In this section, we discuss a few other isues relevant to our quest for a holistic concept of nutrition. This is done at the risk of appearing selective from a whole range and complex of issues concerning one of the oldest concerns of humankind.
Food Ideology, Food Preferences and Food Counter-Culture
Why people eat what they eat and especially, what they would like to eat, given no resource constraint, is often a matter of belief systems about food.
Food prefrences --the degree of like or dislike for a food--is determined by food ideology. Food ideology is the world view regarding foods, the set of attitudes, beliefs, customs and taboos affecting diet and nutrition. A certain degree of commitment to a particular food ideology, usually at variance and in opposition to prevailing dominant ideologies, results in what is seen as faddism or a food counter-culture.
'Food fads' and 'food counter-cultures' therefore serve a particular need, usually demonstrating a particular world view that is critical of the majority world view. Thus the food faddists' food preferences often end up making a public statement about self politics, society and/or religion (ansd not infrequently about health and nutrition too)through the kind of food practices they propagate. And for that matter, any kind of food one eats is a statement made or a commentary proferred. Reason and Logic as one undersands is modern science and nutrition is therefore not often the sole determinant of food preferences and certainly not of food tastes. That this is so has to be respected in making decisions about dietary guidelines for entire populations. The rise in food counter -cultures to the extent they are advocating ecological sistainability and equitable devlopment, have to be supported, for they question baisc issues that are taken for granted by many. Food tastes, therefore, in populations are a result of the collective hertiage of a group of what is good and bad food, what is rich/poor food, and what is prestige/non-prestige food. Constraints of food, and of cooking and natural resources as also constraints imposed by wheather and climate considerations, determine a whole culture of food.Thus rice and curds, are considered excellent, tasty foods in climate like that of Tamil Nadu while in North India, it is more likely to be considered relatively tasteless. The reverse holds for wheat products like rotis in the South. Whether rice came to be revered in South India after its easy cultivation was discovered, or vice versa, is difficult to say now. So also would one wonder about the metaphor of rotis as life giving bread in Hindi, Pinjabi,etc. (Though today after the Green Revolution, Punjab is the leading rice growing state in India!).
Food preference in India which was largely a function of castes and linguistic groups, is in contemporary India,also a function of class-- especially in the mobile top 5 perent of the population.
Traditional food ideologies are slowly, if imperceptibly, giving way to newer ideologies, at least among the literate middle and upper classes. In this, media and advertisement have had a large role to play.
As appreciation of food ideologies in ancient Indian scriptures is often useful in undersanding food ideologies of large sections of people in India even today.
Food, anna or ahara, has had multiple roles in ritualistic offerings to propitate the gods and the dead, and for appeasing priestly classes, for invoking the power of purity in celibacy and for virginity, and so on.
Types of Food Faddists and the Patterning of Self-Needs Their Feeding Practices Serve
|Type of Food Faddist||Need Served by the Fasd|
|1.||Miracle-seeker||Patterning need to establish stability regarding health, energy, etc Accompilished by diets intended to forestall aging or restore organism to health. Ego defense need to reestablish positive self concept and feeling of self-worth.|
|2.||Antiestablishmentarian||Self-realisation need to express self in a manner consistent with self-concept and value system.|
|3.||Super health seeker||Ego defense need to forestall aging process. Accomplished by diet intended to give super health. Self-realisation need to present front of strength and health.|
|4.||Distruster of medical||Ego defense need to establish control profession over own destiny and not be dependent on unknown others.|
|5.||Fashion-follower||Ego defense and patterning need to establish an identity to gain approval and acceptance from others.|
|6.||Authority-seeker||Self-realisation need for recognition of self- competency, provided by apparent knowledge in area of food information.|
|7.||Truth-seeker||Patterning need to process existing claims concerning nutrition.|
|8.||One concerned about||Patterning need for anchors and stability uncertainties of living concerning the world.|
|Source : V.A. Beal. 'Food Faddism and Organic and Natural Foods'. Paper presented at National Dairy Council Food Writer's Conference, Newport RI. May 1972. Quoted in Diva Sanjur. Social and Cultural Perspectives in Nutrition. Prentice-Hall. Inc. (N.J., 1982).|
In the Bhagvat Gita, Krishna classifies kinds of foods eaten by men of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas
Food which promote longevity, intelligence, strength, health, happiness and delight, which are sweet, bland, nourishing and agreeable, are dear to the Sattvic type of men.
Foods which are bitter, acid, salted, very hot, pungent, dry. burning and giving rise to pain, grief and illness aredear to the Rajasic type of men.
Foods which are bitter, acid, salted, very hot, pungent, dry, buning and giving rise to pain, grief and illness are dear to the Rajasic type of men.
Food whih is self-cooked, insipid, putrid, stale and polluted and aslo impure is dear to the Tamasic type of men.
Without debating the correctness of such a classification, it may be at best viewed as a food ideology. The underlying belief is that food determines character and character of person in turn determines intake of kind of food.
It is interesting to read MahatmaGandhi's interpretation of the above verse
If we cling to this classification, we shall not come to the right conclusion. Shrikrishna has first explained the qualities of the sattvik man and then his taste, etc. Ladu Lovers have included ladus in sattvik food. They do not help one safeguard one's brahmacharya. In interpreting the meaning of Rasya (relishing)too, we should use discrimination. There must have been a reason in that age for making such a classification, for there must have been persons even then who would eat a handful of chillies at a time. In the present age, there is no need for eating snigadha(containing fat) foods. If therefore we start eating ghee, our food would be, not sattvik or rajasik, but such as a demon would love. The inclusion of bitter, sour and saltish foods is quite correct. Then the verse mentions food which has been left over. Stilton cheese (a food containing countless gems) is of this class. Daliya and mamaru (processed gram and rice) do not belong to this class.
Food in the Vedic religion is also seen both as a source of temptation, a means to get ensnared in this worldliness and also as a means of transcending this world. Inthe Taittiriya Upanishad, the Creator is quoted as saying ' I am food...I am the eater of the food'. And him who eats food by himself I eat as food'.In the Kathopanishad, Nachiketa I stold, Who knows where He is - He to whom both Brahmins and Kshatriyas are as food, and death itself is condiment?'.
The cow, divine one like Kamadhenu, are a source of plenty of food and happiness...evidence certainly of a pastoralist view of life.
At most places, in Vedic texts, however,food is seen only as a means for attaining God. Restraint, poise and calmnessis advocated in taking food- the qualities of sattva. The Brahmasutra at one point equates 'eating'as the process of attaining the Absolute.(1.3.6)
-Bhrigu in Taitiriya Upanishad had described as realising food as Brahman, the Absolute(Annam Brahmati Vyajanat). 'For it is verily from food that all these beings take birth, on food they subsist after being born and they move towards and merge into food..."(III.ii.i).
A great deal of Indian food ideology is alo influenced by Ayurvedic, Siddha and Unani Systems of medicine as also in particular regions, the folk systems of medicine. Justice cannot be done to this vast area in the short scope of the present chapter. We, howver, refer the reader to Appendix 6 which is basically a brief survey of Ayurvedic perspectives on food.
Much of this Ayurvedic perspective, is, as the reader will note has passed into common popular wisdom in many parts of India.
The normal pusuits (eshana) of a healthy individual are threefold: to live long, to earn wealth as a means of fulfilment of passions and desires, and to have a plaesant existence beyond. These are respectively described in Charaka Samhita as: Pranaishana, Dhanaishana and Paralokaishana. Ayurveda is the science of first of these normal pursuits. To an extent , this is a concession of the Upanishadic and Vedic idealists to demands of real life. Divorced from the rigours of producing things or getting things done in the mundane sphere, the Brahminical iedalists could set forth on their mystical wanderings in which food is viewed in terms of going beyond. Baudhayana even went to the extent of observing that the Vedas and agriculture were destructuve of each other (Baudhayana Dharma Sutra - i.5.101).
Food counter-culture, or food ideology if you will , have therefore in a sense existed all the time in India. Every one of the myraid castes of India have their own do's and don'ts regarding food, tastes, digestion and seasonality of food intake, that each of them desrve a separate study. Invariably this has meant abjuring certain kinds of food on certain days or during certain seasons and investing each such act with religious and mystical sanctivity. The many food sub-cultures and counter-cultures traditionally prevalent in India probably correspond to the many ways of finding solace, of the many ways the self could relate to enviornment and universe beyond to find fulfilment and peace within. However, there is a certain a certain ambivalence anbout all this--a desire to have the best of both the worlds. Thus Krishna, the darling butter-thief in Gokul of preoperation flood era, is also the mischievous lover, and the man who divulges his Viswarupa while expounding on the battle field a philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita, that attempts to be at once pragmatic and idealist. The same Krishna elsewhere shares with his poor friend Sudama, the humble beaten rice, with great delight and relish, much to the wonder of his courtiers. One has to thank Indian heritage for this incident for it tends to promote a semblance of reverence towards simple foods in generations of children when the story is told and retoldon the laps of their mothers*
In twentieth century India, Mahatma Gandhi used food at several levels: the symbolic, the political and the political and spiritual. The Dandi March was a powerful use of the symbolism of salt while his abjurement of food, the hunger fast, was sused effectivley at the political level.
Food Counter-Cultures and Fads in the West.
The concept of natural, raw foods as superior food goes back in India at least, to Vedic ideology,where Sattvik persons relied apparently more on natural foods. Also in modern times in the West, natural foods are a reaction to the high degree of processing of foods by centralised big business, in effectalienating the consumers from earth, which is the source of all vegetarian foods. This is basically a socio-political response. More conservative nutritionists and toxicologists nevertheless tend to point out that 'naturalness' of natural foods is difficult to define.
If one decides that natural means that which is based on nature or, better still, which is imposed by nature, then there would appear to be an infinite variety of natural things. The composition of a foodstuff can vary considerably. This also holds true for meat; There is no such things as a meat; there are only meats!' Given such variety, how can one possibly select the truly natural product? How can one choose between wheat produced on land rich in selenium and wheat grown on normal land, which lacks this trace-element which these wheats is natural? Both can be considered natural, but wheat produced both on land over-rich in selenium and on land compeletely lacking it can be harmful to the consumer.
Food counter-cultures and fads in the last 20 years in the West have become more prominent becuase of their effective use of various forms of the media. The trend alternatively syled as the health food movement, in its recent incarnation, is a legacy of the counter-culture movements of the sixties, the Ant-Vietnam War movement, the increasingly critical consumer consciousness and of course the interest in mediation, eastern mystiicism and vegterarianism. The belief systems, governing these can be described as follows:
The Vegetarian Idea
These diets are marked by avoidance of animal proteins, eggs, chicken, fish, red meat, milk and sometimeseating only raw foods or grains--in varying combinations. Beliefs about non-violence to living creatures,ecoloical concerns about the high cost of producing animal proteins, its unhealthiness for the humanbody, its possible physio-logical and psychological effects on behaviour, govern the vegetarian idea.
This idea has resulted in and partially come out of the questioning of American agribusiness that raises animals on grain grown in Third World, and the consequent colonising of poor underdeveloped countries by agribusiness by turning such countries into cash economies. Also the myth that to be healthy and eat nutritious food, one has to eat non-vegetarian food per se has at least in some educated circles of the West been exploded by the vegetarian idea.
The Spiritual Idea
This is somewhat akin to the Vedic and and the Upanishadic perspective mentioned above. Food intake is means of practising the righteous life and conduct, of a means of achieving spiritual fulfilment.
The above belief systems are found in varying degree of combination among its followers. All these developments are to be viewed with great interest and respect because the followers of these various belief systems in the West have been more effective in grasroots dietary changes and in promoting public awareness towards ecologically more sustainable practices than most big funded nutrition education programmes of universities and government agencies.
Diet and Behaviour and Brain Sensitivity
The effects of nutrition on behaviour are subtle. It is generally accepted that some foods and nutrients affect certain behaviours.1 'Behaviours' like sleep, alertness and performance are or of course affected by foods and nutrients; alertness and performance can be affected by meal composition and size. Evidence available does not seem to support diet as a significant factor in mediating hyperactivity and criminal behaviour. Sucrose ingestion does not aggravate hyperactivity or contribute to learning or behavioural problems in children, as has been believed. The above is a ver brief summary of a symposium on diet and behaviour (cited above), essentially from a modern scientific theoretical standpoint.
Traditional Indian medicine, as we have already seen, views the question differently . The three doshas of Ayurveda - Vata, Pitta and Kapha-affect the individual according to her/his development, age, diumal and climatic changes and to the intake of food from external sources(see box on Tridoshas, Diet and Behaviour")
|Trishodas, Diet and Behaviour |
The doshas are specific in their functions: vata is responsible for circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems and for enthusiasm, speech, and sense acuity; pitta for digestion, heat in the body, vision, hunger, thirst, taste, softness of the body, pigmentation of the skin, lustre of the skin, intelligence, cheerfulness and courage; kapha for nourishment, viscidity, solidarity of the body, strength of the joints, sexual vigour, patience, forbearance and fortitude. The separation of limbs and the specificity of their functions even in the womb are due to vata: the strengthening of the limbs is due to pitta and the nourishment of blood and semen is due to kapha.
The three doshas are differentially related to the individual's own development stages, to the intake and food from external sources, and to the diumal and climatic changes in the surroundings. In infancy and childhood, kapha prevails in the body; in youth pitta and in old age vata. When one begins to eat food, kapha becomes predominant, halfway through pitta takes over and at the end vata. In the morning, it is kapha that prevails, during midday pitta and towards evening vatas likewise, in the first part of the night kapha, at midnight pitta and towards dawn vata. During the rainy season, vata is aggravated, during autumn pitta and in spring kapha.
The normal balance and proportion of the doshas are disturbed by articles of food, food-habits, behavioural peculiarities, seasonal influences, aging process and accidental occurances. The disturbances are manifested by characteristic symptoms. There are three possible conditions in which the balance of the doshas may be disturbed: (a) one, two or all three of the doshas may suffer waning, diminution, reduction (kshya), (b) one, two or all three of the doshas may increase or aggravate (vidhi) in the two stages by acceleration (prakopa) or accumulation(chaya), and (c) a dosha may leave its own area and move on to the area specific to another dosha (prasara)
When there is a diminution of vata, the individdual feels uneasy, loses consciousnrss and is in state of langour. However, when there is an aggravation of vata, roughness of voice, emaciation, constipation, insomnia and weakness are the guiding symptoms. In the diminution of pitta, burning sensations, desire for cold things, yellowish colour in the eyes, skin, faces and urine,in sufficient sleep, fainting fit,and weakness of the organs of the sense. When kapha suffers a diminution, dryness of skin, sensation of internal burning, feeling of emptiness in the stomach and other other cavities of the body, looseness of joints, thirst, weakness and insomnia are the symptoms. In the aggravation of this dosha, heavyness of the limbs, feeling of cold, drowsiness, excessive sleep, loose feeling of the joints and paleness of complexion are the symptoms.
Treatment consists in aggravating the dosha that has become diminished , diminishing the dosha that has become aggravated extracting the errant dosha and preserving the doshas that are in a state of balance.
Each of the three doshas is regarded as having five functional varities, each of which has specific locations (Ashtaanga-Hrdaya, Vagbhata, Sutra 12 and so on).
Source: Encyclopaidia of Indian Medicine, Vol. 2 Rao (1987). op. cit.
More recently some authors in the West have been developing the concept of brain sensitivity defined as a cross between anallergy and an addiction, a condition in which the person affected actually develops a craving for the food outside her/his awareness. Brain sensitivity is not only caused by food but also by various inhalants and chemicals. Brain sensitivity according to these authors, appears to be the cause of a whole range of major to minor problems, from barely noticeable irritations to acute forms of psychosios. It has been known to cause small discomforts, headaches, restlessness and more severe symptoms like anxiety, depression, outbursts of violence, migraines, etc. Fasting and deliberate food testing and recommended as a two step procedure for uncovering food sensitivities.
While more research is neededon this whole issue, it ought to be mentioned that some participants in groups and workshops conducted by the authors have been able to connect acute physical discomfort with various foods and sources of smell and dust. Once the connection becomes obvious, steps to cure and remission were seen to be relatively easy.
Commercialisation of Food
As already discussed, commercialisation of foods results in undesirable effects on people's nutrition--chief of which are shift in people's tastes--because of massive advertisements and sales promotion towards these commercial foods often at the expense of more nutritious, low cost, traditional foods. While poor people become poorer in the process, the beneficiaries are usually the ruling elite of politicians, business class and bureaucracy.
The baby food contraversy and the Pepsi-Cola deal are discussed here as examples from the many one can cite.
In the baby food contraversy, expensive baby foods like Amul, Lactogen, Farex, and milk powder and other so-called formula foods like Cerelac were promoted, and still continue to be promoted though more subtly, especially in poor countries. Physicians and paediatricians were given allurements to prescribe, saleswomen were disguised as nurses to recommend baby food associating it with mother's love and care. Many even went to say formula milk was better than breast milk. Mothers especially poor ones, would neglect breast feeding of infants as also not give them simple easily available mashed cereals and vegetables. When babies started dying because of bottle feeding (due to unhygienic boiling and in adequate nutrient intake) in African Hospitals, everybody concerned sat up. The WHO and UNICEF cmae out with codes to regulate the baby food industry.Several concerned people and physicians demanded banning of bottle feeding.
As of 1989, the Infant Milk Foods and Feeding Bottles Bill (1986) has been passed by the Rajya Sabha. The bill is yet to be passed by the Lok Sabha for it to become an Act. While key features of the bill (see box 'Clauses of the Baby Food Code')are commendable, it needs to be further strengthened by extending its scope to incorporating the following key issues:1
|Clauses of the Baby Food Code|
The Pepsico Deal
The Pepsico deal illustrates how governments can be opportunistic, sacrifice the pattern of socio-economic and agricultural development, and not worry about long term effects for short term gains.
India has had a vigorous soft drink industry (the relevance of soft drinks is itself questionable from nutritional and socio-economic points of view) especially after the enforced exit of Coca-Cola dureing the Janata regime. However, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola, arch rivals internationally, have been knocking on Indian doors ever since the fallof Janata government.
The Pepsi deal, basically to promote Pepsi Cola, was sought to be made attractive by playing the Punjab Card--typical of the aggressive marketing strategy of multinationals. The focus of the project was cleverly shifted to as one of advanced food processing and bringing in foreign exchange to the country by way of promised exports.
Government spokespersons have listed the following advantages of the deal:
The main components of the project are thus :
Table 14 and Table below give the capacities of the Pepsico units and the projected invcestment and sales.
|Unit||Capacity Sanctioned||Project Sales |
|1.||Processed potato/grain foods||8,000 MT||7450 MT|
|2.||Soft drink concentrates||20,000 units*||20,431 units*|
|3.||Processed fruit/gege||12,000 MT||11,755 MT|
|* one unit produces 1800 cases each case of 24 services of 225 milliliters each. Source: DSF. Ibid|
|Unit||Investment||Annual Sales (Year 5) Ex-factory|
|% of Total||Value|
|% of Total|
|1.||Soft drink Concentrate||5.55||26%||15.32||30.0%|
|2||Fruit/Vegetable Processing Unit||7.30||34%||13.52*||26.5%|
|3.||Potato/Gram Processing Unit||8.00||37%||21.96||43.1%|
|4.||Agro Research Centre||0.65||3%||0.20||0.4%|
|Source : PAIC (1986) p.8 and p.11-14. Quoted in DSF, Ibid|
The soft drink concentrate plant is really the focal point of the joint venture. With an investment of Rs.5.5 crores, it is expected to contribute at least 30% of the ex-factory sales of the centure. The concentrate will be sold to independent 100% Indian bottlers. The potato/grain processing plant is expected to produce 43% of the sales and the much advertised fruits and vegetable processing unit would contribute 26.5% of ex-factory sales. Apart from making potato wafers, soft drinks, and processed vegetables and fruits available inattractive packs, the whole deal will promote consumerism and wasteful expenditure and promote intake of calories at much higher cost than is possible.
A panel discussion organised by the Delhi Science Forum, Agricultural Research Service Scientists Forum and the CSIR Scientific Workers' Association put forth the following reasons also for abandoning the deal:
The following general points also considered by the above panel:
Here again we have a major venture, affecting rural peasantry, a process in which they will be made to be dependent on a multinational, thus further colonising the rural hinterlands. One shudders to think the long term nutritional effects of such colonisation, and of subjecting major agricultural areas to experimentation of hybrid seedswith attendant new viruses and diseases.