Two Minutes Please

Arshid Malik

The top instant noodle of the country is in hot waters. High levels of lead have “lead” to the dread that has made India stop reaching out for this two-minute instant food, loved by children and grownups alike. Well, I would not disagree with the people who tested these noodles, but I sure do smell something fishy.

For one reason I am concerned since my child loved these noodles and if these noodles were or are unhealthy, it is a reason of concern. But then top researchers in the packaged foods say that noodles are not the only eatables that contain lead – we have good (read damaging) amounts of lead in milk, fish and if they are to be believed, the water we drink.

Biochemist Thuppil Venkatesh who has been researching lead contamination of foods for the past 30 years says that lead is found in high amounts in chocolates, fish, drinking water and what not. In fact the amount of lead found in other variants of daily consumables like milk is higher than what has been detected in our favourite brand of instant noodles. Then why the hullabaloo about India’s favourite brand of instant noodles? Well, for one the manufacturing company is an internationally established brand which has been around, for say, since I was still suckling or maybe years before that. I am not old, you see. The other fact that makes my head turn is the huge money that is at stake. I am quite impressed with the Government of India, rather the agencies which are entrusted with the task of making sure that the food people eat and the stuff they drink is healthy and all they could get their hands on was a brand of noodles, a fast food. According to World Health Organisation, human exposure to lead through water increases due to degraded plumbing in old buildings. Then vegetables grown in semi-urban areas that use waste water for irrigation are found to have high levels of lead and cadmium, which is a carcinogen with toxic effects on the kidney, skeletal and respiratory systems. Why not ban that or at least replace the highly toxic plumbing that pumps drinking water to millions in India. No coordination.

I believe it is purely a case of extortion. Sincerely, Nestle did not accept before the FSSAI authorities that their noodles contained lead, or arsenic or MSG. Furthermore samples tested in some states came out clean while in other states they were found “unsafe”. Could it be the political elite, the bureaucracy, the “babudom” of India trying to reign in giants in the food sector for suitcases of cash – khokas.

For observed behaviour tells me that this section of the population would not desist from doing that. If they would then they would be talking about artificially growth-pumped vegetables, fruits and other food stuff which are there and people buy them without thinking twice. If not ban, they could at least disseminate information to the general public about the high toxicity of these artificially pump-grown fruits and vegetables. But then what would they get out of the people who deal in such things – pennies I guess and that just is not their forte.

Coming to the other harmful ingredient, Monosodium Glutamate (locally known in India as Ajino Moto) is palpably used by restaurants and hotels in India (and no one stops them, even the sale of such stuff is not banned), and even households “prefer” to use Monosodium Glutamate. So where are we headed with the noodlish story?

I am not giving my kids noodles that are found unsafe but what about the other food stuff that he has to consume on a daily basis. If India is going to do something about the healthy future of our kids then the approach should be holistic.

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