The British currently loathe Gordon Brown. Before he left for the G8 summit, he had sternly wagged his finger at them like our mothers used to, and exhorted them to stop wasting food because there is a crisis on and kids are going hungry in the Third World. British homes are throwing away about 4 million tonnes of food a year, so everyone was suitably abashed. Then the newspapers leaked the summit’s menu and all hell broke loose.
That menu is now moving faster on the internet than any Paris Hilton video. It features a six-course working lunch, a
fifteen-course dinner and a wine list longer than the Ten Commandments. It offers almost everything that moves, apart from things that stand still and are ridiculously easy to catch and eat. There’s weird stuff — beetroot foam, hairy crab, winter lily bulb with summer savoury, milk-fed lamb and bighand thornyhead fish. It’s enough to make the gorge rise, because this summit was supposed to halt the global food crisis.
Luckily, the core G8 has resolutely kept India out and Manmohan Singh does not share Gordon Brown’s shame. He dined on the sidelines in reduced circumstances, thanks to the perfidy of Prakash Karat. Well saved, for like the British PM, he too had stuck his neck out. After a spate of show-off wedding parties organised here by expat steel tycoons, hotel magnates and such, he had wagged his finger sternly at conspicuous consumers.
Ironically, it was his own policymaking that made conspicuous consumption possible. Earlier, we were happy to live insignificant, abstemious lives. Now, the baseline of roti, kapda aur makaan — Indira Gandhi’s slogan and 1974 box office hit — has been raised to vodka golgappas, layered ensembles and luxury villas. And like the Brits, those of us who can afford to waste are doing so.
Curious, because in India, deep philosophy backs the injunction against wasting food. You don’t have to lick your plate clean only because kids elsewhere are going hungry, as Mummy told us. A reverence for food dates at least from the Taittiriya Upanishad, which ethically connects food with life, mind and creation at large. So compelling is the argument that readers find themselves unable to throw away a stone-cold samosa crust for fear of insulting the universe and all that is in it, including themselves. Now, a mere decade of prosperity is erasing that tradition.
So can we blame the G8 diners for their insensitivity? They have been prosperous for much longer. And anyway, someone has to eat all the fuzzy crab and hornyhead fish out there. Because the Upanishad says we can’t let it go to waste.
(Pratik Kanjilal is Publisher, The Little Magazine)