Friday, 22 January 2016

Changing Trends of our Food Habits-Cultural Beliefs and Traditions Eroded.

Ranee Om Prakash 
Curator-Flowering Plants, 
Department of Life Sciences,Natural History Museum,
South Kensington, SW7 5BD. U.K.

 The modern era is witnessing new and innovative ways of food consumption viz. vitamins enriched food and organically grown vegetables as a result of which mankind is moving away from what is natural. I describe a few examples of changing trends in our food habits. Gone are the days when we followed the advice of our elders for breakfast, we would have normal porridge made from broken wheat (dalia) or oats. While shopping in supermarkets, we now naturally tend to look for cereal packets with “rich in iron and Vitamin B12” and modern generation is now looking towards foods which are having vital nutrients in the food packaging. A few yoghurts now mention “Vitamin D and Calcium added”. Many cereals like Nachni (Eleusine coracana Gaertn.), Rajgira (Amaranth) are now consumed as healthy diets by way of salads. These are naturally rich in iron and one does not need additional irons and vitamins added to it, these could be simply incorporated in our diets rather than going for artificially enriched foods.

The packaging of such food items is an example showcasing the food items. You have not only various flavoured waters e.g. Lemon, Strawberry in the markets but also vitamin enriched waters. Modern life demands time and less time for preparation and cooking. Markets have many varieties of fast foods available and the use of plastic bags should be discouraged.

Despite the attempt of various government efforts discouraging use of plastic bags, it is a common sight to still see people shopping and carrying items in plastic bags. During my recent trip to the Nilgiris in Southern India, I saw lots of plastic bags everywhere. On mountain slopes, retailers and the market places. Such a waste of inner desire of not to use plastic bags. Inspite of having rubbish bins for throwing away these bags, majority of people throw rubbish by the road sides and they feel no shame or moral responsibility in doing so! The same public if they visit foreign countries, would double check before throwing rubbish and will use rubbish bins. General public should take the initiative themselves of using recyclable bags and not pollute the nature. Plastic is degraded by using microorganisms like Azotobacter sp., Bacillus megaterium, Halomonas sp., Pseudomonas sp. and Ralstonia eutropha (Chee et al. 2010). If you keep sugar in plastic bags at home, you will notice that after a while, the bags start to disintegrate. It is this property of sugar that it is now used for biodegradation of plastic and research in this aspect is being undertaken at some research institutes across the world including India. These plastic bags have somehow taken the place of eroding our traditional beliefs and cultural values. For example, normally people would offer water, some food grains and flowers to “Surya Dev” (Sun God) by way of standing in the river and offering prayers. A lot of times, I have witnessed people throwing these already offered flowers to gods from their homes in plastic bags in the rivers. This not only pollutes the river but also affects the living organisms in the river. Neither the fish get to eat the food they were expecting to have nor the prayer was done properly the way it should have been done. This reflects how our culture and traditions are changing. Not only the beliefs have changed but also the traditions have changed.

It is a good practice to buy unequal sized carrots, cucumbers and other vegetables which are devoid of any fertilisers- organically grown, however now due to the change in our living habits and lifestyle; people tend to choose carrots, cucumbers of equal size and thereby encourage artificial cultivation of fruits and vegetables.

The third international "Fascination of Plants Day" 2015 was celebrated on 18th May across the world. Events like this where botanists can engage with local schools, colleges and  museums to get as many people as possible enthused about plants and their importance in sustainably producing foods, forestry, agriculture, biodiversity and conservation issues should be initiated. Important days like Children’s Day (celebrated on 14th of November in India), Independence Day and local excursions organised by schools/colleges can be used for these kinds of activities. Botanists can also come together to organise bioblitz (an activity of biological surveying with an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area) and citizen science (also known as crowd-sourced science, involves public participation in scientific research) to have short events and projects. Simple projects like recording plant species in the gardens or parks will not only encourage the study of plant sciences and record plant species, but will also contribute to the various checklists and floras. The Botanical Survey of India (BSI) can be used as common umbrella to initiate these kinds of activities all across India. By this way, the botanists can address the key issue of the role of plants in environmental conservation. The numbers of students studying plants sciences across the world especially taxonomy and nomenclature is declining rapidly and it is time that younger generation pick up the skills and expertise from the older generation before the subject is completely wiped out!

The initiative run by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on “Swacha Bharat Abhiyan” is good for social cause and the day India awakens and becomes morally responsible with the thought of “Swacha Bharat” ingrained in minds, India will not be far behind than the other developed countries in the world in being a very neat, clean and beautiful country. A country’s development is measured in terms of economic growth (GDP), a range of socio – economic indicators viz., social well-being, population, quality of life and improvement in human welfare. It is also measured by way of environmental quality –sustainable development.Let us also encourage the government of India to have more initiatives and awareness on environmental conservation and sustainability.

 Chee, J. Y., Yoga S. S., Lau, N. S., Ling, S. C., Abed R. M. M., Sudesh K. L. 2010. Bacterially Produced Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA): Converting Renewable Resources into Bioplastics. Appl Microbiol & Microbiol Biotech A Mendez Vilas (Ed).

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