I’ve skipped dinner twice this week and am already feeling the way Angelina Jolie does when she finally makes up her mind about which Third World kid she wants to adopt this month. No, I’m not feeling like a smoky, sultry Mother Goddess. I’m just feeling content that I’m doing something decent that will save the world and bring me back to shape. After hearing about some amount of concern among the American and European people over the increasing number of Indian and Chinese mouths brashly copying Western ones in that un-Oriental act of eating — and eating for pleasure, too! — I had decided that enough is enough.
While I had glutted my gut with prawn curry, prawn cutlets, chicken curry, fish, potato’n’parwal and kachauris with pea stuffing (er, my mum’s in town) before I started skipping meals, some poor fellow in Austin must have been in an existential pickle about whether to forego that second pack of chickpeas or relinquish that cup of Starbucks that makes him wake up and smell the coffee every day. The earlier kind of irresponsible behaviour on my part is just not on any more.
The fact of the matter is that more and more folks east of the Suez and west of Okinawa are eating more. Even before Rice, Chili Con Carne and Bush correctly explained that one reason for global food prices going up was the rising middle-class in India and China tucking in more food, I had seen the worry marks over there. Morgan Spurlock, the American director and actor in Super Size Me, the 2004 documentary on cheap, obesity-friendly fast food habits in the US, had planned to make a sequel on expensive, health conscious organic food habits in the US. But now he can’t. The spiralling food crisis has made any budgetary plans for a film involving food — and not involving Angelina Jolie — too expensive.
The other sign of western worry about more Indians eating from the world’s depleting refrigerator is the slow-boiled panic in foreign aid agency offices. You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of the Sitaram Yechury Fan Club to know that there is still a dizzyingly vast number of Indians who don’t manage to get a meal — square or round — every day. As Herr Yechury reminded me in his editorial page column in this paper on Thursday, 78 per cent of Indians live on less than Rs 20 a day. But India’s no Liechtenstein and 22 per cent of a billion-plus population is one fat number. So no matter how many Indians go hungry — and will continue to pass the Beluga caviar for quite some time — Dick and Jane in Florida, who used to feel that sharp pang of guilt (it was actually indigestion) every time they threw away that uneaten food on their plates into the kitchen dustbin, will be increasingly only aware that India is eating and eating well and won’t need modern updates of American PL-480 wheat any more. In fact, Dick and Jane will find it downright silly to care, since the price of dogfood for their favourite Chihuahua, Fluffy, has already gone up by a whole 90 cents.
Keeping all this in mind, and with more and more Indians picking up fashionable European habits like opposing genetically modified crops (read: high yield crops), I will continue to do my bit to pass the food around the global table. Now, if there is some murmur in our backyard about how we, Shining Indians, should try to beat the US figure of 1,046 kg per capita consumption of wheat (despite our growing middle-class munching away, we’re still at 178 kg) and the poultry consumption figure of 45.4 kg (against our 1.9 kg), all I can say is your competition isn’t only the Americans and the Europeans. It’s also going to be the guys making that jump from the sub-sub-middle-class to the sub-middle-class to the middle-class here at home. And that will make your food bill a bit more than you’re used to, stuck as you are in those ‘ration cards-even-for-the-middle-class’ days.
If you still don’t get it, remember how you squirmed at the idea of the Tata Nano making even your driver afford a car? If too many cars on the road make you shudder, imagine the rattle you’ll make when everyone in this country can afford a nice, square meal — and who knows? — maybe more.