Friday, March 27, 2009


The civilised food industry has found a new cheerleader - Omega-3 fatty acid. Good for them, I say, for their earlier darlings have lost their charm.

The food lobby comes up with these keywords, scary and deary alike; once it was cholesterol, then trans fat. MSG came into spotlight probably a decade ago. Several years ago, it was egg in UK (successively as hero and anti-hero). When I was young, I remember a crusade against potatoes. Dietary fiber is still going house-full. After red meat, yellow meat has followed leaving the rather tasteless white meat on the table.

The tag lines for these often read clinically proven. Of course, we should follow what is clinically proven. But should we banish wisdom from our menu? Does being rational entail brainwashing by commercial manifestos, supported by cleverly manipulated statistical results, which were in turn commissioned by the food lobby themselves?

I read such reports all the time in the news. E.g. today I read a BBC article saying

Drinking steaming hot tea has been linked with an increased risk of oesophageal (food tube) cancer, Iranian scientists have found.

The British Medical Journal study found that drinking black tea at temperatures of 70C or higher increased the risk.

The article then goes into some details of the test and its speculative nature. The actual report, I presume, is more detailed. But the news article could very well be used to promote iced chai latte (eeks!).

My problem here is two fold. Primarily, now I find the shelves of the supermarket loaded with all kind of synthetic junk labeled as "yummy yummy and with Omega-3". Am I supposed to eat for dinner huge portions of fish fillet, coated with strange seasoning and dipped in an unfriendly batter, deep deep fried and with a side of french fries sprinkled with extra salt to make it palatable? And feel good? Just because the fish has omega-3 fatty acid and the oil has no trans fat? I wonder which is worse, a normally cooked chicken leg quarter or a chicken breast cooked with extra salt and cheese.

The problem is partly due to the super-sized fantasies among the people here. Having created a perfect consumer market, they almost develop a fetish for products (apparently) guaranteed to have some good effect. But eventually we learnt that coke with no sugar is still bad; it has to be also caffeine free. Eating burgers fried in no-trans-fat oil is fine as long as part of a balanced moderate diet (anyone remembers McDonald's initiatives on obesity issues?). Vitamin supplements should be taken only when advised. A modern study (yet another!) even reported that egg has moderate cholesterol, safe enough to be consumed regularly by normal people.

Why can't the food lobby put up an ad saying, eat what your forefathers ate, home cooked food from fresh natural products. Genetics ensure that people from a particular locality thrive best on the local food that the race has consumed for centuries. If bored, try cuisines from other locality, but again choose fresh, natural goodies.

My other concern is that since the developing countries like to copy the habits of the developed countries, the mutated food habits find no time in invading the poorer regions of the world. The fun begins then. Western food industry, giving in to consumer demands or pure health concerns, fixes the problem. However, that "fix" is usually expensive or not so tongue-friendly, so it seldom crosses the ocean. Viola! Most Indo-Chinese food in India have high amounts of MSG (which is by the way, a synthetic version of a chemical found naturally e.g. in tomatoes and its fatality is still being debated) whereas, Chinese menu cards in the USA are often marked "No MSG".

I am glad that most people in India are so poor that they cannot afford brown bread made from enriched flour.

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