We have enough food but our kids our starving
The developed world has been fortifying their processed foods for ages, but can you believe it, we in India haven’t done it yet!! Our economy is growing at 8-9 percent but this job hasn’t been done yet. India had been warned of the necessity of doing it by the UN as iron deficiency in particular can cause growth retardation, both physical and mental.
Only Gujarat seems to have taken this issue seriously. The state has been fortifying edible oil and wheat flour (both processed foods) for some time now to remove deficiencies of micro-nutrients. I am no fan of Mr Narendra Modi (the Chief Minister of Gujarat) but now food fortification is on the anvil even in chocolates and milk, which are part of the mid-day meal scheme for poor school children and I think thats wonderful!
Yesterday I read read that Maharashtra was planning to follow Gujarat’s example and was planning to fortify the common man’s stable food pav (bun) with folic acid and iron…well, I wonder what had stopped them from doing it until now!
India has the highest number of malnourished kids in the world
It has been known for some time that India has the highest number of malnourished children in the world. Almost half of the kids under five are underweight and I have given a few details for different states in this post. Even in a relatively better developed state like Kerala, 29 percent of the kids are underweight, so you can imagine how bad it is in other states!
Why should so many kids be malnourished? Surely it is not just due to lack of food?
Well, as this article has mentioned, that “the poor public distribution system, official apathy and ignorance — besides poverty — are the main reasons for us being an undernourished people.”
So, food provided in government schemes often doesn’t reach the right people…but that is not the only issue. Renuka Chowdhury, the minister of state for women and child development said in a recent interview to the DNA (not available online) that the poor knowledge of nutrition at the national level is a problem. Apparently our babus do not know the abc’s of nutrition! I am sure no one is very surprised, as a lot of our politicians are uneducated.
Lack of nutritional knowledge at an individual level
However I feel that there is another aspect, the lack of knowledge of nutrition at an individual level, even amongst the educated and amongst those who can afford to buy better food. Many Indians consume a high proportion of rice, edible oil and sugar, all of which are processed foods not in their natural form and this causes deficiencies. Also a lot of people, inspite of a processed food diet, refuse to eat vitamins, as they believe that vitamins are not as good as actual food! Off and on we keep reading articles in the media about how vitamins can never substitute for good food, and as people assume that their own diet is good they do not bother with vitamins!
A lot of the the better-off kids are eating more maida (white, refined flour) which is devoid of nutrition, in the form of noodles, pasta, pastries and buns, and none of this is fortified in India. And about vegetables and fruits, the poor kids can’t afford too many of them, and and the rich kids don’t like them!
There is also the problem of food taboos, and superstitions associated with food…like don’t eat this fruit if you have a cold, or don’t eat X if you are pregnant….and so on. Its time we checked up on all our food taboos, and found out whether these taboos have a scientific basis or not. The fact that there are different food taboos in different states and in different parts of the world is an indication that these are based on culture and tradition, and not scientific facts.
So, while it is a fact that a certain section of the population 1) do not get enough to eat, and that 2) a large percentage of food meant for public distribution gets stolen, and that 3) there is a lack of a national nutritional programme to fortify commonly consumed foods, it is also a fact that we as individuals need to increase our knowledge about nutrition.
Perhaps public awareness campaigns might help. And social workers and corporates could help in this campaign.
The fact that one state (if there is any other state besides Gujarat please let me know) now has a government sponsored fortification programme means that we have started off in the right direction. Maharashtra and Delhi are both planning to follow suit, and this means the start of a good trend.
It is indeed a pity that India has enough food, but people are malnourished! But at the same time the fact that we have enough food means that we can look forward to a day when not a single child will be malnourished!
(Photo copyrighted to me)