Friday, January 6, 2012


Lately lot of unrest and agitations are reported from university campuses across India because of the perceived low quality of foods prepared and served in these institutions. Any one who has gone through the university education system can understand the turmoil going on in the minds of students who yearn for good foods with diverse tastes which help them to focus on studies. Typically university canteens are run by contractors for different periods and invariably they try to run the show with least cost and maximum profit. One is reminded of the cattle feed industry which has computerized programs to arrive at "least cost" formulations based on the nutritive formula and market prices of various ingredients that go into animal feeds. But the university canteen contractors are forgetting that students cannot be expected to be passive and have the capacity to discern taste with their own preferences. In stead of cost as the basis food preparations, it is advisable to try and use as diverse ingredients as possible with varying taste profiles so that "food monotony" never sets in. There are hundreds of ethnic food preparations in the country liked universally by Indians and those with most acceptable ones must be chosen for forming the menu. The experiment by the Punjab University in forming an inspection group involving students will go a long way in addressing this latest Campus irritant.

'A significant decision by Punjab University to form a students' food inspection committee to check quality of hostel food has got a thumbs up from pupil. From issuing first warning in case of poor quality of food to eventually imposing fine and subsequently recommending termination of contract of the mess contractor, the committee would have power to do it all. A team of four students and a teacher, comprising one member of student council and three others from various boys and girls' hostels and a warden, will conduct inspections. The decision has come from the PU authorities in a bid to pacify the students' unrest over the hiked prices of hostel food. "The committee of four students and a teacher can conduct surprise raids in all hostels at any time to check the hygiene and quality of food. In case the committee finds something serious, they can issue a warning, on the second chance a fine can be issued," said Amrik Singh Ahluwalia, PU dean Student Welfare. He added that on the recommendation of this committee, the contract of the mess in charge who repeatedly fail to keep up cleanliness or maintain quality of food will be terminated. Common students, on the other, hand are a happy lot and insist on sincere implementation of the decision by PU authorities. "The price hike issue has been a political eyewash by student leaders. The onus of ensuring the quality of food falls on PU. Only if the common students are made a part of the team with sincerity will improvement take place," said Vikas Sharma, a student of boys' hostel 4 on PU campus".

Having said the above one has to appreciate the predicament of a sincere and honest canteen contractor who has to satisfy the palates of students coming from different parts of the country with widely divergent taste preferences. This is where the contractor has to show ingenuity and imagination. Probably this calls for some "trial and error" experiments at the initial stages during the beginning of each year to have a better comprehension regarding the "likes and dislikes" of the students who are going to be the "masters" for a few months in deciding the menu matters. One area where students committee can do well is to ensure there is cleanliness and raw materials used are of desired quality. At least this will help to avoid diseases and health adversities caused by the canteen food.


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