Garbage on the hawkers' menu
Videos about how food and drink are prepared around us go viral and are soon forgotten. When will we start taking them seriously?
I was forwarded the infamous video of how "lime juice" is routinely prepared at Kurla by a number of people, all of whom had something to say about why we should be careful about what we eat or drink in public. I have been warned about this all my life, of course, right from school, when my mother would caution me about golawallahs and how I should never try a gola in my life. I did try the gola, obviously, along with everything else sold by vendors standing illegally outside my school and hawking everything from berries with salt to dubious ice cream and fruit salad concoctions. I haven't been that brave for decades now and am sure about going through the rest of my life without attempting to eat or drink anything from a vendor ever again.
The video didn't shock me. I simply watched, like a few million other Bombayites, and forgot about it not long after. I also thought about an earlier video of another vendor caught making pani puri in a manner that was horrifying, and realized that it hadn't exactly changed the way that snack was being prepared or served anywhere around us. We had all clearly decided to move on.
The Central Railway, meanwhile, has directed stall owners at all stations to clear the roofs of their stalls and make sure 'men and material' are removed. All this means, for those of us familiar with the way Bombay functions, is that the lime juice will probably be prepared in exactly the same manner, only this time it will be made at a corner of the railway station that makes shooting video footage harder. Interestingly, not long after the Railways issued a notice, other stalls by the same contractor were still fully functional.
Some sort of inquiry has reportedly been commissioned, but whether this will lead to better food and drink is a question best left unanswered.
That video didn't affect us as much as it should have because we have given up on expecting safe food and drink. We don't have access to clean drinking water despite millions being spent by the BMC to offer this to us. The health of millions of children continues to be at risk year after year because they don't matter enough to any government. Why, then, would someone preparing lime juice lead to change?
Take a look at any stall, restaurant or food kiosk around. Let's assume the more expensive ones follow some sort of safety and cleanliness guidelines because rich people deserve to be healthy while poor people don't matter. Everything else can be hauled up and shut away because we all know that the preparation of lime juice at Kurla has always been the norm rather than the exception. If our railway stations are nightmares, consider the stalls outside that cook and sell food or drink that would probably be banned by any government serious about protecting people.
Take your doctor along for a walk and ask him or her to point out how millions of people put their health at risk daily, simply because they are too poor to make any other choices.
The ramifications of this casual approach to food preparation and storage are staggering when one takes into account the fact that our governments don't take public healthcare seriously either. Our hospitals are understaffed, over-populated, underequipped and forced to deal with a deluge of ailments that ought to be contained at their source and never are.
Consider how much could be saved by simply ensuring we could eat better, and what our hospitals could do with resources currently diverted to avoidable circumstances.
Banning 'men and material' from the roofs of railway stalls is a kneejerk reaction to anger that will last a month at best. Men and materials have been on these roofs for as long as I can remember, and the food served at those stalls continues to be prepared at places none of us have real access to. It's why food poisoning continues to be a risk irrespective of where you choose to travel by train in India. There are people tasked with ensuring we have access to safe food, who get away with not doing their jobs because there are no consequences.
Think about the number of licenses required by anyone who wants to sell food or drink legally in Bombay. Ask yourself why none of those licenses are ever revoked for failing to serve customers anything fit for human consumption.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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