Sunday, June 07, 2015

Now, what after Maggi noodles?

Yesterday, my weekly grocery shopping at Ratnadeep Supermarket turned rather thoughtful. Reason: several crates of Maggi noodles being pulled out of the shop and were waiting to be loaded into trucks for reasons rather controversial and dubious, at least for me. It was sad to see the usual racks of Maggi being left empty and other brands of noodles sitting there comfortably, as if they are 100% safe. Why target only Maggi? Are competing brands 100% safe? Is there a hidden agenda in this whole story? Will Maggi make place for truly-authentic-India dalia or paratha or some such thing? 

We connect with brands emotionally and Maggi for me was synonymous with convenient instant food for those no-mood-to-cook days like it must have been for millions of bachelors, bachelorettes, students, office goers, families, canteens, hostels, fast food joints, highway eateries across India. And, particularly in India, a country that swears by indigenous, fresh homemade wholesome food, Maggi did to noodles what Xerox has done to photocopying. And, when the food brand becomes synonymous with the product, over a period, it gets ingrained in the ethos of culture and cuisine, like it happened in Maggi's case.  I don’t know if Maggi was an addiction for many or was it just convenience and comfort? Whatever it was, it was revolutionary in the history of Indian food habits: while some may feel triumphant that they’ve safeguarded people’s health by forcing its withdrawal, others might miss this 2-minute magic that was handy and helpful in time of domestic distress and kitchen crisis.

Charges levied against Maggi could be really based on samples evident of higher-than-permitted quantities of MSG or excess of lead or whatever. But the way in which this 2-minute saga that changed the identities and lives of many other brands, especially in the ready-to-eat segment is highly remarkable.
  • For a whole generation, it was Maggi that introduced us to instant "Noodles" that was otherwise something from China, served in Chinese or Indian restaurants apparently, on a la carte menu.
  • Maggi can be credited by making 2-minuteness and instantness a precondition for the success of  easy-to-cook category of food segment
  • Thanks to instant Maggi, the humble oats started rebranding itself  with Masala and flavoured oats competing with the 2-minuteness of Maggi. Especially when Maggi was being frowned upon by those champions of wholesome, fiber rich food.
  • Even the staunchest supporters of wholesome food did not hesitate to try the wheat flour, rich-atta variant of Maggi, that was touted to be superior than the popular one based in maida.
Accepting the fact that Maggi was found to be violating the standards set by national and international regulating bodies, how do ensure that other brands in the same category are conforming to the limits of MSG or lead? Why was it not tested all these years? If excess lead in some Maggi seasoning tastemaker is attributed to the lead composition in the onions used therein, how can we be safe from this source of lead? Don't all onions come from similar sources and how much of onion is taken in daily in every Indian family?
  • What about other food items that are not from international and reputed brands, that are locally made? Are they are conforming to standards in their ingredients?
  • And, the huge road side vendors selling what not in the name of chat etc...what about the oil used for deep frying that gets reused again and again?
  • What about the food served in local mess and canteens, which are frequented by thousands of office goers who unquestioningly eat everyday without thinking twice about the quality of oil or masala?
  • Then, there is the packaging to go with food. Especially in urban areas, where freshly cooked food is packed and supplied in several types of polythene, especially the take-away types - are they all safe? Who's regulating them?
  • What about the rice, dal, vegetables etc that are grown with several hazardous chemicals and pesticides and leave their residue even after washing and cooking - aren't we all consuming that daily without questioning or controlling it?
  • What about....well, the list of questions can go on...
Seeing Maggi being pull out is sad and seems to be a soft target. In one stroke, if the government and other authorities can instantly make all the Maggi vanish from our country, very soon we’ll be told to eat depending on such sweeping verdicts. At present no other product can fill the vacuum created by Maggi, remember it had 70% market share and it may not take long for them to relaunch themselves like it happened with Cadbury chocolates some years ago. Till then, think about eliminating other sources of MSG and lead that we may be taking in seemingly innocuous ways, everyday!

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