While entering into the canteen for dinner at nearly 8, of course in the evening, my eyes were suddenly captivated by the mess going around the kitchen. Well, I wasn’t sneaking at the kitchen from where I am served the dinner and the lunch daily. It happened in just a matter of seconds when I was there to wash my hands in the basin which was near the kitchen. What I saw in there was quite awful and I have to admit the smell wasn’t good too. The dimly glowing bulb was merely brightening the room. Meanwhile, the woman chef gazed at me as if I was there to steal the whole kitchenware while I was just figuring out how those cooking pans looked like where the food were made. I tried to avoid the awkwardness so I marched towards the dining table where I was to be served that thing made from the same old rusty cookware. Well, I had to consume that thing anyway. If you are wondering what happened the next morning. Well, I have shifted to a new well-maintained canteen now with an open kitchen which offers far better services than that before.

Street food

photo: street vendors selling food.

Hitherto, I didn’t really care about the source from where I get the food each day. It might be because of the price of the single meal which is merely expensive compared to other canteens where I used to dine. But that day I realized there was something fishy going around. And I began thinking myself as an oblivion dumb that was totally unaware of the mess which was happening in front of his eyes. I didn’t even think of the quality of the food that I was eating since years. Apparently, it’s the food that provides us with all the nutrient for our cells, but even that much importance of the same food couldn’t make me think, for a while, about all the procedures from “farm to fork”. Food safety has been a great deal of concern lately, around the whole world but we, being a part of a literate community, don’t even care to face the truth about the process that goes around from the farm to our table.
It’s not just the single kitchen source we should be wary of; we need to snoop around the kitchen and the raw food-store before sitting on the table to order the recipe any place where we pay for the meal. I know that sounds little wierd but it’s the only way we could be ascertained if the food that’s going to be served is esculent. We’ve been talking about GMOs and the insecticide and pesticides sprayed food since years with great consciousness, but we don’t seem to be very worried about the other handling processes that go around after harvesting and before they enter our guts. The nutrient composition of the food doesn’t solely depend on the type of food we consume or how it is produced, but it is also equally important to maintain the hygiene while cooking. Haphazard handling of these foods during cooking leads to nutrient loss. When we make the entrance through food security (which we haven’t been able to do till now) it comes to safety concerns. As the saying goes “the food that we eat is what we become”, so we should be more conscious about the safety issues of the items served in our plates.
According to WHO, based on affordability, availability, quality and safety- the three goal parameters- Nepal ranked 79th out of 105 countries scoring 35.2 in global food security index 2012 and falls on the category that needs improvement. For affordability Nepal ranks 91, 71 for availability and 74 for quality and safety among 105 countries. Clearly, these data suggests that we are almost at the bottom of the chart and we need to do a lot of improvement in our feeding habits. And I think it’s the public themselves who should be blamed. The reckless performance of hotels and restaurant owners, to get benefitted massively, is eventually messing up with the health of the customers. And the customers themselves are not conscious enough and don’t have enough time to inspect the status of the kitchen. This is mostly prevalent in our case, may be because we Nepalese are too busy figuring out the new methods of developing the country and we don’t have a time to waste on thinking of our food. This careless nature of the customers themselves has been escalating the problems of outbreak of several diseases. Moreover, the greatest health hazard arises from microbiological food poisoning and food borne infections and the poorly managed food items are more prone to the microbial attack. Even the star hotels are found to be messing around with public health. When one can’t be assured of hygienic quality of food from even those high charging hotels, how can one expect to get a quality food from those small hotels on the outskirts of dirty streets?
These days the headlines on the newspapers reads like this “MOST OF THE MARKET MILK SUBSTANDARD”, “MOST OF THE SWEETS SOLD ARE UNHYGIENIC”, BE AWARE OF COLD DRINKS, MEAT AND MEAT PRODUCTS CONTAINING VDR( vitamin D receptor), “DUE TO CONSUMPTION OF UNSAFE FOOD IN MARRIAGE FESTIVAL PEOPLE ARE GETTING SICK”, along with these adds up “MINERAL WATER POISONING”, “POISONOUS MUSHROOM”, “INCREASING PESTICIDAL USE SHOWING EFFECT ON HEALTH”, “STREET FOOD INCREASING DISEASES”, “IMPORTING FISH OR FISHY?” Almost all market products these days are obsolete and nearly inconsumable and we are not even pinched a little by it. Food adulteration has been a serious problem these days. Food adulteration, which I would define as 4f, besides missing one ‘f’ word with “ing” suffix, filth-filled-food. We encounter sand in the bread on the second bite if we are lucky enough on the first bite, metal scraps on so called-bujhiya, almost 100 gm of mud balls on a kg of chickpea, non-permitted synthetic food colors in different juice products and in other food stuffs, this is food adulteration. The tomato sauce we mix with each item of our meal are packed on a beer bottle, it reads “TUBORG”, and we are never bothered by it rather what we do is share a little laugh and start pouring it until it makes a farting sound. They are neither labeled nor certified and we are totally okay with it.
Generally, DFTQC (department of food technology and quality control) is responsible to regulate food in the market and ready to eat food while DoA (department of agriculture) and DLS (department of livestock services) are responsible to regulate primary production and some processing. Enforcement of food act 1966 is the major regulatory activity of the DFTQC. But there are lots of gaps and overlaps in the roles and responsibilities of these organizations which make the regulation process more complicated. Similarly, Ministry of Health and Population is also involved in the process for epidemiological study of food related illness. Lack of coordination among different government institutions is reducing their efficiency. However, during the year 2066/67 raid from the DFTQC on different bakeries, diaries and hotels were quite effective,they were midget and couldn’t last long. During that year the percentage of sub standard milk dropped from 87.5 to 23.6(benchmark 100%), trend of sub standard samples of processed drinking water dropped from 50.9 to 47.1(benchmark is 60%), in case of mustard oil it dropped from 95.5 to 54.8%(benchmark 120%) along with other slight improvements (source: pramod koirala, DFTQC), which was remarkable in controlling the production of defective food products.
For almost a year we could hear on the news, the raids on different factories and hotels, the rubbish kitchen and the kitchen wares, the furniture and other polluted food producing instruments which were mixed up with garbage and even poops of certain small creatures were exposed in the media. Some manufacturers were arrested, some ran away, some dairy and confectioneries were collapsed, some warehouses were sealed but suddenly the investigations were halted may be because of the political instability or whatever. Just months after that, those sealed factories again reinstated to their incriminating acts and are now doing the same old dirty business under the shadow of some politicians.
These factories and the hotels have been hiding their real picture from us and we are letting them to. It is us who have to be marching against these treacherous acts; we shouldn’t solely depend on the government and the food departments to solve all the problems. When we pay the cent percent of the price of the product we should be ascertained that we get the quality product. We should never take our food for granted. In fact, it’s the food which is the most important thing to survive. And it is time to commit ourselves to solve these problems and carry out the campaigns to investigate these frauds within our society to remove them from the root level and prepare a healthy society for the development of the country.