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Food problem?

By: Sudha Subramanian
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A couple of days ago, as I sat watching a popular channel air a report on people shopping in swanky expensive places, I saw a young lady buy an expensive 50,000 rupees wine. The irony was that I held a newspaper on my hand which screamed with the headlines - world food crisis. While I sat there confused , I couldn"t help thinking that we always have the biggest gap in the society of the haves and the have nots.

There is always a bigger problem looming than the one that has hit us. I know one thing for sure that all the essential food items have doubled in price. Rice is almost the favoured food of the rich. Was it not till yesterday that it was the poor man"s food and wheat was almost a luxury? While I still ponder over the if the crisis is for real, I have to say, that I can still afford the bag of rice but it just hurts a little in the pocket. The poor man has always found it difficult to afford his meal and it is just that it has become a distant dream to go to bed with a full stomach. Then, there is another thing that confuses me, a report that a large quantity of food grains has been confiscated when it was being exported illegally. If so many people are dying of hunger, then, how come, some people got hold of so many bags of grains. Indeed, human life is mysterious. Even God would not endow us with bags of food because, I am sure it will perplex him that there is a crisis when food is stacked and perhaps in its slow progression towards rotting.

Almost till the end of 2007, everything seemed fine. Newspaper reports said that India had the largest population of youth in the world and therefore the work force would increase and this would lead the country to greater progress . Then, all of a sudden there was food crisis. It was as if people were sleeping and suddenly they woke up to scarcity. I wonder how nobody foresaw this crisis. But, dealing with this has been quite a mixed reaction. Nobody thought that the new work force in India could do something about this. Some opinion columns said - Farmers should resort to newer technology that could yield better crop. It just defies my logic - a seed is a seed which will take sometime to grow and then yield the crop. Better yield in this case could mean, modified crop. Is this not similar to sportsmen taking additional stimulants to perform better? This means, the crop has been compromised for quality. Anyway, the mango does not taste as sweet as it used to a decade back. We have already compromised on quality. So much so that there is a dearth for good seeds to yield the best produce.

The biggest surprise of all is that not one elite learned person can give any of us this broader picture as to the reason of such a crisis that has befallen us. Some analysts say it is because of bio-fuel. This is one of the measures taken by eminent people like Richard Branson to counter the environmental problems. Indeed, it is the world of the rich and the privileged that we use food for fuelling some aircraft which will not make an iota of difference even if it doesn"t fly , when the people in Darfur (and so many of them in our very own country) wait for a grain of rice to their emancipated figures. Another reason is that most people resort to some other occupation than farming and all the "agricultural lands" are being converted to rich man"s mansion. The fertile land with good ground water that can prove to be a farmer"s dream land now houses some of the best cities.

There is also another speculation the whole crisis is because of excessive use of fertilizers and genetically modified vegetation. This can also be true considering there is a Honey Bee Crisis called the colony collapse disorder or CCD. While this sudden development has led to a chain reaction, we are still unclear about the reason for the problem and many attribute to the excessive fertilizers. Suddenly a lot of people woke up to the need of hour. Haagen Daaz, the Ice cream maker is also interested in the Bees because as much as 25 of the 60 flavours of its Ice creams depend on the fruits and Nuts which are in turn dependent on the Bees . Bees alone account for a massive pollination of crops worth billions of dollars. No wonder, many are interested in the welfare of the bees. So, is the fall in the crops due to the collapse in the population of bees?

Of course, there is also the drastic climatic changes that have added to the problem. There is drought and also floods which have given a combined effect on the output of the crops. It is common knowledge that we are responsible for these drastic climatic changes. So, with such problems hovering our heads, we have little choice but to find some solutions. It is paradoxical that we have to now strive to find a solution to the problem we have invented ourselves. It also surprises the individual intellectuality that a solution to the problem of the magnitude assumed has to stem from individualistic effort too.

There is always the easiest "Shashtri" way of dealing with this problem. Skip a meal is easiest to follow. A lot of effort may go into saving the left over food and eaten the next day. Many households still hesitate to eat the previous day"s food. We should also educate our children and learn from the mistakes of over cooking! These may be small measures but can greatly help. The outrageous step is something that will take a few years or perhaps centuries.

Our scientific advancement has confined itself from our gastronomic delights. Given the dilemma we are in with food scarcity and to satisfy the hunger, the day is not far when we all have to pop a pill to fill the tummy. A feast would be the time, when we will see all the various food. Some other person may come up with the idea of having a "food museum" where all the young and old will go to witness the different types of food in the world. A pill that way, will be convenient in many ways. It can be made low in fat and calories and we can pop it up any time anywhere saving us a lot of time and effort. No worries about spilling, food odour or gastric pressure! Indigestion could be dealt with ease and it would all be OK. I think it will be one ingenious way to beat two problems - food and also water (because we can greatly save on the toilet waste!)

Sudha Subramanian

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