The Food Security Bill, now being debated in Parliament, promises supplies of rice and wheat to poor citizens at a subsidised price. At the time of writing this, the Lok Sabha had passed the bill. Is this good or bad? Food security is good. So is good health. Will this Bill ensure good health? Or is this an irrelevant consideration?
Let us consider rice. The nutritional value of polished rice is questionable. In fact it may be linked to diabetes, which is becoming an epidemic in India. Diabetes, to my way of thinking, is bad; increasing diabetes is worse. Research suggests that eating white rice may actually increase the incidence of diabetes. See http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/link-between-polished-rice-intake-and-diabetes-found/article5305.ece and http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/medicine-and-research/rice-and-reason/article3307234.ece. Also http://www.neweconomyworkinggroup.org/blog/story-refined-white-rice, and http://www.japantoday.com/category/health/view/white-rice-linked-to-type-2-diabetes-say-researchers.
The polished rice we eat is unhealthy! This came as a surprise to me. When I dug a little deeper, it turned out that this was not our traditional food. Most people ate millets. We have a large variety of them in India; the well known ones are jowar, bajra and ragi, but there are many more. Each region has its own. Rice was eaten in festivals. And that rice was often not the polished white rice of today. Rice became the preferred cereal when the public distribution system made it much cheaper than the others. So there has been a change in food habits in favour of the less healthy white rice.
This is disturbing, to say the least. What should Parliament do? I am surprised this issue has so far not come up in the debates. What about wheat, so popular for chapattis, naans etc? It seems to be bad too—for the same reason: it increases the incidence of diabetes. One doctor calls it a ‘perfect chronic poison’. See http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505269_162-57505149/modern-wheat-a-perfect-chronic-poison-doctor-says/
Researchers argue that wheat is bad for health—consider the ‘wheat belly’. See http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/09/20/on-the-evils-of-wheat-why-it-is-so-addictive-and-how-shunning-it-will-make-you-skinny/
Humans have eaten wheat for thousands of years, so it seems odd that it would have begun to bother us only in the past few decades. But read some more from where this sentence was taken.
And it may make you fat In 3 hidden ways. See http://drhyman.com/blog/2012/02/13/three-hidden-ways-wheat-makes-you-fat/
Wheat has been hydridised and that is where the problem lies. See http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2013/03/01/wheat-is-not-genetically-modifiedso-why-so-many-sensitivities/
Wheat has undergone a process of hybridisation for a long time. This process sought to make the crop shorter, to withstand winds. It sought to make the crop pest resistant. It sought to make it mature in less days. And so on. Researchers have succeeded in this effort. But the cost has been the nutritional value of wheat as a food. What we eat now is just starch. Even organically grown wheat is unhealthy.
So wheat is not good for health. Disturbing that we give it away at low prices to the poor. What will Parliament say about this? This issue has not come up so far.
The Public Distribution System in India already supplies subsidised refined sugar. It may not cause diabetes, but it is not good either. I won’t bore you with more than one reference to show sugar is not good for diabetes patients—or even or others. See http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/07/22/a-sweet-sweet-summer-why-is-white-sugar-bad-for-you/
So why are we passing a law that requires our government to supply unhealthy foods to poor people? Why is the government encouraging unhealthy crops like sugar, which are also water intensive [and India has an overall scarcity of water] rather than more healthy millets?
Research in India refers to millets as God’s Own Crops. See http://www.milletindia.org/publications/GodsOwnCrops.pdf
So if food security is more than just filling stomachs, if it is meant to provide healthy nutrition, then should we not encourage the consumption of what are called ‘coarse grains’ and ‘inferior cereals’ instead? Who has decided they are ‘coarse’ or inferior? Evidence from the MilletIndia network suggests that they are more nutritious and better for health. Does this make them inferior or coarse?
These crops also often grow on arid land in the poorer parts of the country. We can improve traditional techniques of farming that people in different regions have. Such work has resulted in success in the case of ragi in Karnataka. They provide local employment and the crops are locally consumed; this gives a fillip to the local economy. What stops us from encouraging them, and discouraging rice and wheat by pricing them high?
Or, does the government, in its wisdom, want to subsidise diabetes? If so, then why not openly rather than under the guise of a Food Security Bill?
Is this the lobby of insulin producing companies at work? Or corporate profit making hospitals, to set up which the Finance minister announced tax incentives a few years ago.
Has the government decided to create demand for hospitals that treat heart problems, kidney ailments and the like that diabetes leads to?
The Government is clearly aware that lifestyle diseases are on this rise and is taking steps to deal with this crisis. So all this is a deliberate policy thrust. See http://www.deccanherald.com/content/355608/ministry-sets-targets-reduce-lifestyle.html
If people were encouraged to eat healthy foods in the first place, such expenditures of taxpayer money could be reduced. Or is that an irrelevant consideration in this context?
Do we really want this Diabetes Subsidy Bill to be passed by Parliament under the guise of a Food Security Bill? I am confused.
[Disclaimer: Views presented above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CBPS.]
The problem lies with the centralized food supply mechanism existing in the country which assumes that it knows what is best for everyone and hence imposes its own preference in the name of poor and marginalized section of society. If sufficient regional autonomy ( in terms of decision making and financial aspect) would have existed, we may not be grappling with the enormous food subsidy bill. Rather each state government would have provided right kind of support to encourage locally grown crop which would have taken care of nutrition aspect also and reduce the transportation cost from FCI godown.
So what should,be subsidised instead? Coarse grains? Is there a huge marketed surplus in coarse grains?
Food habits are not the same in all parts of India. No self respecting Bengali ever ate coarse grains.Diabetes or not, they have always preferred rice, albeit the traditional one is not milled and polished. Unfortunately, you cannot find the traditional rice produced by dhekis except in households where some are produced for self consumption. ‘
I suppose my short point is Find me an alternative that is better than the current plan.
There is a kind of “reductionist” messaging on social justice in which any kind of critical inquiry will be termed elitist. The governments simply adopt the agenda of the poor as campaign slogans and implement sudden policies, substituting bluster for logic. Thank you for posting this, Vinod.
Ensuring “food security” for citizens is the responsibility of the government. This bill establishes that. I would like the implementation agencies at state / local level to have the freedom to choose the type of grains that gets supplied. My wish is for subsidized cooked food to be made available to citizens.
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Between the definition of the poverty line (2400 kcal) by Indian economists in the 1970s, the Green Revolution, PDS with its focus on rice and wheat our entire focus has been on calories rather than nutrition. In fact when the NAC prepared the first draft of the FSB there was a debate on whether nutritional security was implicit in the definition of food security. Our food security policy and initiatives as a nation have gone so far away from the understanding of food security that the spike in NCDs such as high blood pressure and diabetes in rural areas is not surprising. In the absence of provisions that would create an enabling environment to the Food Security Ordinance such as agrarian reforms, improved sanitation, creation of home and kitchen gardens the situation is only going to get worse. Having said this, I have always wondered why the homestead farming using leased land as practiced by women in Kerala under the Kudumbasree Model has not been considered in appropriate forms in other States.
Sorry, don’t know what you think of this, but I think it’s the most ridiculous piece ever written. The writer has taken a very narrow view of the world and picked up the most irrelevant and shallow arguments to counter the bill.
I just hate the way some people pick up some random, unrelated facts and weave a convoluted argument against another unrelated thing. I think the part of the problem of policy paralysis is this!!
One of the basic tenets of the current global economic system is that all countries follow some basic common rules – like everyone uses paper currency linked to the dollar and a basket of other currencies – not gold, oil, diamonds or stones cut in funny shapes. This is because it makes trade easier.
Similarly, there are certain food grains that are consumed globally – wheat, rice, pulses, oats, corn etc. etc. the advantage of consumig these is that in times of surplus you can sell these in the international markets and in bad times you can buy from international markets.
If India were to suddenly shift to coarse grains there would be much larger socio political impact. As the author says, in the lasts decade, because of changing and sedentary lifestyle, ppl dont need so much carb, and hence are becoming obease because eating habbits havent changed. the solution to that is not to disrupt the established agricultural patterns and economic systems (that are thousands of years old as the author says), but to educate people to have a healthy lifestyle.
the author’s argument is akin to saying that since our cities have now grown, traffic is made walking on the roads difficult. But since accidents caused by buses running over people are more fatal than those caused by bikes or cars, there should be no public transport. Also, since the government is buying more DTC buses in Delhi, clearly they are pandering to certain corporate lobbies and taking bribes. A rather convoluted argument dont you think?
Similarly, genetic engineering is something that has been happening in nature for millions of years – o’l chap Darwin told us so…
Now ideally we should not have messed around it, but remember we have 7 Bn ppl to feed… someone do something about that first,,,
This is of course an old problem: food security a la alleviation of under-nutrition VS food security a la alleviation of malnutrition, with an interesting, timely, twist at the present juncture: “fine” grains VS “coarse” grains. Arguably, at high levels of chronic hunger, the “quantity” problem looms so large as to subsume, in our perception if not in reality, the main part of any “quality” problem. But when the “quantity” problem has substantially receded (which is not to say that hunger has ended in India, far from it) ,“quality” rears its ugly head (or at least becomes visible to once-hungry eyes) and becomes the largest part of food insecurity. If this transformation of quantity into quality and then of quality into quantity sounds like what one may mean by a “dialectical” dynamic, it also shows that the quantity-quality dialectic is a consequence of distorted perception: missing the whole for this or that part.
It seems that we manage to consider only one problem at a time which explains why every solution begets a problem, not just ridding the problem it was a response to. Quantity was the all-consuming priority in the wake of the 1964-66 food crisis. In confronting the quality problem today, there are many considerations that would seem pertinent. Consider, for example, that what we eat may be a much better and much cheaper answer to the diseases that our quantitative excesses are producing than the expensive drugs that the medical-industrial complex is busy foisting on us (over and above its own dialectic of “cure”-and-side-effects). Caution seems called for. In our haste to address the malnutrition problem, we must not confine our attention to its proximate causes and solutions within the food and agricultural sector for that is likely to invite another costly round of the part-whole dialectic. One prominent explanation for the frightening problems of malnutrition in the US (obesity included) is that these are, at least in part, the visitations of the highly monopolized processed foods sector. This should just about suffice to give us an idea of that “whole” that we are confronted with.
VV Sir, i fully agree with u. Annam amrityumut jiwatumahu. Anaj is worst form of food. Anaj jaan leta he aur deta he…so say our vedic texts. It is made up of carbon, hydrogen n oxygen n even alcohol is also made up of same. Anaj has to b cooked before one cam eat it that’s why its food for horses..cattle, mice etc.
VV Sir you have gone into great details how rice n wheat r harmful for health. I have also done so and have practiced it on my clients. These people who write write for the sake of writing or passing bills without knowing dietetic righteousness. Let them suffer and then they would understand what you are talking about. Tagore said-ekala chalo. Digestive organs have to work harder causing diabetes.
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