Whenever I visit one of the upmarket grocery stores in Hyderabad like Spar, or Q-Mart I feel a little depressed. It is not the ambience or the service, that depresses me. They are good and nothing to complain about. It is the selection in the packaged foods section and the fruits section that really depresses me.
The packaged foods section is full of products sourced from all over the world. Biscuits from Scotland, pasta from Italy, noodles from Taiwan, Tomato puree and sauces from Spain, Cheese and chocolates from Switzerland, juice and drinks from various places and what have you. Many of these are well-known brands and are priced at multiples of Indian brands. But competing with them are unknown brands from Malaysia, Thailand, which are sold at rates far cheaper than the Indian brands.
The story at the fruits section is similar. Washington apples and Fuji apples have all but replaced the familiar Simla apples. Californian oranges, grapes from US, Kiwi fruits, sweet tamarinds, pears of different colours and sizes from all over the globe adorn the racks. Local mangoes still get their traditional space, but many other local fruits like chiku, local oranges, sweet lime, jamuns, papayas etc have virtually gone out of the shelves of these premium grocers.
I believe that there is no reason and need for these goods, the packaged foods and fruits, to travel half the globe to reach the dining table of Indian households. India has a great cuisine and Indian companies provide a fairly good selection of products in most product categories. If some consumers indeed are habituated to some of these international brands during their stay/ visits abroad and now can afford it, I still see no reason why they should be bought.
These packed food items even if they are well within the expiry date, the consumers can never be sure under what conditions these items were transported across the different legs of the chain. I am not sure in a country like India, where the law is lax and enforcement is poor, whether the importers really abide by the Food Safety and Standards Act/ FPO guidelines. The parent company or the brand may be an international brand which may abide by all the local laws like US-FDA, but the importer is often a small-time trader/ importer from Dubai/Mumbai who does not have much of a reputation to protect. They often compromise on the cold chain and the handling required to keep the food fresh and safe. Unknown brands of food products from Malaysia/Thailand are riskier. Do not get taken in by their attractive packaging and low prices.
The green activists have been urging consumers to buy organic: buy local. The logic is if the food is travelling a long distance to reach the table, then a lot of energy is spent on transporting the food. This concept is being called as Food miles.
Food miles is a term which refers to the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer. Food miles are one factor used when assessing the environmental impact of food, including the impact on global warming.
My appeal is straightforward, buy local packaged foods and local fruits, in your own interest, they are safer. If you believe in environmentalism, then you have the additional factor of food miles to support your decision.If you are a proud Indian, by buying food products manufactured in India, even by an MNC,you are doing your bit to the country’s economy.