The golden era of junk food might soon be coming to an end.The government is planning on introducing a sin tax on sugary fizzy drinks, pizzas and hamburgers.
This is being done to counter high rates of lifestyle diseases like obesity and diabetes.
In 2015, the total number of diabetes cases in India stood at 5.8 million.
McDonald’s has been a sign of capitalism that had to be fought against
There is a trend towards taxing junk food, just like tobacco, in the Western world.
The British Medical Journal has backed such proposals in the past; some American cities like Philadelphia have already passed measures.
Which brings us to the question: is Western junk food really that prevalent in India?Do Indians eat that many hamburgers?
What is the cultural context in which Indians consume junk food?
American junk food has always had aspirational value for the Indian middle class.
In many ways, this was quite harmless.We never really gorged on it; it was a treat, a little slice of America.
The samosa now attracts a 13.5 per cent luxury tax, as well as sweets priced at over Rs 500 a kg.(Picture for representation)
When the first American-style outlet opened in Allahabad in the 1980s, it was packed with teenagers. Hotstuff was a copy of a copy – of Delhi’s Nirulas, which itself was a copy of McDonald’s.
Young boys and girls went to Hotstuff not so much for the food as for the ambiance: colourful balloons, loud pop music and a touch of glitz and glamour, if one can call it that.
Fast food has always been expensive in India.The thing to do was to buy one milk shake and sit over it for two hours.
You’d saved for it for a whole month. Most of the boys didn’t have any money, so they did the next best thing, нетфликс which was to sit outside Hotstuff on their motorcycles and ogle at the girls (who always seemed to have money).
Every half an hour or so, they’d go inside, no, not to buy a pizza and get fat (too expensive) but to take a leak.
When you stepped inside Nirulas or Hotstuff, you stepped into the world of your favourite comics – Archies.
It was a world of dates, cola and cuteness.
When McDonald’s opened its first outlet in Delhi’s Priya Cinema complex in Vasant Vihar, people came from far and wide to get a taste of America.
Queues snaked outside.I was in college in North Campus, a long hop away from Priya, and yet every evening groups would bus their way to south Delhi to eat a Maharaja Mac and drink Pepsi cola.
The crowds never ceased to irritate Carlos, a Mexican exchange student in my college.
Indian food is unhealthy, whether it is the bread pakora, the bhatura, pieces of chicken, mutton or paneer floating in oil.(picture for representation)
He said he’d seen the same lines in Mexico when McDonald’s opened there for the first time.
For him, McDonald’s was a sign of capitalism that had to be fought against.
He bought his chicken from the non-MNC Arabian Nights, also in the Priya complex.
The illusion of being in America was more important than the food.It was the early 1990s, post-liberalisation, and these were the iconic companies that we’d heard of and read about in socialist times.
The novelty soon wore off though. The shop selling tandoori chicken and rumali rotis survived KFC.
Some feared that they’d be eaten up by the American chains but that didn’t happen.
Price-conscious India got bang for its buck not in KFC but at the tandoori chicken joint.
American junk food always seemed overpriced in comparison.
It’s worth thinking if the trend of levying a sin tax has to do with our tendency to blame self-inflicted ills on a foreign hand.
Middle-class India’s dependence on servants means that the sedentary lifestyle is widespread and a major cause of diabetes.
In July, Kerala went ahead with its plans of levying a 14.5 per cent fat tax on fast food.
The state only has about seven McDonald’s and nine Domino’s outlets. American fast food is not even popular there.
North Indian food, on the other hand, is far unhealthier than a patty in a bun. Nitish Kumar, who has made it his life’s mission to go after food and drink, has clamped down on the samosa in Bihar.
The samosa now attracts a 13.5 per cent luxury tax, as well as sweets priced at over Rs 500 a kg.
But why just stop at the samosa or expensive sweets?
Indian food is unhealthy, whether it is the bread pakora, the bhatura, pieces of chicken, mutton or paneer floating in oil.
Indian sweets are too sweet.The working class eating dhaba food is eating badly.
To go after only Western junk food is a selective approach that doesn’t really go too far in having a healthier society.
We need to make fundamental changes in our diet, a diet we’ve taken for granted for decades.
Similarly, instead of banning alcohol, state governments need to make beer and wine cheaper.
At present, hard liquor costs far less than anything else, rather than the other way round, as it is in other parts of the world.
You fix this illogical pricing and the health benefits will follow automatically.
Finally, the government has to take the issue of hygiene in local eateries more seriously.
As a nation we pop far too much Norflox and Zenflox OZ.If anything, McDonald’s never gave you a stomach upset.
The writer is the editor of ‘House Spirit: Drinking in India