"The journey of a thousand pounds begins with a single burger."
Fast Life and Faster Food
How do countries like China, India, Italy and Mexico bond with the West? With their famed cuisines! These cuisines have helped to evolve the notoriously famous 'fast foods', which have prompted taste buds, across the globe, to work overtime.
Though fast food began with the quintessential burger and French fries in the US, it now includes various food types ranging from locally adapted versions of Mexican food to Chinese food, prepared with all types of meats. The basic requirement is that they be hot, tasty, cooked fast and served across a counter or delivered at the required place, be it office or home.
Why Fast Food is Bad Food?
Fast food culture has changed what we eat and how we eat it. Food is no longer savored but just serves as a stop- gap measure to silence the pangs of hunger before we move on to the next activity on our busy schedule. Quality has taken a back seat, and likewise the balance in nutrition .
Taste is still high on our priority and that is why popular fast food outlets cater to taste without giving so much of a thought to the harm that some of the ingredients cause. Food dripping with cheese, loaded with spices or deep-fried to please the palate, spell bad news for our metabolism.
Some of the points to be noted about fast food are:
• It is high in trans fats and calories
• It is low in fibers
• It makes extensive use of white flour, which lacks vital nutrients.
• Often eaten as snacks, in between meals, hence increases calorie intake.
• Triggers metabolic disorders, Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), heartburn, acidity and constipation.
• Fuels health hazards like obesity, dyslipidemia, diabetes and heart disease.
Meal Time, TV Time
Differing work schedules of people within a family have gone against traditional family meals that are becoming increasingly rare. With the invention of television came quick meals and what are considered, hassle-free TV dinners. For many busy people in the West, dinner is a ready- made frozen pack, in a mall freezer, that gets into a microwave for a couple of minutes at home before it is stuffed into the mouth, with eyes glued on the TV. Fast food just took them one step ahead.
Global Survey on Fast Food
Synovate, the research firm that surveyed the food habits and health in 13 countries, with special reference to fast food and obesity, found that UK topped the list in fast food consumption across the world. "I like the taste of fast food too much to give it up," said many youngsters who were interviewed.
|Percentage of people who are fast food eaters:|
|Percentage of people who reject fast food:|
The above data is proof enough that the high incidence of fast food need not necessarily be an indicator of development because developed countries like France and Singapore have said an emphatic 'No' to fast food. Naturally, the survey found that less than 30% of French are overweight and an even lesser 24% in Singapore are overweight.
Fast Food - Going 'Desi'
Globalization is increasingly coming to mean that the rest of the world adopts practices that are trendy in the West. The mall culture, credit card spending spree and fast food attractions are catching up in India and are leading our adolescents and young adults to a point of no return; if left unchecked, this trend will soon see a nation with troubled eyes, nerves, kidneys and heart.
Pizzas, burgers and the desi version of Mexican and Chinese fried food are wreaking havoc on the health of Indians. Dalda (hydrogenated vegetable fat rich in the harmful trans fats) and maida (white flour) are liberally used, as are food colors, preservatives and oil reheated many times over that it becomes rancid and carcinogenic.
Fast food outlets and roadside 'dabbas' have a heyday in the absence of stringent governmental agencies that monitor food quality, as it is done in the West. Health and sanitation are serious issues that are ignored in most of the mushrooming fast food outlets in every nook and corner of India, many of which serve food prepared in unhygienic conditions.
Popularly known as ajinomoto, monosodium glutamate is used by all and sundry without knowing the elevation it can cause in blood pressure. Senseless marketing has seen advertisements advising its use in Sambar, a traditional South Indian dish that had done pretty well down the ages without the support of the Chinese contribution.
Child obesity in India
The obesity rate in India has jumped from 15% in 1980 to 27% in 2000. Yet another report says that 23% of Delhi kids are obese. Naturally! We've encroached upon the kids' playing grounds and have given them TV and Computer games as a poor substitute. It is a sad fact that we are allowing our kids to grow up thinking that applauding cricket on TV and bashing up virtual baddies in Sega games while seated on a sofa, munching pizza, is the ultimate fun in physical activity. Extra calories plus extended inactivity make an explosive combination that fast track our kids to serious health issues.
Traditional Indian Food
Traditional food requires more time to prepare and sometimes the necessary infrastructure too—the tandoori oven for instance. The microwave makes the tandoor look like a museum piece but it is a sad commentary on the mad rush of living that chooses to grab a sandwich or a burger ignoring the delicious meat and vegetables marinated in rich sauces, eaten along with the smoky 'roti' cooked on a slow 'tandoor'.
Food that balances the five main flavors recognized by science—sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and pungent, along with the Ayurvedic sixth addition, the astringent taste (found in black tea and red wine), in one meal, was considered to be of medicinal value according to ancient Indian tradition. Likewise, the use of garlic, pepper, cumin, fennel, ajwain, fenugreek, asafoetida and herbs in food cooked at home can give any fast food a run for its money as far as nutrition is concerned.
There are certain health benefits in the way conventional food is prepared and served. The typical South Indian food like rice, idlis and dosas made from hand pounded grains and steamed to perfection, were regularly served on tender banana leaves. This was believed to add to the flavor and taste of the food.
As with everything else in human beings, the palate craves for something new all the time. That is how fast food has garnered public vote. It is new and it tastes different from home made food.
This fad did not pick up because of harried working women, who could not bothered to cook a meal anymore, but because of the children, teenagers and young adults who crave a different taste for every meal. They make a beeline for anything that is "very very tasty tasty,' as one commercial puts it.
Tell me what you eat, I'll tell you who you are.
Fast food sells fast because it is cheap, tasty and convenient. But that's in the West. Their craving for quick meals has seen food chain outlets like KFC, Chicking, and MacDonald's flourishing. In India it is part of the consumerist culture that goes together with mobile mania and credit card swipes.
So the confusion is, which should go out first— the neon signs that lure us to fast food joints or our healthy food options that will send them out of business. The only way to veto the fast food market is to develop sensible eating habits that will promote a healthy life. As a first step we should review our changing lifestyles and put health and well being on top of our list of priorities.
Teaching young children to make sensible dietary choices and enforcing a healthy diet regimen in school goers will ensure a 'slow' but safe future for our future citizens!