need of the hour is increasing the production rate at least to keep in tune with the population growth. It is any body's guess as to how many years it will take to rehabilitate the degraded soil to reclaim its original production potential.

Organic way of cultivation and crop rotation only can help if such an objective is to be achieved. There is always the question whether organic cultivation system can really help to increase food production to the extent needed to meet future world requirement. There is no consensus on this issue with protagonists and antagonists ranged against each other. GM foods which are touted as an answer to global food problem cannot achieve increased productivity though losses can be reduced in the field through use of lesser pesticides. Of course the safety of GM foods is a critical issue with sharp divergence of views among scientists and consumers and it is difficult to imagine how consumers can be forced to consume foods not acceptable to them. It is another matter that some countries are hiding the extensive use of GM foods by the processing industry which is unethical and undemocratic.

If organic food production system is as beautiful and lucrative as being claimed, the million dollar question that begs an answer is why more farmers are not jumping into the organic food wagon? It is supposed to be easy besides being remunerative to practice. One of the reasons could be lack of awareness about organic food cultivation among the vast majority of farmers. Similarly the specialized input material sourcing is highly cumbersome and uncertain posing tremendous logistical difficulties. Compost and cover crops are the two main nutrient sources of organic growers. The cost of buying compost and using in the farms can be significantly higher than chemical fertilizers. Similarly if the farms are not located near a city or a livestock operation, compost may not be an option.

Green manure, cover crops that fix nitrogen, though wonderful, may take time during the year to grow and there are costs associated with buying and planting the seed. More important and crucial is training of the farmers on efficient organic farming techniques which calls for an infrastructure that is just not available widely. Under these circumstances one can only expect highly motivated farmers to take the risk of entering the organic food movement.These factors may probably be the reason why GM food lobby is able to make considerable inroads into the farming sector with its astronomical resources for brain washing and seduction. There was a time when organic farms were small in number and size but to day there are large farms owning thousands of hectares of land devoted to organic food production. Probably realizing the inevitability of moving towards a scenario where present "toxic" farm production system will have to yield to newer system of organic food production, it is a question of time before the whole world embraces this safer regime.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Over obsession of Indian Government (GOI) with food grains is reflected by the enormous investments made in procurement of these staple foods at state determined prices and supplying the same to millions of people at heavily subsidized prices involving almost 80000 crore rupees expenditure to the exchequer annually. Another anachronism is in forcing the sugar industry to part with a portion of its output at a loss, to the government for supply to the low income group of population under the much criticized Public Distribution System (PDS), which has been able to sustain the "looters and criminals" who indulge in siphoning of the commodities meant for the poor! It must be admitted that for a communist or socially biased country ensuring survival of the citizens is the priority but a moot question is whether leading low quality life is what a citizen desires. Though it is known that cereals (note pulses are not even considered) and sugar do provide the required calories and to some extent proteins, if consumed in sufficient quantities, it is the protective foods like fruits and vegetables which can ensure good health. Unfortunately GOI even after the economic liberalization policies initiated two decades ago still cannot grasp the significance of the importance of these protective foods which are left to the market forces to "play around" with the result that almost all fruits and vegetables, prices of which are manipulated by the middle men, are not affordable to the so called aam admi!

According to a recent report cereals contribute just 20% of the farm out put while fruits, vegetables and milk accounted for more than 40%. The growth of the Dairy sector is attributed to the single minded devotion and commitment of Dr V Kurien, the architect of the so called white revolution in the country and every Indian ought to be proud of this achievement making the country the top most milk producing nation on this planet. In contrast it is the horticulture front that was neglected for long by both the development scientists and the policy makers. How sad it is to see a country like India which is blessed with a wide range of weather suitable for growing hundreds of fruits and vegetables lags behind in providing the minimum needs of these protective foods at affordable prices! There is practically no stable policy that governs this industry and with low productivity and high market prices GOI is pulled between the desire to export and controlling of domestic prices. Recent Onion fiasco is a classical example of how badly GOI works and its consequences on the well being of its citizens.

While claiming that India is one of the top producers of many fruits and vegetables based on statistics provided by the state administrations, no one knows the ground reality. There is serious apprehension among food scientists that a sizable production is irretrievably lost in the field as well as during post harvest stages though there is no unanimity on this issue, the spoilage figures trotted out ranging from 20% to 50%! Whether such gigantic losses are responsible for price distortions in the market is not known though some observers attribute the same to these losses. On the other hand the miserable conditions under which the growers manage production is scandalous and mostly the beneficiaries are the middle man pre harvest contractors who play the Shylock role through their money clout. To day in the Indian market no fruit sells at a price less than Rs 25 per Kg though the farmers share must be not even 20% of this market realization. How can any one in India, except a few rich,can afford to buy Apple priced at rs 100-150 kg and the old saying that an apple a day keeps doctor away is a hollow one to them because going to a doctor may be cheaper than eating an apple!

Is it not a paradox that while GOI is trying to supply cereals at a ridiculously low price of Rs 1-3 per kg it has no consideration for making fruits and vegetables available at reasonable prices to its citizens? Of course one hears about tall talks about the plans of GOI such as activating the somnabulic National Horticulture Board or launching of a Horticulture Mission but there is nothing to show at the ground level and the prices of almost all horticulture produce continue to climb irrationally with wide fluctuations from day to day! It is really a wonder as to how the rural population in the country is able to have good health by surviving on only leafy vegetables which are the cheapest and some local fruits of no commercial significance. Why NDDB, which was once roped in by GOI during Dr Kurien's rein was not able to make any impact on the horticultural front during the last three decades is not clear though one can surmise that there must have been gross interference from the high flying and arrogant bureaucracy at Delhi. Cooperative organization of horticulture growers, similar to milk cooperatives, should have been ideal for the country because of the extremely small sized land holdings and NDDB may have the answer as to why it has failed. It may be worthwhile to have a re-look at the past experience and re-tool the program accordingly. It is time for GOI to wake up and bring sanity to the horticulture produce markets in the country.


Thursday, September 15, 2011


Right to information is considered sacred for every citizen in this world, when purchases are made in the market and a discerning choice is to be made. It is based on this perception that the mandatory labeling rules are framed such a way that every consumer can know what is inside a sealed packet of food offered to him on the market shelf. On such labels prominent details shown include the nutritional content, allergens present, product description and mode of preparation and other information of relevance. Though there is no unanimity regarding the exact details to be provided on such labels among different countries, still the information provided definitely help consumers to some extent. More than the positive information, consumers find declaration of presence of harmful substances more useful. Thus contents of undesirable nature like allergens, trans fats, saturated fats, sodium etc are more carelessly scrutinized while making purchase decisions.

Lately environmental aspects of food processing have received attention from consumers and there are strong campaigns to declare the carbon foot print of each product on the label. Though this has nothing to do with the nutritional or health promoting property of the food contained in the packet, the modern industrial practices in production, processing and distribution of foods do cause pollution of enormous dimension. This is a matter that disturbs many people and governments and hence the demand for declaring the pollution contribution by the processed products. Of course there is no unanimity regrading the modus operandi in introducing such provisions in the labeling regulations in vogue. In principle it is a sound concept while in practice it can become a complex practical nightmare! As for the consumer it will become a difficult dilemma to choose between a product with low carbon foot print but not of high quality and another one with higher carbon foot print but with high nutritional and culinary quality.

Another labeling controversy pertains to declaration of the process undergone by the product. A Genetically modified food product is not required to be declared while irradiated foods must declare so on the label. What about process aids? No law forces any manufacturer to declare the type of process aids used during the processing though traces may still be present in the final product. For example the fry powder so commonly used in frying operations to prolong the life of the oil is never declared on the label. Similarly there are significant discrepancies regarding the expiry date declaration and it is well known that this provision contributes to enormous waste of food when they are thrown away after the "best before" date, though the same food is safe for consumption. There are many other grey areas where there is still no clarity. Will there be any unanimity among the countries regarding what information must be given and what need not be given? Probably national interests will override in deciding about such matters.

The recent controversy regarding the right to know what country a food has come from is a potential mine field that can divide the world vertically into opposing camps. A consumer, especially if highly patriotic or entertaining fear about products from other countries will invariably feel that he has every right to know about the country where the food in manufactured. Probably this popular belief has contributed to inward looking and restrictive policies in some wealthy countries to enact legislation to force the industry to declare the country of origin under the "country of origin labeling law" (COOL). The US made it mandatory for its food industry to follow COOL in 2009 which was challenged under the WTO regime by those countries which felt that it is a discriminatory trade practice affecting their exports to the US. Probably the US government was more worried about the cheap food imports from countries like China, Brazil, India, Vietnam etc which it felt, would overwhelm the domestic industry affecting its very survival! Food being a critical item of consumption that has the potential to impinge on the health, it makes sense for the US citizens to shun products from other countries with uncertain safety credentials. Is it not unfortunate that such a situation can only reflect on the very credibility of the government agencies tasked to oversee food imports? Is this policy not encouraging the citizens in the country to practice some type of "apartheid" which has no place in to day's multi cultural, multicolored global society?

It appears the so called consumer-friendly U.S. COOL policy, under which beef, lamb, pork, chicken, goat, fish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and ginseng, have to declare the country of origin is in jeopardy. According to dispassionate observers the COOL policy is not equitable in any sense and may be contravening the WTO treaty under which discriminatory trade practices are considered illegal. It was in 2009 that some countries like Brazil, Canada and others approached WTO filing a complaint against the US. They alleged that COOL is an unacceptable "barrier to trade" and the concerned WTO "dispute panel" frowned upon this policy in its preliminary report. It is anticipated that WTO may eventually rule against the US on this issue. What is not clear is about the response the US may consider to counter act this adverse ruling, though political class there is raising a hue and cry blaming WTO for infringing on the sovereignty of their country! The arrogance of power should not blind the Americans in resorting to such tactics as it goes against the grains of the concept of treating the world as a seamless global village. An option for them is not to make the policy mandatory and leave it to the industry to decide on such labeling.


Monday, September 12, 2011


Agreed that Potato is a vegetable viewed from any angle and invariably it is considered one of the best naturally nutrient-dense vegetables available all over the world. Calorie wise it contains about 70 kC per 100 gm and is considered a better source of potassium than a banana. Though it is rarely known that Potato is a rich source of Vitamin C, the fact is that it can provide almost half the daily need of this nutrient in a single serve. Although notable is its usefulness as a source of Vitamin B6, Copper and Iron. Added to these positive features, it contains no fat, sodium or any other undesirable substances of any consequence. Some protagonists have changed the age old slogan of "apple a day keeps doctor away" replacing apple with potato. How far this claim can be substantiated is a matter of debate. .

If potato is claimed to be so good why is it that weight watchers generally avoid consumption of this vegetable regularly? Probably it is not potato that is doing any harm but calorie rich ingredients like fat and cheese and liberal addition of salt that is bringing the bad name for potato as a unhealthy food. Baked potato preparations doused with lot of butter and salt and deep fried foods like wafers and finger chips containing high fat and salt can create nightmarish situation when consumed in mega quantities regularly. These industrially manufactured products, in fact, contributed largely to the obesity epidemic that is raging in countries like the US.

Of course the golden rule for incorporating potato in the diet is that it should not be fried or baked with lot of fat and if just cooked potato is consumed there is unlikely to be any long term impact on weight gain. Recent move by the US government to restrict the level of potato in the school lunch program has created an avoidable controversy as it conveys a message that potato is not that good for health. Considering the overall nutrition provided by potato such a step can be only a retrograde on.Is it possible that such a decision is influenced by a recent study in the UK which implicates potato consumption as a hindrance to any program that aims at obesity abatement? Possibly yest. On the flip side of this issue, potato economy in the American continent is closely linked to the survival of the farmers as a major portion of production is absorbed by the school lunch programs across that country.

Interestingly China, which accounts for more than 20% of world production of potato, about 315 million tons, does not suffer from obesity epidemic as being seen in the west and probably this is a clear evidence that potato is not an obesogenic food if consumed properly. The world average annual consumption, about 33 kg per capita, is also not considered high working out to just about100 gm per day per person. Similarly the US produces about 20 million tons of potato annually for a population of 300 millions which averages the consumption at less than 70 kg per capita an year or less than 200 gm a day per person which is also not very high. What makes the difference is the way it is consumed using lot of fatty ingredients causing the health problem.

Just because Potato contains some starch, does it mean it cannot be considered a vegetable? If so what about vegetables like green peas, soy bean, fresh corn etc which when fresh are considered vegetables but on drying they become a pulse or an oil seed or a cereal?
Similarly common vegetables like squash, pumpkin, yam and a few others have starch content comparable to that in Potato. More important is the Glycemic Index (GI) of the vegetables that decides whether it will create a Glycemic over Load (GL) leading to weight gain. Potato has a relatively low GI, about 48 while a vegetable like Pumpkin has a GI pf 75. Ultimately moderation is the key when it comes to weight lose or gain and that is the need of the hour indeed!

Friday, September 9, 2011


Every nation, big or small, on this planet has a responsibility to look after the welfare of its population and this includes the protection of its citizens from the undesirable consequences of sale and consumption of unsafe and indifferent quality food. Agencies like ISO, WHO, FAO etc are striving hard to weave a universally acceptable and synchronized food regulations which can facilitate free trade in foods. Food science is a dynamic subject that provides adequate foundation for surveillance of food production, processing and distribution and new knowledge generated through sustained research continuously is enabling the surveillance agencies to deploy more and more sophisticated and reliable techniques to fulfill their responsibility.

Recent food poisoning episodes in Europe involving E .coli contamination of sprouted Fenugreek or in the US caused by Salmonella poisoning of ground turkey meat convey a clear message that there is no room for complacency when it comes to food safety and eternal vigilance is a pre-requisite for reducing as much as possible major incidences of safety breach. Fortunately most of food related episodes are confined to meat eating countries and meat happens to be a major source of many pathogenic organisms. Many poultry farms and abattoirs are guilty of indulging in hygienically unsound practices resulting in uncertainties in the quality of final products delivered to the consumer. High quality infrastructure and experienced technical personnel in adequate numbers have not been able to completely stop food safety breaches in countries that boast of high economic standards. Useful and reliable technologies like gamma radiation continue to be sidelined and food poisoning episodes are here to stay for a long time to come.

When it comes to developing countries the most pressing food safety concern seems to be man made as the markets are flooded with deliberately adulterated food products with dangerous consequences on the health of the citizens. Statistics, even if not very reliable, put the growth rate of the food adulteration industry at about 20% reflecting the insufficiency of the policies that govern and implement food safety monitoring system. Take the example of India where a brand new food quality and safety Act has been made "operative" from the first week of August this year but unfortunately every thing remains same as before because of insufficient infrastructure, gross shortage of technical personnel and the tortoise paced judiciary set up. Most of the food testing facilities in the country are sub par as far as competence and functioning are concerned. Wide scale corruption in the safety monitoring system allows fraudsters to get away with murder! The yearly convictions of food culprits, about a few hundreds in a country of 1.2 billion population tells its own story. Average citizens are perplexed by this gross negligence on the part of the government which seems to have the least priority for food safety related activities, except for paying the usual lip sympathy. The archaic statistics system that is totally unreliable gives the government the luxury to maintain that every thing is "honky dory" as far as food safety is concerned since there are practically no reports indicating any mortality due to food poisoning!

Probably smaller countries like Sri Lanka, UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand Nepal and others have a better track record when it comes to food safety surveillance and deterrent policies. India has company in China which has become the global capital for adulterated foods and this may be giving the GOI the cold comfort that huge population makes it difficult to implement effective safety policies! Look at the recent development in Nepal where the government there is introducing a mobile lab system that can go around to test food products from food handling establishments with least delay. Interestingly the mobile lab has bee designed in Thailand which had most of its food technologists trained in India during nineteen seventies and eighties and paradoxically Nepal's food sector has many Indian trained personnel manning the operations there. It is good to see the trainers being overtaken by he trained ones when it comes to food safety infrastructure!.
According to available details the mobile lab is to be equipped for checking adulterations in edible products and conducting basic antibiotic and pesticide residue tests, water tests and microbiological tests. Hopefully the safety agency should be able to take immediate action against those found compromising with the food standards. Added to this the mobile facility will have some modern communication gadgets that will enable carrying out food safety education programs to consumers. With a staff compliment of three , presently undergoing training in Thailand, and many sophisticated tools for conducting tests, the mobile lab will be have a force multiplier impact on the adulteration detection and deterrent action. It is time others too learn a lesson from this tiny country.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Indian traditional foods, often called the Ethnic Foods number over 5000 and are prepared and consumed locally with very little national foot print. Why? The main reason is the difficulty in keeping these products for long with out quality deterioration and assured safety. Most of them have water activity much beyond the safe zone and are vulnerable to spoilage by microorganisms like bacteria and mold. True many of them contain high sugar which also provides extended storage. How ever for establishing a pan-India market, food products need to be stable for at least 3-4 months. Though with reliable cold chain transport and storage their shelf life can be extended for a few days or a couple of weeks, slow growth of organized retail sector with modern facilities, which controls less than 5% of the retailing business, does not ensure seamless distribution, reliable cold display facilities and strong sales promotional regime.

The mere diversity of sweetmeat and savory products makes it difficult for the food industry to pick and choose the right product mix that can ensure nation wide acceptance. It is most unfortunate that even after 64 years of independence, there are no reliable and comprehensive information base regarding these foods, their relative popularity, production details and authentic recipes and preparation methods. Most of these products are made at the micro-enterprises level managed by skilled artisans with some experience and practically no mechanized production equipment are available for increasing productivity if they are to be part of the main stream food industry. The most "reputed" food research institute with a history of more than 60 years has done very little to look at these products from a technological perspective. Catering training institutions with their emphasis on preparing their trainees for making prepared foods in eateries and hotels and presenting them attractively are constrained to go beyond recipes and preparation mode because of limited technical capability. Probably there is a need to set up "culinology" institutions in India which can combine recipes, preparations, process standardization and mechanization as the existing R & D players in the country have miserably failed to bring to surface the fantastic potential of Indian traditional foods to capture the imagination of the world, through their sheer negligence.

One may be tempted to ask the question as to how the industry is meeting the current needs of the market for some of the favorite foods in great demand, if large scale production facilities are not in existence and any one even faintly familiar with this industry knows that what is being offered through thousands of sweetmeat shops in the country have their origin in small homes and kitchens prepared by one or hundreds of artisans in hostile environment with sweat pouring from their bodies and presented attractively in small as well as big shops. Most "industrial" type kitchens employ these artisans who are mostly illiterate and who have very little knowledge about hygiene and sanitation though some units do deploy some mechanized unit operation equipment like grinders, mixers, fryers, stainless steel containers, pumps, extruder etc. There are also a few large scale players who do manufacture some traditional foods for pan-India markets using modern fryers, vacuum evaporators, continuous forming machine, canning facilities, inert gas filling units, modern packing materials, gas fired and electrical heating systems and others, rightly claiming to be technology savvy. Products like potato chips, canned gulab jamun and rasagolla, preserved shreekand, tetrapack lassi and chaas, inert gas filled snacks, roti and papads, chikki, spice mixes, traditional meal preparations in RTE format, many frozen products etc are coming from main stream food industry with well developed modern manufacturing facilities.

If there is a slow but perceptible trend of large manufacturing enterprises enjoying brand reputation entering the traditional food line, there must be money in this area of business. While technology, trained work force and financial resources are the foundation for a sound manufacturing entity, it is only in the area of good quality labor that organized industry feels the pinch and if they are not able to sustain themselves against SMEs it is only because their products do not compare well with that of SMEs with regard to authenticity and eating quality. This is where a trained working force will help them to bring up the credentials of their products. The million dollar question is from where they will get these personnel? The high tech courses run by Universities in food processing are not relevant as far as traditional food manufacture is concerned and any how a university trained food technologist will never agree to be a "Halwai" in the industry! The need for a short duration training course to benefit the traditional food industry is increasingly being felt and it is time for the AICTE to evolve a training course of the above type for universities and other technical institutions in different parts of the country on a priority basis.

While on the subject of training in ethnic food manufacture, the recent decision by a private institute in Orissa to start a one year course in sweet making for the benefit of local industry is a welcome development. Bikalananda Kar Industrial Training Centre at Salepur in Cuttack district has recently announced the launching of a one-year certificate course in sweet technology soon which if materializes may be the first such course in the country. According to the organizers the course is aimed at creating skilled manpower in sweet industry and stream lining local industry with use of modern technology and hygienic practices. As per the details provided the trainees, 64 in number every year with a Class X education, are expected to learn the art of preparing modern and traditional sweets popular locally. If learned food processing teaching faculty from the nearby Jadavpur University in West Bengal can pitch in to "train the trainers" through a well designed program, the course will become a technically sound one. Any such course must cover in a simple language preferably in local language various aspects of food processing operations relevant , machinery that can be used, importance of hygiene and sanitation, waste disposal, water quality, food safety and quality control, food microbiology, food contamination and food packaging. Tendency to over emphasize theory must be avoided as the trainees will have relatively low science awareness and practical aspects must receive priority.

It is good to see a new awareness being created regarding the heritage foods and their importance for the country. If their rich culinary qualities and nutritional advantages are rightly emphasized, there is no reason why Indian foods cannot capture the imagination of the whole world. What is needed is to accord high priority to them by the public funded R & D agencies and Universities in the country for making them more science based than artisan dependent and provide the industry with minimally trained work force. Institutions like the one in Cuttack must be replicated all over the country for which GOI and State governments should extend liberal financial support.


Sunday, September 4, 2011


Food is a multidimensional subject involving the interplay of chemistry, physics, biochemistry, microbiology, nutrition, sensory science, engineering sciences and agricultural sciences. All foods originate from living sources, be it animal, plant or microorganisms and in nature these sources exist in diverse forms and quality. The food technologists have the onus of safeguarding the quality and safety of foods, besides creating consumer friendly products with extended life through application of science and engineering. If one examines the development of food industry during the last hundred years, it can easily been seen that aspects concerning human health have been ignored with the result that modern society is afflicted with several life threatening disorders like CVD, Diabetes, Hyper tension, Cancer and many others and the temptation is always there to blame the industry for these ills because of wrong products being made and promoted.

What is the upper most consideration for any consumer when given a choice to choose a food? Obviously the consumer is carried away by the color, shape, aroma and eating pleasure provided by the product. It is said that a consumer eats a food first with his "eyes" followed by smell, touch sense and finally through the oral cavity. Ultimate acceptability is determined by the taste sensation caused by chewing, macerating and swallowing of the food. Tastes like sweetness, saltiness, sourness, pungency and bitterness, either singly or in combination provide the final taste perception which "persuades" the consumer to like or to reject. It is this "weakness" on the part of the consumer to go for organoleptically superior foods that is driving the processing industry to pamper to this factor through marketing such products. Does the industry care about the adverse consequences of such an approach? Rarely! In a fiercely competitive market probably the manufacturers of processed foods will have to be one step ahead for survival and they have no option but to cater to the demands from the consumers.

While developing a product food technologists invariably focus more on consumer acceptability rather than the healthiness of the product. Such a distortion of the development perspectives has taken place because of the consumer attitude under which nutrition of a product is relegated to the background. Can this situation continue like this for long without the adverse consequences manifesting in different ways in the coming years? If no restraint is exercised, future of mankind will be in jeopardy and in less than 5 decades the world will be full of giant looking obese people with high morbidity and diverse diseases. There are many initiatives at the national and international level to counteract such a change but with little impact. Foods containing high sugars, high fat and high salt continue to be developed and promoted and it is time food technologists world over change their stance to devote more time for evolving "healthy" foods with greater emphasis on nutrition in preference to sensory quality. A new paradigm will have to emerge to guide these efforts.

According to a recent report a new discipline appears to be emerging in the West to combine nutrition with culinary aspects of foods that will have more emphasis on health but giving equal importance to inter linked subjects like science, technology and preparation skills. Culinology as it is being called is still a new concept and no university is imparting training in this area so far. Probably the health foods, specialty foods, functional foods all may be based Culinology as such foods can emerge only by fusing the culinary skills with food science and technology that will ensure shelf stability and manufacturing wherewithal. Who will be the candidates for training in culinology? Chefs, food technologists or nutritionists? Obviously it has to be the Chefs because they have the necessary skill to create mouth watering recipes and of the basics of nutrition are imbibed they are likely to be in the fore front in developing exciting new foods with excellent health credentials.

Presently in India there are different types of training courses leading to a multitude of degree certificates and about 1000 graduates coming out of these institutions are misfits when it comes to developing healthy foods with high culinary quality. On the other hand there are many catering training centers turning out personnel for the hotel industry with major emphasis on the organoleptically sound products. These trainees are not imparted adequate knowledge about human nutrition and health. If the training course is modified to develop adequate skills for making nutritionally sound products with high culinary quality, trained personnel from such courses will bring out revolutionary changes in the health of the population over the years.