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Invisible Injustices - 80

Invisible Injustices - 80

Food culture  refers to the attitudes, beliefs and practices of a group of people in their type of foods preparation and consumption. It also includes conventional norms of what items of food should be consumed, what is tasty and socially acceptable for a specific individual or group and when, how, why and with whom those items can or should be consumed. For people in India (also in many other countries) food means something mainly made of rice or wheat; other cereals and millets or equally valuable tuber crops are not acceptable to them as items of staple food. In food consumption people go easily by their age old customs and tradition which has been moulded also by each one’s likes and dislikes expressed in too much of taste consciousness which are often totally unscientific nutritionally. Hunger and poverty is relational: if a man goes by his own bullock cart on a highway when high speed public transport is available at cheaper rate he will remain poor and deficient in transport. The age old hunger and malnutrition in India is basically due to undue attachment to rice and wheat based food habits.

As we all know, rice is the staple food of people in the Southern, Eastern and North Eastern States in India while those in the North and North-West is mostly wheat. Only in certain parts of Maharastra, North Karnataka and parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan people have millet based food habits. Most of the millet eating people also would like to eat wheat or rice if they have a choice or if they can afford. In certain parts of our country people expects you to take boiled rice three times during the same meal: first with Sambar a preparation of mixed vegetables spiced with asafoetida, second with Rasam a preparation with a mixture of various spices and condiments and third with curd. In a recent Pongal celebration five types of rice preparations were served. Most people in India and in other Asian countries consider that if someone did not eat rice in his meal he has not eaten a complete meal at all. People have a craze for rice: Invisible injustice to themselves.

I have come across people who go hungry just because they have not got the rice or wheat from the Public Distribution system (PDS). Many times they manage with what they get from PDS or from some other sources. For example many people in the central and Eastern India resort to the practice of preparing ‘ paije’ to satisfy their hunger. Paije is prepared by taking one person’s share of rice and cooking it in large quantities of water and is shared among the members of the family to kill their hunger. The amount of water added in paije is at the rate of one litre per person. In preparing the paije they would not even think of putting into the cooking pot any locally available edible tubers or any type of vegetables or leaves or pods or flowers or immature fruits or some pulses to make it into a “ khichdi” which will be much more nutritious than mere rice cooked in water. It should also be noted that in the central India almost all the crops grown in the North as well as in the South can be grown including all types of tuber crops. And yet people are hungry just because they cannot think of making a nutritious meal with what they have or can cultivate. There are many unconventional food plants also in almost all parts of our country. But people would not include them into their meals because they are so stuck with their age old traditional food habits and remain in hunger and malnutrition: Invisible injustice to themselves.

We have seen in the previous write up on “Public Distribution System of India: An Analysis” how the PDS in India has failed to provide even the basic required amount of rice and wheat to people. The average minimum requirement of rice or wheat in a family of six is 500 gm per head per day taking into consideration the unavoidable loses of milling, cooking and eating. That means to a poor family of six members should be given a minimum 90 kg of rice or wheat or both together per month. Whereas the maximum grain given by PDS to a below poverty line card holder family of six is 15 kg of wheat or rice or both together per month which is only one-sixth of the basic requirement of the family. In many cases they do not even get the allotted grain. Most of the PDS shops in the rural areas do not receive the allotted grains regularly and often people who come from far to the PDS shops for the purchase of grain have to return empty handed and remain empty stomach: Invisible injustice.

At the rate of 500 gm per day per person, the total yearly requirement of rice and wheat for 1250 million people in India is about 320 million tons per year, whereas, the total production of paddy and wheat in our country amounts only to 197 million tons. It is high time that people in India should accept the fact that they cannot have enough rice and wheat for their daily consumption and should adopt habits of consuming other food items that can be produced within our country and are even better than rice and wheat in nutrition.

One of the reasons why PDS is unable to provide sufficient grain regularly to the poor people in India is that against all high level propaganda of self-sufficiency in grain, India is not at all self-sufficient in food grains. At the rate of 500 gm per day per person, the total yearly requirement of rice and wheat for 1250 million people in India is about 320 million tons per year considering the unavoidable loss of 35 per cent between the threshing floor and the mouth of the consumer. But the total production of paddy and wheat in our country, as per estimates of 2016-17, amounts only to 197 million tons. Readers should also understand that the production of rice estimated is paddy with its husk which is about 22% of the whole grain weight. While husking/milling another 7.5 (5-10) percent will be lost as broken rice. Hence only 70% of paddy production only will be available for consumption as rice unlike wheat grain which has no husk loss. This husk factor of paddy/rice reduces the amount grain available to people again by about 30 per cent. Besides these types of unavailability, large quantity of grain is diverted to animal feed, for starch industry and for hundreds of processed food items in thousands of tons per year. Again there is export of grain to other countries as per trade agreement signed between those countries. Further it should be remembered that there are millions of refugees staying and tourists coming to India. They also have to be fed daily. The government is not revealing such facts to the public nor is the public aware of all them. It is high time that people in India should accept the fact that they cannot have enough rice and wheat for their daily consumption and should adopt habits of consuming foods other than rice and wheat. There are many other food items that can be produced within our country and be even better substitutes to rice and wheat. I shall discuss them in the next write up.

Animals are highly selective in their food habits and such animal nature is there in the humans too. Very often humans go by taste and liking rather than by reason or by the principles of nutrition: Invisible Injustice.

India is producing about 45 million tons oats, barley and millets other than maize part of which could be procured and distributed among the below poverty card holders. But that is not possible because there are no takers for them. Though nutritively they are even better than rice or wheat products, the people are not willing to consume them because traditionally they consider rice and wheat as the food of elite whom they always want to emulate. Whenever they were given such grains they sold them in the market or to people who make animal feeds and buy rice or wheat instead. Even at the cost of their own survival vast majority of the people in India are not prepared to try out some other foods than those they had been accustomed to eat.

Eating food with high preference is basically an animal nature. Give dogs rice mixed with meat: they will eat the meat pieces and will leave the rice. Give cats rice mixed with fish: they will eat only the fish pieces and leave out the rice. Give monkeys bananas along with other food items: they will go for bananas leaving all other foods. Give a cow green grass and dry straw it will go for the green grass only. Animals are highly selective in their food habits and such animal nature is there in the humans too. Very often humans go by taste and liking rather than by reason or by the principles of nutrition: Invisible Injustice.

At the same time there are contradictions in the people that they are willing to try out some exotic foods like Chinese or Italian. The ubiquitous magi-noodles so popular with everyone in India is an example of adopting a different type of food culture. There was tremendous amount of promotional work by the Nestle Company at the early stages of introduction of magi-noodles into India in the eighties and it was sold in the beginning (1980s) at Rs 2.5 per packet. The yellow and red coloured packets of noodles hung in the front line of every shop in the city or town caught the attention of all people. The trump card of the magi-noodles is the small packet of taste making ingredients in every magi-pack sold. Similarly KFC and pizza are becoming very popular in the urban areas because companies which are sponsoring such food items make a lot of effort to promote them. Similar is the response of people to the food items prepared and sold by Haldiram, Bikaner and other food processing companies. Their products appear all over India and their publicity has a great impact on the people. The government of India or the PDS itself could have made intensive promotion of food items other than rice and wheat to solve the problem of hunger and malnutrition in our country. In my next write-up I shall give details of possible food items that can be better substitutes to rice and wheat.

Rice cultivation under forced irrigation is highly anti-ecological. Forced irrigation means use of any form of energy to pump out water for rice irrigation. With forced irrigation India is cultivating vast areas of land where rice should not have been grown. Rice should be grown only when water is abundantly available without energy requirement and in areas and times where and when other crops cannot be grown. I have come across many farmers who spent a lot of money to level their uplands and dug up deep tube wells to cultivate rice using enormous amount of underground water. Such rice cultivations are highly un-ecological and wasteful and over-use of precious and extremely scarce water sources: Invisible injustice. Table 1 highlights the average water requirements of important crops in India.

Table 1 Water requirement of various crops in India



Requirement (mm)



Requirement (mm)



















Black gram
























Pine apple














The water requirement of rice is 3-4 times that of other grain crops like wheat, maize, jowar, bajara and ragi and equivalent to sugarcane and banana. India is cultivating 37 million hectares of land under rice and sizable areas of them are under forced irrigation. Growing other crops like maize, Jowar, bajara, oats, barley or tuber crops require only about one-fifth of the water used by rice crop. Growing rice under forced irrigation is highly uneconomical and anti-ecological. People do not realize that growing rice is depleting huge amount water excluding the possibility of growing many other crops which can make us self-sufficient in food requirements. Rice is an aquatic plant and its growth should be under aqua-culture situations. Strictly speaking growing paddy in areas other than low lying and flooded areas is environmentally suicidal. Similar is the nature of sugarcane and bananas as we can see from the table given above.

Growing paddy on lands other than low lying and flooded areas is environmentally suicidal. Similar is the nature of sugarcane and bananas.

People are accustomed to eat their meal of chapattis or rice with any type of pickles. In such a food habit they feel tremendous psychological satisfaction of taste and energy requirement. In food intake the people in India give more importance to taste than nutritive requirements. Any person who had any cereal based food with pickle will feel energized to do day-long work. But in few years’ time he will show symptoms of deficiencies in various vitamins and minerals. Over-consumption of pickles will lead to corrosion of stomach and intestinal walls resulting in ulcers. They appear in such a subtle manner that the victim will not even realize the actual cause of his ailments; some of these deficiencies and ailments will be carried on for whole life of a person and even carried on to next generation causing irreparable damage to the health and well being of generations to come. Eating boiled rice or chapattis with pickle is the easiest and quickest way of having a meal but it is the worst and dangerous food habit: Invisible Injustice done to themselves by people.

Rice and wheat are mainly the source energy which is the primary nutrient needed for the vast majority of people. But humans require not only energy but also protein consisting of 20 amino-acids, 14 vitamins and 24 minerals which are very essential for the proper growth and development of both body and mind. The rice and wheat consumed by people are deficient in proteins and almost completely devoid of all the vitamins and minerals. Hence even people who have enough of rice and wheat for food will be deficient in protein, vitamins and minerals resulting in poor growth and development of their body and mind. Anaemia among women and children, rickets, Pellagra, scurvy, beriberi, night blindness, goiter, tuberculosis, kwashiorkor (protein deficiency), depression, osteoporosis, deficiencies of various vitamins like B-complex, deficiencies of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sulphur etc. are rampant among the Indian population. With 26% of the global TB incidences being in India millions of TB patients are being treated under the Millennium Development Programme (MDP).

Concluding remark: The rice and wheat food culture is promoting and spreading hunger and nutritional deficiencies among the vast majority of the people in India. Hence a change-over to consumption of other types of food items is essential to rectify the problem. With 223 crops other than rice and wheat being cultivated in India, several types of highly nutritious food combinations can be developed and hunger and malnutrition can be wiped out completely from our country provided people are ready to forego their age-old food habits and adopt new ones. I shall detail them in my coming write up.

(The writer is retired Professor, XIM Bhubaneswar. Email: )

(Published on 12th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 07)