Monday, February 28, 2011


Bread that is consumed to day is based solely on wheat in which gluten is present in abundance for creating and stabilizing during fermentation the right matrix for the raised structure of the product. Though bread is made from white flour or "maida" as it is known in India, by majority of the bakery industry, consumer enlightenment about the nutritional and health advantages of whole wheat flour has compelled many bakeries, especially in the western countries to put out "whole wheat" bread. Technological constraints that posed logistical processing problems, when whole grain flour is used to make bread, do not exist any more with many permitted functional additives helping to maintain the eating quality as seen in white bread. Efforts all over the world by bakery scientists are focused on use of more and more non-wheat flours which are much more nutritious than wheat and consumers with gluten allergy cannot take wheat based breads. One recent development is note worthy where the bakery technologists have been able to substitute almost 60% of wheat with coarse grains like oats, rye and buck wheat with very little change in eating quality. Such developments augur well because of better utilization potential for the minor grains and more nutritional quality inherent in such novel bread products.

"In terms of single grain use in dough and bread from a nutritional and quality characteristic perspective, the team noted that oat and rye hydrated flours showed the best and the worst pasting and gelling characteristics respectively, while Kamut and spelt doughs achieved mechanical and fundamental rheological properties close to those obtained for wheat. "Oat, rye and buckwheat gave stiff (high values for hardness and storage modulus) and less cohesive doughs, which may hinder dough machinability during processing," commented the scientists. They observed that oat, rye and buckwheat gave breads with enhanced nutritional features (high RS, mineral, bioactive component and dietary fibre contents, low eGI and HI) but tough and closed crumb grain and low ratings by consumers. And the researchers concluded that the quality profile the mix of oat, rye, buckwheat and common wheat flours of Blend B (20:20:20:40 w/w/w/w) was the most suitable to make highly nutritious (improved dietary fibre fractions, minerals and antioxidant activity, slower starch hydrolysis), palatable, bread with good shelf life and easy handling during processing".

Arabinoxylan and beta glucan fibers present in grains like oats and rye offer advantages in terms of protecting the gut health of the consumers as they are not normally digested in the small intestine and production of life saving short chain fatty acids in the bowel by friendly microorganisms ensure protection from deadly diseases like cancer, reduce inflammation, stimulate growth of intestinal cells, help to reduce cholesterol and give relief from diabetic stress. It is time for such breads to be promoted massively by the governments through economic incentives to the industry while scientific efforts must continue to improve their quality further.


Sunday, February 27, 2011


Nutritionally unbalanced foods churned out by the processed food industry with more focus on sugar and fat to enhance sensory pleasure to the consumer are more or less acknowledged as the major culprit in the obesity epidemic that is rampant in some wealthy countries. Impartial observers have come to the conclusion that the industry needs to concede that it is to be blamed for "seducing" the consumer through many deceptive promotional activities. One such practice is to lace blatantly unhealthy foods containing high levels of sugar and fat with nutrients like vitamins and minerals and push them into the market as healthy foods. As many consumers are aware of the importance of vitamins and minerals in maintaining good health, they are naturally attracted to these foods unaware of the long term damage these energy rich foods can do to their health. This must be stopped at any cost if the world is to be saved from the unmitigated disaster from these foods.

"Vitamins and minerals can be added to most cereals, allowing them to be marketed as healthy, no matter how much sugar, fat or salt they contain. And they can be added to drinks, as long as they contain less than 75 grams of sugar per litre - about three-quarters of the sugar content of Coca-Cola. But as most Australians are already getting enough nutrients in their diets, it is the manufacturers - who use them to promote their products - that benefit most from minerals and vitamins being added to food. ''Unfortunately, too often it is the marketing goals of a food manufacturer rather than health concerns that explain why many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals,'' says Mark Lawrence, associate professor at Deakin University's school of exercise and nutrition sciences. ''It is often the most highly processed sugary and salty breakfast cereals that are most heavily marketed to children, and the marketing approach appears to be that if you sprinkle some nutrients on them they can masquerade as a healthy food,'' he says. So as the nation grows dangerously fat, who is to blame? Consumer and health experts say that when it comes to decisions about laws governing what we eat, food industry demands for ''innovation'' and marketing opportunities have at times trumped warnings about health. Australia's food industry wields a mighty influence. It employs more than 315,000 people, and is the nation's biggest manufacturing sector. It also boasts one of the nation's most effective industry lobby groups, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, which is headed by former pharmacist and ACT chief minister Kate Carnell. It is based in Canberra just down the road from Parliament House and around the corner from the national food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Webs of influence criss-cross industry-funded food bodies, universities and government-backed food regulators. It is not unusual for people to work for all three simultaneously. Meanwhile, consumers - time-poor and budget-conscious - are left in the dark, as decisions are made behind closed doors about what goes into the food they eat, and what information they are given about it. Food in Australia is cheap, plentiful and - from a hygiene point of view - overwhelmingly safe to eat. But something, somewhere, has gone wrong. One in three Australian adults is overweight, one in four is obese, and the rising toll of lifestyle-related diseases means that today's teenagers may have a shorter lifespan than their parents".

Though the above situation is reported from Australia, the scenario is not much different in many other countries with high per capita income. In any debate that touches on the above problem the rights of the industry to cater to the needs of the consumer always pops up and it is a potentially divisive issue unless the government, industry and the consumer community have a consensus. Unfortunately the industry does not work for charity and being investors they have every right to work for ensuring reasonable returns on their capital. What is possible is to moderate the profit objective to accommodate the sound principles of consumer welfare. This is possible only if industry works on a common platform, shunning bad foods collectively and promoting only sound foods based on a frame work of guidelines arrived at by consensus. Government "stick" to force a solution must be the last resort if industry does not self-discipline itself.


Saturday, February 26, 2011


Is there any relation between global warming and the foods consumed by human beings? It is known that agriculture and animal breeding contributes significantly to green house gas emission but hitherto food has been a "holy cow' not considered for any action that can ameliorate carbon emission to any significant extent. How ever a few concerned groups of activists want a drastic moderation of the diet in many western countries which are meat-centric so that emission reduction targets being committed by them can be met with minimum pain. Here is a take on this important issue.

"According to the Livewell report released by wildlife charity WWF and the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, red and white meat are "hotspots" for environmental impact. Latest figures showed the UK diet currently includes around 16% meat. The Livewell 2020 regime would also involve eating more fruit, vegetables and cereal, and less processed products to reduce the environmental impact of the food industry. Authors of the report said the low-carbon diet, which still allows for chocolate, crisps and chips, would cost £28.40 per person per week compared with an average spend of £32.12 per person in 2009. It said: "With increasing recognition of the environmental impact of food and drink, future food policy and dietary advice need to go beyond the traditional focus on nutrient recommendations for health to include wider issues of sustainability." As well as a small percentage of meat, the Livewell 2020 diet also includes 35% fruit and vegetables, 29% bread, pasta, rice and potatoes and 15% dairy products".

"A seven-day sample menu included a breakfast of high-fibre cereal with semi-skimmed milk, wholemeal sandwiches for lunch and dishes such as chicken curry and rice, macaroni cheese and chilli beef tortillas for dinner. The report also said it was possible to reach the 2050 target of 70% less greenhouse emissions through a more limited diet. Colin Butfield, WWF's head of campaigns, said: "If we want to protect the species and forests that are at the heart of WWF's work, then we have to fundamentally change our food system. "Today's report gives a picture of a way of eating that is good for the planet and good for your health too. For some, it might even be cheaper. "This is not a radical proposal – it's a diet that contains meat or fish every day and that includes everything from chicken curry to macaroni cheese. "The debate on the environmental impacts of food has often been polarised around meat-eating versus vegetarianism. This is unhelpful".

In a country like the UK where average consumption of meat through the diet constitutes 16%, aspiring to bring it down to 4% may be too much to ask for. Nevertheless the very fact that food is recognized as a villain in carbon emission is a welcome development. Also praise worthy is the realization that food has connotations beyond nutrition and human health and the fact that the above group has been able to come out with an equally nutritious diet with just 4% meat speaks well about the awareness of the problem that confronts humanity to day. It may be recalled that some western critics had blamed developing countries with millions of smoke belching choolas (kitchen hearths) and heavily farting, methane emitting free roaming livestock animals for the global warming! "Sacrifice" is the answer for today's uncontrolled carbon emissions and sacrifice must be made equitably by every denizen in this world for a better tomorrow.


Friday, February 25, 2011


GM foods and those who unleashed these "unnatural" behemoth are casting their evil eyes in South Africa and how far the regulatory agencies there will be able to resist these attempts is worth watching. While the compulsory labeling of GM foods can be considered as a success for the consumer protection efforts in that country, some loopholes provided in the legislation may neutralize these gains. Here is a take on the above developments in South Africa, considered a major testing ground in the continent for the GM lobbyists.

"Africa Centre for Biosafety director Mariam Mayet said last week that the 5 percent threshold was "very ambiguous and highly misleading", as it did not explain if it applied to single ingredients or the total contents of food products. The regulations say that if manufacturers cannot test for genetically modified organisms, then food can be labelled: "May contain genetically modified food", which gives them a convenient loophole. "This is contrary to the spirit of the new legislation, which is to provide consumers with adequate information," Mayet said. European trading partners only tolerated a 0.9 percent threshold, so it made sense to set South Africa's threshold at the same level to develop one segregation system for local and international foods, she said. The regulations only specify disclosure for maize, soya and canola. Other products would be excluded from labelling, giving consumers the impression they were buying food that was free of genetically modified organisms. "The Department of Trade and Industry must draft (legislation) in a clever way so it covers future crops," Mayet said. Genetically modified salmon has been approved in the US and there have been attempts to register genetically modified potatoes in South Africa. But Mayet said the department should be applauded for pushing ahead with greater disclosure of genetically modified content in food. "Our concern is about the growing dominance of a small number of seed companies, which are increasing control over food production." Three of the largest genetic engineering companies operate in South Africa: Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred (a subsidiary of DuPont) and Syngenta".

The right of the consumer to know about the nature of foods being bought in the market cannot be usurped or by-passed by the regulators whatever be the pretext and hence the compulsory labeling provision deserves to be applauded. The limit of 5% prescribed for the GM version that can be present in normal foods is some what arbitrary and if one goes by contemporary practices in vogue, more appropriate would have been some thing like 0.5%. Why the new labeling provision is restricted to only three crops defies logic and a more appropriate action could have been to apply the standards across the entire food chain. One can only hope that better sense will prevail eventually amongst the policy makers.


Thursday, February 24, 2011


Organic food products command premium prices because they are supposed to contain only natural ingredients and are devoid of any synthetic chemical substances. Recently a controversy arose due to marketing of organic milk containing added DHA to boost its nutritional vale. While in a normal product such addition would not have raised any eye brows, organic foods can contain legally only substances included in the government -permitted list of additives. No doubt DHA is an important essential nutrient, especially for brain development and the industry probably thought that it, being a naturally occurring substance, can be safely added to organic foods without violating the concerned rules. Besides it was allowed to be used before in organic foods which was later rescinded. Probably the process of producing DHA involving culturing of algae and subsequent extraction using organic solvents could have disqualified it being a natural substance eligible to be added to organic milk.

"This is a willful and flagrant violation of the law governing organic foods" states Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group. Federal law strictly prohibits synthetic additives in organic foods unless the additive appears on the USDA's National Organic Program's list of allowed substances. Ingredients are included on this list only after careful review and approval by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an expert advisory panel, and the Secretary of Agriculture. Synthetic materials on the list include benign substances like baking powder that are not available organically but important for commercial food production.

"The specific type of laboratory-produced DHA oil that Horizon adds to its milk has never been reviewed by the National Organic Standards Board or approved by the USDA" explains Charlotte Vallaeys, a Farm and Food Policy Analyst with The Cornucopia Institute. Due to its past unauthorized use, federal regulators recently issued a statement confirming that adding these synthetic oils violates the Organic Foods Production Act. "It is therefore absolutely baffling that Dean Foods would introduce a product with synthetic DHA and have the audacity to label it organic, and it's even more disturbing that their certifier would allow this" Vallaeys stated. In addition to Dean Foods, a few other food processors and several infant formula manufacturers have included the synthetic additive, manufactured by Martek Biosciences Corporation, in organic products, despite their lack of approval. From documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Cornucopia discovered that the USDA, under the Bush Administration, had informally allowed the additives in organic foods after a backroom deal with corporate lobbyists. After numerous appeals by The Cornucopia Institute, and an investigative article in the Washington Post that exposed corruption under the previous administration, new leadership at the USDA's National Organic Program publicly acknowledged, in April 2010, that the Bush administration had misinterpreted federal rules when allowing Martek's DHA algal oil in organics.

It is a paradox that a well proven nutritional nutrient that could have increased the health value of the product when incorporated is sought to be prevented under the existing regulations. One wonders as to how the DHA fractionated from algal fat can be called synthetic as it is obtained by a physical process not involving any chemical reaction. If algal DHA, a patented product, is proved safe through scientific studies, there should not be any bar in using the same in products to boost their overall value to the consumer through limited interpretation of the rule book. Probably it may be time for these rules to be changed to accommodate such high nutrition value ingredients in as many processed foods as possible.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


With increasing emphasis on consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables which are considered protective foods, the logistics of making them available at affordable cost to the citizens must receive priority in every country that cares for its population. In a country like India there is practically no access for the consumer to the farm gates to buy their small daily needs directlyand most depend on retail markets which are set up in almost all urban and semi-urban areas at strategic locations. As for the villagers there are weekly shandies or rural market gatherings where fresh produce is offered to population from nearby villages. In contrast there are the so called wet markets in some countries like Malaysia which converge in assigned areas every day opening for business in the mornings. In Pakistan there is the phenomenon of Sunday Bazaars which congregate once a week at designated places for the people to buy their needs of fresh foods. The experience in Pakistan shows that unless the civic bodies actively support and render assistance to these markets, they could become places shunned by the consumer unable to bear the mental and physical strains in accessing to such markets.

"The Sunday bazaars are losing their vitality, as there is a minor difference of food items prices at these bazaars set up to provide relief to the citizens and other markets of the city. The visitors told Daily Times that after paying high transport fare to arrive these weekly bazaars they found a minor difference in bazaar prices as compared to markets close to their residences. A comparison of prices at Sunday bazaars and fruit and vegetable markets showed that the Sunday bazaars' market authorities did not check the fruit and vegetable market rates while fixing the prices of different items. Moreover, the weekly bazaars have failed to provide quality food items, especially vegetables and fruits to the residents at reasonable prices. During a visit Daily Times found that the prices of most of the items in bazaars were only Rs 3 to 5 less as compared to other city markets. A customer Tariq Hussain said the provision of essential commodities to the masses at controlled rates was the main purpose to establish these bazaars, but the government was paying no attention to control the rates and they just issued lists and never bothered to implement the price list.He said in Rawalpindi bazaars the stalls had been set up near drains, which was dangerous for public health and sanitation was in worst condition at these bazaars. The visitors also complained of traffic mess on the roads leading to these bazaars due the apathy of traffic wardens"

"The traffic on the congested road of the Committee Chowk weekly bazaar, Shamsabad, Chungi No 22, Satellite Town and Dhoke Kala Khan weekly bazaars was also not different. The traffic police authorities deployed only few wardens at the weekly bazaars and they failed to maintain smooth flow of traffic. The bazaars also lacked proper parking facility. Most of the customers parked their vehicles on the main roads hindering the traffic flow. "You go to bazaar for shopping and could not return without paying fine on no parking violation, said Nazir Ahmed, a visitor to Shamasabad Sunday bazaar. "I don't mind but my question is where should we park our cars for shopping," he questioned, adding, has the city district government allocated some place for car parking and if not then why police impose fine."

While the concept of Sunday Bazaars is a sound one, its planning and location call for great care. Besides focusing on the convenience of the consumers, its location should also make it easy for farmers to reach the place for offering their produce. In the US Farmers' Markets are thriving and the support extended by the local authorities goes a long way making them an attractive place to go for shopping. Unlike the fresh produce offered by the Super markets, Farmers' Market really sell farm fresh products brought direct from the cultivation area with minimum time lapse. Ideally all countries must strive for such vibrant Farmers' Markets that will serve the interests of both the grower as well as the consumer.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Read the "exhortation" from the Food Czar at Delhi (Bureaucrat) about what should be done to promote Goan foods in the country! If there is an award for talking through the air, it must go to this person because all the things he said about promoting food industry in Goa have been heard before and nothing much has happened any where. According to this preacher, presiding over the bureaucratic section of the MFPI at Delhi, Goa should have its own food "research" laboratory and one wonders whether he has any clue regarding the logistics involved in setting up a brand new research set up. Probably he must be thinking that providing money would automatically lead to creation of new technical institutions. This is when the conditions in most food technology institutions are pathetic with practically nothing worth while emerging from them that is useful to the industry. If this is so, building another institute is nothing but fool hardy.

"Ashok Sinha, secretary, union ministry of food processing industries, announced at the national food seminar "Goa FoodPro" held in Panaji on January 30 that Goa can set up 1,000 food carts around Panaji under the Central scheme which will generate employment in the state. The seminar was organised by the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). "Goa should stake a claim to the Centre's food street scheme. We can cover at least one street with basic infrastructure for it to be a food street. One thousand carts can come up in Goa, in and around Panaji, providing street food. It will help in employment generation in the state, which I am told is an issue," Sinha said. He also suggested to chief minister Digambar Kamat that the state should get at least one food technology laboratory to package Goa's ethnic food to be marketed in all major tourist destinations in the country. "At least one food technology laboratory should come up in Goa. A high-level committee for food processing has already been set up in Goa and I know that an institute of food processing is an integral part of the committee's plans," Sinha said. Sinha also said food items unique to Goa should be made available across shelves in the country with better packaging and marketing. "Each state should have a shelf of Goan food like bebinca. No product can sell by itself. There has to be packaging to add value," he said.

Interestingly this gentleman wants the new research set up to carry out work on "packing" of Goan foods with out realizing the complexity of the job. There is already an institute under CSIR, another under DRDO and two others under the MFPI itself from where must seek answers as to what research is being conducted by them on hundreds of traditional foods of India and demand accountability for the vast funds invested in them by the government. Creating more institutions is not the answer but putting the already existing infrastructure facilities and precious personnel pool available here to better use must be the mission of MFPI. The traditional foods have been neglected by food scientists in this country for too long and it is within the power of the GOI to give clear direction to these institutions to focus on Indian foods popular in different states to come out with commercial technologies for their preservation and marketing within India and abroad. What ever items of traditional food that are available in stabilized format in the market owes their existence not because of these redundant research out fits but in spite of them!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


It is rare for any politician to think or talk about food research, let alone take some concrete action to push for meaningful scientific endeavor in food area. Look at the situation in India where no politician seems to be so much concerned about food except probably eating it! Occasionally they talk about "aam admi" and make promises ad libitum to remove hunger and poverty without really meaning and the series of scams one hears about recently should be seen in this context. All they are interested is in improving the financial fortunes of themselves and their kins by any means. It is in this context one has to see the pronouncement by a British MP regarding the importance and relevance of research in food and agriculture to the economy of that country.

"George Freeman MP, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science & Technology has visited crop research centre NIAB on Huntingdon Road to stress the potential of the region for agricultural research and the life sciences sector, calling for a food innovation centre to be set up. He said his visit was part of a drive to unlock the East of England's significant strength in the sectors: "By linking Norfolk's traditional strength in agriculture and food sciences with institutions in Cambridge and specifically NIAB we can unlock lots of new opportunities in this area." He added: "The recent Foresight report into food security identified a clear need to support and encourage our agricultural research and food sectors. "Producing more agricultural outputs with fewer inputs is one of the biggest challenges facing us in the 21stcentury, and, through world-leading independent crop research centres such as NIAB, Britain is well-placed to play a key role in addressing that challenge and the economic benefits this will entail." But, he said, much of the UK's life sciences research needed closer co-ordination to get quick results in the ground: "The urgency of the food security challenge, and the long-term nature of the research involved, are such that we need to act now. That's why I am encouraging those in the industry and research community to explore setting up a specific technology innovation centre for the food and agricultural sciences in the UK to bring together our leading scientists. "With leadership and collaboration, our food sciences industry can be a major driver of economic growth over the next decade and East Anglia is extremely well placed to benefit from this."

The depth of his understanding about the subject is remarkable and no wonder he is heading the S & T parliamentary group vested with the responsibility of foreseeing the needs of the future in some of the areas of science and technology. While most political bosses talk about immediate future this MP had the vision to see far ahead and identify areas of critical importance that require investment now. Fragmented research is the order of the day and there is very little coordination amongst researchers leading to duplication of efforts and dilution of the likely impact. In India also research efforts are scattered with no link to the end user resulting in enormous waste of resources. Unless the scientists and technologists are brought under one umbrella and research programs are conceived and executed in close liaison with the industry the existing moribund situation will continue for ages.


Sunday, February 13, 2011


The Egyptian pro-democracy revolt going on currently was able to topple the dictatorial regime there but it has also focused light on the potential danger of spiraling food prices that can engulf the whole world into chaos, if adequate remedial measures are not taken immediately. If market forces are responsible for this tragedy, corrective steps can always be considered through concerted policy orchestration. Unfortunately the price rise is not driven by the classical demand-supply equilibrium normally seen during production shortage due to natural causes like drought, floods etc and many economists are of the view that one country in this world is responsible for the distorted price situation. That is the United States of America which is pursuing a reckless policy of subsidizing its petroleum oil industry for using corn derived alcohol for blending with fossil fuel, thus diverting almost 40% of its corn crops for alcohol fermentation. The dramatic chain effect of the above policy is being felt world over, especially in African countries where wheat and corn prices have hit the roof! Here is commentary on this vexed issue.

"Higher commodity prices are "leading to riots, demonstrations and political instability," Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economics professor who predicted the financial crisis, said on a Davos panel. "It's really something that can topple regimes, as we have seen in the Middle East.""This protest won't end in North Africa; it will spread in many countries because of high unemployment and increasing food prices," Hamza Alkholi, chairman and chief executive of Saudi Alkholi Group, said in an interviewduring Davos. The price of corn has surged 88 percent over the past year. That in turn has pushed wheat up - 114 percent - and Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat. And as the Technology Review pointed out in 2007, just before the first price spike you can see in that graph, "The situation will only get worse, says David Pimentel, a professor in the department of entomology at Cornell University. "We have over a hundred different ethanol plants under construction now, so the situation is going to get desperate," he says. Adding to the worries about corn-related food prices is President Bush's ambitious goal, announced in his last State of the Union address, that the United States will produce 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2017".

Is it not a tragedy of Himalayan proportion that valuable food is being diverted for non-food purpose for the enjoyment of super rich people lucky to be in the USA for driving their automobiles? Of course USA is a sovereign country and it has the right to do whatever it feels right to favor its citizens but can human beings be so inconsiderate towards their fellow cohabitants on this earth and it is inconceivable as to how they can live in luxury while those less fortunate brethren living in the poor and impoverished countries of Africa die of starvation and malnutrition. Unless the above policy is halted immediately for which international pressure will have to be exerted, there is real danger of the whole world plunging into anarchy sooner or later. There are many other sources from which alcohol can be made without affecting the food supply dynamics and commercial biotechnology routes are now available to make alcohol using carbon sources like agricultural wastes generated during harvesting and processing. Talking about economic aid has no meaning unless sustainable development models of perennial nature are provided to the poor farmers of the third world..


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Saturday, February 12, 2011


Managing a student hostel is fraught with many problems and no one knows this better than a warden who has the experience of running such a set up. While most problems can be solved provided adequate resources are invested, food is a very difficult area in which universal satisfaction can never be guaranteed. In India many universities have their own hostels and canteens and in most cases the running of these institutions are left to private enterprises as the logistics of food service is not amenable to a bureaucratic system of management. While students depending on hostel foods do not expect the same with home taste, at least some modicum of standard is expected from those running mess services in these institutions. The most frequently heard complaints concern hygiene, sanitation, eating quality and monotony of foods prepared and served every day. Price has assumed importance recently because of the run away food inflation being experienced all over the country. It is left to the students of the University of Pune to raise some sort of banner of revolt to sensitize the university authorities about the travails of eating bad food they undergo every day with no solace coming from any where. Here is a take on that development.

Students on the University of Pune (UoP) campus have demanded that nutritious food be served at the canteens in their hostels. Earlier, their agitation against the hike in rates had forced the four canteen operators on the campus to roll back the prices. However, now, the quality of food is poor, they complain. On Monday, over 30 students from various departments, mostly hostelites, met vice-chancellor Raghunath Shevgaonkar and presented a list of demands. The students had planned a morcha, but dropped the idea as the police have issued guidelines against morchas to administrative buildings, said graduate senate member Shashikant Tiokate. Meanwhile, students' representative Vishwajeet Singh told DNA that the food served in the canteens on the campus is not nutritious. "We demanded that private mess operators not be given entry to the campus due to various reasons," he said.

It is the responsibility of organizations like universities to ensure that the health of thousands of students coming from far away places is not affected by bad food service from quality and nutrition angles and legally students can take recourse to remedial measures through judiciary for dereliction of duty. It is difficult to understand why food service does not get the attention it deserves because a gastronomically disgruntled student can never become an "achiever", no matter how many years one has to spent in the university. It is time that teaching institutions invest in creating decent functional kitchens and modern catering facilities to satisfy the student community vis-a-vis their food needs and reap the benefit of a tranquil campus!.


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Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Government agencies have a knack in recycling old schemes as new from time to time and here is an example of such approach which was announced by the minister for food processing recently in Rajya Sabha! Street vending of foods is a phenomenon that is common in many developing countries and there is hardly a place in India where street vending is not visible. As early as 2 decades ago efforts were made to make foods offered by the street vendors safe through training and improved infrastructure that would improve the hygiene and sanitation significantly. How ever these efforts were far and few in some places with no national foot print. Unhygienic foods continue to be served and gullible public continue to patronize these road side vending outlets with no sense of fear or reservation. Repeated pleas to create specialized food courts in all towns, especially in tourist places, for small scale food vendors have fallen on deaf ears and the present announcement about "safe food towns" or upgrading street foods will have to be taken with a pinch of salt. The grand declaration does not carry conviction because there is no raod map for achieving the desired result.

"Minister of Food Processing Industries Subodh Kant Sahai has said that his Ministry has mooted a scheme for "Upgradation of Quality of Street Food" for implementation of the 11th Plan period. Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha recently, he said the scheme is yet to be approved by the Ministry of Finance for implementation on a pilot basis in 11 cities in the Safe Food Town component and 6 cities in the Food-Street Component. He said the outcome of these pilot projects would help the Ministry in implementation of the scheme more effectively in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17). Mr Sahai said initial preparatory work had been initiated in 2008-09 for "Safe Food Town" component of the Scheme in 11 cities - Ranchi, Nagpur, Kochi, Ludhiana, Jaipur, Agra, Guwahati, Agartala, Shillong, Panaji and Surat and for "Food-Street" component in Tirupati, Hyderabad, Amritsar, Varanasi, Udaipur and Guwahati".

It was only recently that Chandigarh had the mortification to see its food court, first in the country, becoming a center for undesirable activities, especially during late hours because of gross negligence and mismanagement. The concept of a food court with good common facilities and impeccable hygienic environment is considered excellent because such facilities can ensure use of safe water and supporting facilities for the customers. Those who take up street vending go for it because of limited invest capability for setting up their own facilities in prime areas where crowds congregate and food courts located strategically can rehabilitate these less fortunate entrepreneurs.


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The year just passed by had seen many governments grappling with the over weight and obesity epidemics visiting their citizens and how best to dissuade the consumers from gorging on high energy, high fat, high sugar foods. By now it is universally recognized that there is an established connection between unbalance foods and bad health conditions and unless more discipline is exercised regarding eating, more and more resources, personal as well national, will have to be deployed to fight the impact of bad eating. Of course there are many reasons as to why people binge on foods but the fact remains that like an addiction the habit of consumption of harmful foods refuses to go away creating more moribund people requiring medical attention and treatment. One of the suggestions which is being considered by many countries involves imposing extra taxes on processed foods containing high fat, high sugar, high saturated fat and high salt content. Probably Denmark gets the credit being the first country to impose such taxes on foods not considered healthy. While government coffers will be augmented by these taxes, the consumer can be expected to patronize such foods less frequently. A win-win situation? Wait and see!

"Fatty foods and candy could soon be swelling the coffers of the Danish state by up to DKK 1.5 billion per year with the introduction of an 'unhealthy food tax' at the beginning of 2010. A new study by the Confederation of Danish Industry's Food Branch (DI) reveals that a range of taxes on chocolate, sodas, sweets and ice cream would generate well over 1 billion kroner, making Danish indulgence the costliest in the entire EU. There are also suggestions to impose a saturated fat tax on butter, margarine, vegetable oil and cheese of DKK 25 per kg, in line for introduction in mid 2010. This will represent an overall increase of 27 percent in food charges says the report in the Copenhagen Post".

Whether Denmark, part of the large European Union, is suitable for experimenting with the new approach, may be debatable because those bent on eating calorie-rich foods can alway cross the borders to lay their hands on such foods at much lower cost, defeating the very purpose of the legislation. One is reminded of earlier cases of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes which are heavily taxed to discourage consumption due to their adverse influence on human health but these products continue to be marketed even to day in almost all parts of the world. Whether same thing can happen to calorie rich foods also remains to be seen!


Tuesday, February 8, 2011


The conventional theaters have been losing ground ever since the advent of VCD and DVD formats of movie which can be watched at home without going through the hassles involved in going to theaters. Over the last fast few years theaters have been losing their customers and due to difficult cash flow situation maintenance became the main casualty. Innovations like high quality sound systems, 3D viewing etc did not help the matter much. Cable TV, DTH telecasting and similar developments further affected the viability of movie theaters very significantly. Pirated video discs, rampant in countries like China, India and other developing countries did not help the cause of movie theaters. Increasing the audience size is the constant endeavor of theater owners and no effort is spared to achieve this objective. It is against this background that new formats are being triedout to lure audience by way of providing the excitement of a high class dining experience

"Under pressure from viewers as well as movie-industry executives, the country's theater chains are trying to win back moviegoers—with food. Audiences at a growing number of theaters can order such dishes as chinois chicken salad rolls or limoncello-tossed shrimp. More middle-of-the-road fare is also available, like cheeseburgers and chicken caesar salads. Seats in these so-called "in-theater dining" cinemas are big and plush. Lobbies are luxurious, with art on the walls and mood lighting. Popcorn is often complimentary and a full bar is de rigueur.

Theater chains hope the new style of film-watching—which has previously been the realm chiefly of small independent theaters—will help boost the number of moviegoers after years of flat attendance. Other recent efforts to get more people in the doors include offering reserve seating online and more movies in 3D. But in-theater dining represents one of the movie-theater industry's biggest bets to expand its static audience size. "I am one hundred percent sure that these theaters are the future of movie-going," says Jeffrey Katzenberg, an industry veteran who once served as studio chairman at Walt Disney Co. and is now chief executive of DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. "These new theaters really up the quality of experience because they require a high degree of service that movie theaters have lost." A few years ago, a handful of such theaters existed in the country. Now, the National Association of Theatre Owners estimates that the U.S. plays home to roughly 300 to 400 cinemas with restaurant service out of roughly 5,750 total theaters. Industry analysts predict that number could double over the next few year"

It may be recalled that movie theaters used to have several categories of seating with the "Box" seating being the most coveted. Then came the "Balcony", followed by others, ending up in the bare floor almost in front of the screen! Probably if dining facilities are to be incorporated, there has to be a total reconfiguration of the seating arrangement involving lot of ergonometric innovations. With multiplexes being set up in many metropolitan areas, such changes may be easily achieved. Future movie theaters may make more money out of food catering inside the cinema hall than that from tickets sale!


Sunday, February 6, 2011


No wonder that United States of America continues to dominate the food technology landscape in the world. Some of the best teaching universities on the subject are located in this country and their close linkage with the processing industry ensures flow of unlimited knowledge that enables the latter to come out with thousands of products in the market to meet the needs of every segment of the consumer population. One of the biggest weaknesses in Indian food technology teaching scenario is the "bookish" knowledge transferred by the faculty to the raw students with practically no access to hands on experience using state of the art processing facility. It is a pity that most of the university institutions boasting of high standard of teaching have pathetic pilot plant facilities with archaic equipment that can be seen no where in the world, fit to be put in a museum!. Here is an example of a premier University in the US going about the task of upgrading the food technology training facilities to make them the best in the world.

"Sacramento now has a new wireless fermentation system at UC Davis. It's part of a food-processing complex on campus that also now has a new sustainable winery and brewery along with its food complex. Check out the latest January 28, 2011 UC Davis news release of what's brewing in Sacramento that may affect your health in whatever way you responsibly choose. The good news, it's sustainable. And that's a healthy trend for Sacramento and Davis.See, UC Davis toasts new sustainable winery, brewery and foods complex. How does that sound to you--in the Sacramento-Davis regional area, a first rate university now toasts its new brewery? According to today's news release from UC Davis, hundreds of friends, supporters and alumni joined the new brewery, winery, and foods complex at the University of California, Davis. Today the university officially opened the doors to the world's most environmentally sophisticated facility for making wine, brewing beer and processing foods. How many said, "I'll drink to that?"The new, 34,000-square-foot teaching and research complex, located within UC Davis' Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, was financed entirely by private philanthropy — no state or federal funds were used. The campus received more than $20 million in private support to construct and equip the complex, according to the news release. It is the first such building to receive LEED Platinum certification, the highest rating for environmental design and construction awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) Campus leaders also hailed the new complex for its advanced technology, including the world's first wireless wine fermentation system."We are so very proud of this state-of-the-art teaching and research complex," said UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. "It is a crown jewel for UC Davis. And it is proof of our enduring commitment to food, wine, beer and agriculture, overall — here in our region and globally".

University of California, Davis in Sacramento is an old center of food technology training. It is a tribute to the far-sightedness of the authorities there that they never allowed obsolescence to overwhelm them in spite of financial crunch all around and continued to seek funding for timely upgrade of their facilities. Full credit to their dedication, commitment and perseverance which enabled them to establish credibility and reputation that attracted thousands of aspiring students opting for food technology degrees and if private philanthropists came forward to fund their new facilities it is because of this factor. It is a tragedy that the food technology training institutions in India cannot even attract one rupee from the private sector industry, depending all the time on public funding from the exchequer. Probably nothing short of some revolutionary change in the mindset all around can bring about radical changes in the prevalent system. A few years ago there was a proposal to impose a small "technology levy" on all processed food products which when accumulated over a period of time would be sizable enough to modernize the education and the R & D system. Alas! who is there to listen to such constructive proposals, let alone act on it!


Wednesday, February 2, 2011


There is no denying the fact that advent of plastics has revolutionized the way foods are prepared, packed and sold to the consumers all over the world. No processed food can be free from contaminating chemicals migrating from the packaging material into the contents by direct contact either during preparation or packing. Safety of plastics that go in for food packing is governed by the quality specifications arrived at and agreed to universally through well designed tests and assessment procedures. Even then there is nothing like absolute safety when it comes to plastics compared to glass or stainless steel. Recent revelation that clearing the chemical Polyfluoroalkyl Phosphate Esters (PAPs) in making wrappers for many foods is under a cloud because of ignoring the effect of its break down product Perflourinated Carboxylic Acids (PFCAs) under earlier studies. Here is a take on this new development which may call for re-assessment of the safety of wrappers containing PAPs.

"Chemicals that line everything from fast-food wrappers to linings in pizza boxes can migrate into food, then get ingested and cause chemical contamination in the blood, according to new research from scientists at the University of Toronto. Perfluorinated carboxylic acids (PFCAs) are the breakdown products of chemicals used to make non-stick and water- and stain-repellent products, including food packaging. PFCAs are found in the human body all over the world. According to the UT scientists' research, much of this chemical residue in the bloodstream may come from the consumption of polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters (PAPs), grease proofing agents applied to paper food packaging such as fast-food wrappers and microwave popcorn bags. In the study, rats were exposed to PAPs either orally or by injection and monitored for a three-week period to track the concentrations of the PAPs and PFCA metabolites, PFOA, in their blood. Human exposure to PAPs had already been established by the scientists in a previous study. Researchers used the PAP concentrations previously observed in human blood together with the PAP and PFCA concentrations observed in the rats to calculate human exposure from PAP metabolism. They found the concentrations of PFCA metabolites to be significant, indicating that metabolism of PAPs could be a major source of human exposure to these chemicals. "The reason these chemicals were originally approved to be applied to paper food wrappers is because their acute toxicity is low," said Jessica D'Eon, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of chemistry at the University of Toronto and the paper's lead author. "But the product they're metabolized into, PFCAs, has a much longer lifetime in the body—almost five years. Our study confirms that you could have relatively low exposure to PAPs, and still have relatively high concentration of PFCAs in the body."

Though the above findings need to be confirmed by more authentic investigations, nonetheless doubt has been cast on safety of many packing materials and non-stick cooking paraphernalia containing PAPs currently being used. Probably packaging industry may come up with alternate chemicals with much more safety credentials so that PAPs are slowly phased out. The necessity for close and continuous vigilance of packaging materials used by the food industry for achieving increased margin of safety for the consumers cannot be overstated in view of the above developments.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Poor people exist in every country on this planet but the extent of their size varies widely with African continent having the largest population categorized as poor. Similarly the definition of poverty varies from country to country. In India there is a "Lakshman Rekha" drawn by the government to differentiate between Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL) essentially to provide subsidized food grains, either rice or wheat on some criteria. A BPL family is supposed to get 35 kg per month of food grains at the subsidized rate though due to large pilferage of the Public Distribution System (PDS) a substantial number of families are deprived of what is due to them. It is a sad reflection on the "governance" in the country that poor women are forced to survive on grains scoured from the road side and rat burrows to eke out an existence in a country which was promised "Rama Rajya" where milk and honey would flow! Here is the disturbing scene from a place in Karnataka which should make every Indian hang his head in shame!

Of late, for lack of threshing spaces in villages, farmers all over the State spread the ears of grain on the road, hoping that the wheels of the speeding vehicles separate the grain from the ears. A part of the grain gets scattered and falls on the mudpaths along the roads. For the farmers, such grain mixed with soil is not worth their while to collect. For the poor women of Srinivaspur that can make a difference between food and starvation. The Bovi women pile up the soil, sand grit containing ragi and then separate the grains using a 'mora' (chaff separator). This is indeed a job involving skills that these women have learnt from elders in the family. The men of the community too collect the ragi that rodents would have hoarded in their burrow holes, by digging them. The women dry such grains in the sun and separate the grains from the chaff, by beating grain in the husk with sticks. The grains they gain at the end of the day is never commensurate with the back-breaking labour they put in from dawn to dusk. Also, they can depend on the grains mixed in mud only during the harvest season. Poverty has pushed many in several villages in and around Srinivaspur to this extreme. During the non-harvest season, the women and men work as construction labourers. The heavy earth movers that are being used in construction work lately have robbed the community of even such low-paying jobs.

Lot of blah blah one hears about various schemes for poverty alleviation by the politicians seem to be unable to even touch the problem let alone solve it. The much touted NREGS is supposed to cover such families at least for 100 days an year and the amount received would have been adequate at least to cover the food expenses. How these families were left out of the safety net of the government raises questions regarding the intentions and practices of the political class as a whole who swear day and night by the much maligned "Aam Aadmi"! It is ultimate humiliation for any Indian citizen to compete for food with Rats who seem to better off by comparison!