Tuesday, July 3, 2012


The quality of food one eats and the way it is eaten are both important, if optimum health is to be maintained. There are many unsolicited advices that are offered to those who are perennially looking for good foods that can provide right nutrition to the body. The basic nutrient make up of a food as declared in the front of the pack label reveals a lot but there are many other aspects such labels cannot tell the consumer. That is why health pundits always hold the view that more diverse the diet is, using a variety of foods, better it will be for keeping one healthy. Similarly the way one eats also has a bearing on the health of the individual. Faster one eats the food, more vulnerable will be the person to some of the eating disorders found prevalent in to day's society. It is for nothing that Buddhists are being projected as ideal eaters because they really enjoy eating the food slowly and with lot of respect for the food. To day's consumer is a much harried human being pulled from all directions with tons of information, often contradictory and confusing, regarding the best way to eat and live. The million dollar question that begs for an answer is whether to day's market environment will allow even a saint to desist from over indulging in food leading to predictable health consequences.

According to those who promote the concept of "Food Justice", consumers per se do not know what is really good for him but are "pressurized" by the market environment to invariably choose bad foods ( say junk foods?).  The economic compulsions further push him into the arms of the "wily" food industry who have the "expertise" to seduce the consumer through mouth watering products with low nutrient density at low cost while protective foods are priced exorbitantly high putting them beyond the reach of consumers who really need them. Those propounding "Food Justice" further feel that the State must play a crucial role in creating right environment for eating right foods. Recent policy orchestration by New York authorities to ban serving of sugary beverages beyond the size of 16 ounces is being criticized by the industry as well as some human rights activists as bordering on violation of the consumer's right to eat "what he wants, when he wants and where he wants'. What is forgotten in this semantic and sterile argument is that past history is replete with instances when the State had to intervene as in the cases of alcoholic beverages and tobacco smoking! If the State does such things for the common good of the citizen and majority consent to them it is no body's business to question the intention behind the move. 

Interestingly the New York move raises a far more serious question regarding the industrial practices which are often criticized for their negative impact on the well being of the citizenry.  Look at the advertisement blitzkrieg unleashed by the beverage industry against the government for such a small initiative and one can imagine the ferocity of such attacks if there were to be a total ban of sales of sugary drinks in the state! Is it that the industry does not have even an iota of consideration towards the consumer and is so brutal that it will go to any extent to sabotage such healthy measures? Is it not true that such mildly coercive policies are considered only when industry indulges in semantics when asked to voluntarily take action to modify their products in tune with standard nutritional and health standards? Now it is the sugar products that is making news but there are other issues like salt content in processed foods, trans fats and saturated fats which are potential mine fields for conflict between the industry and the consumer driven government policies.

An important question that is being debated is whether restricting serving size has any thing to do with obesity related problems. According to psychologists, the human behavior vis-a-vis eating food can be conditioned by the environment where food service takes place. It is the historical human weakness that when a large portion of food placed before him the tendency is to finish it off without leaving any thing back and this weakness is being exploited by the industry to push the consumer to binging. Added to this, the product pricing strategy which makes large portion sizes comparatively cheaper per unit acts as a motivation to buy larger sizes without the consumer realizing the consequences of over eating on his health. In American market larger the pack size or greater the number of units purchased, lesser will be the effective price to the consumer! Probably New York authorities have this odd behavior of the consumer in mind when the ban order was being considered. The argument that consumer freedom of choice is being curtailed cannot gel because no body prevents the consumer from buying multiple units if he really wants, though the policy makers rely on the consumer's inertia in picking up the second unit for bringing about net reduction in consumption of such dangerous beverages.

Recent trend that is perceptible in the market indicates that industry is really reducing the pack sizes not out of love of the consumers but for its economic benefits since lower quantity delivered without cutting down prices is a strategy adopted for countering inflation and protecting the bottom line. This trend was visible long ago in countries like India where substantial segment of the population has limited buying power and therefore cannot aspire to buy large packs costing exorbitantly. Thus the pack size and the buying capacity have a correlation which comes into play when food marketing strategies are worked out. The current trend in the US where pack sizes are reduced because of the economic down turn is simply a response by the industry to protect their financial health. Also coming into play is the convenience factor which is persuading the industry to go small and single use packs and if this trend grows as being anticipated, can also contribute its might in reducing food consumption in the market place. Taking into consideration these complex situations, state intervention will become more and frequent in future to protect the lives of its citizens food mercenaries.. 

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